Arsenal’s Century Club – Cliff Bastin
Born in Heavitree near Exeter, Cliff started his career at Exeter City, making his début for the club in 1928, at the age of 16. Despite only playing 17 games and scoring 6 goals in his time at Exeter, he was spotted by Arsenal manager Herbert Chapman in a match against Watford; Chapman was attending to keep tabs on a Watford player, but the 17-year-old Bastin’s ability was so evident that Chapman decided to sign him at the end of the 1928-29 season.
He made his début against Everton on 5 October 1929 and was immediately a first team regular, making 21 appearances that season. He went on to become an integral player in the side over the next decade, playing over 35 matches for every season up to and including 1937-38. His play was characterised by a remarkable coolness, and deadly precision in front of goal; he also became Arsenal’s regular penalty taker. Cliff’s scoring feats are all the more remarkable considering he played on the left wing rather than as centre forward; at the time Arsenal’s strategy depended heavily on their wingers cutting into the penalty box, and the supply of passes from Alex James was the source of many of his goals.
Cliff won the FA Cup twice, in 1929-30 and 1935-36, and the First Division title five times, in 1930-31, 1932-33, 1933-34, 1934-35 and 1937-38 and by the age of nineteen he had won a League title, FA Cup and been capped for England, making him the youngest player ever to do all three. Cliff also finished as Arsenal top scorer twice (1932–33 and 1933–34, though after centre-forward Ted Drake arrived in March 1934, Cliff was no longer Arsenal’s number one target man. With Drake scoring the lion’s share of the goals and Alex James increasingly unavailable due to injury and age, Cliff was moved to inside-forward to replace James for much of the 1935-36 season but he still scored 17 goals, including six in Arsenal’s run to the 1936 FA Cup Final, which they won 1-0. After a stint at right half to cover for Jack Crayston, he was eventually restored to the left wing and scored 17 goals in the 1937-38 title-winning season.
Cliff was a key part of the side that dominated English football in the 1930s. He scored 178 goals in 396 games, which made him Arsenal’s all-time top goal scorer from 1939 until 1997, when his total was surpassed by Ian Wright. In 2005 Thierry Henry passed both Bastin and Wright’s totals, thus meaning Bastin is currently Arsenal’s third-top goal scorer of all time. His record of 150 league goals for Arsenal stood for slightly longer, until it was equalled by Thierry Henry on 14 January 2006 and surpassed on 1 February.
During his career Cliff also played for England between 1931 and 1938, winning 21 caps and scoring 12 goals. Cliff played in the notorious friendly against Germany in May 1938 when the players gave the Nazi salute in the pre-game ceremonies. England won 6-3 against a side that had a 16 game winning streak – Cliff scored the first goal.
Less controversially, Bastin appeared in the film “The Arsenal Stadium Mystery” in 1939. The last game at Highbury, before the outbreak of the Second War against Brentford was used for filming the shots of the game in the film. The war intervened when he was only 27. He was excused war service for failing the army hearing test, and served as an ARP Warden at the Highbury Stadium. His film appearance in 1939 was not his last – in 1942, Cliff Bastin played a footballer in the classic British war film “One of our aircraft is missing”. He continued to play football in the war-time league that was instituted for raising civilian morale. Bizarrely, Mussolini’s Fascist Italian Radio claimed in 1941 that he had been captured in the Battle for Crete. He didn’t play football again until after the war, when he played 6 times, to retire in January 1947, having suffered with an injury to his right leg in the 1938/9 season.
Cliff scored his 100th goal for Arsenal on October 28th, 1933 against Aston Villa in an away game at Villa Park.
|Arsenal’s Century Club|
|** Games played to reach 100 goals.|
After retirement, Cliff returned to his native Exeter and became landlord of The Three Tuns at Silverton, and then ran the Horse & Groom public house in Heavitree, Exeter. A stand at St James Park, Exeter’s home ground, is named in his honour and in 2009 he was inducted into the English Football Hall of Fame.
He died in 1991 at the age of 79.
As a kid I was familiar with the name Cliff Bastin as my family often spoke about him at their “discussions” after each game. I had his picture in my scrap book, (cut out of newspapers) but unfortunately he retired after the 1946/47 season, one season before I started to go to games.