Goal.com's Top 50 English Players: Cliff Bastin (19)

We continue our countdown of the 50 greatest English players with a boy prodigy who'd won the lot before he turned 20...
No.50 - John Terry
No.49 - Tony Currie
No.48 - Terry Butcher
No.47 - Gerry Hitchens
No.46 - Paul Ince
No.45 - George Camsell
No.44 - Wayne Rooney
No.43 - Jackie Milburn
No.42 - Roger Hunt
No.41 - Rio Ferdinand
No.40 - Wilf Mannion

No.39 - Frank Lampard
No.38 - John Barnes
No.37 - Nat Lofthouse
No.36 - Eddie Hapgood
No.35 - Chris Waddle
No.34 - David Platt
No.33 - Phil Neal
No.32 - Johnny Haynes
No.31 - Peter Beardsley
No.30 - Ray Clemence
No.29 - Ted Drake
No.28 - Michael Owen
No.27 - Raich Carter
No.26 - Colin Bell
No.25 – Frank Swift
No.24 - Paul Scholes
No.23 - Tony Adams
No.22 - Martin Peters
No.21 - Billy Wright
No.20 - Geoff Hurst


Clifford Sydney 'Cliff' BASTIN


Exeter, Devon


21 caps, 12 goals


Exeter City, Arsenal

More than 60 years before Alan Hansen famously declared that "you win nothing with kids", a precocious talent nicknamed 'Boy Bastin' proved the converse - that a kid can win everything. By November 1931, still in his teens, Cliff Bastin, a prolific goalscorer at outside-left or inside-forward for the dominant Arsenal side of the inter-war years, had won all three major honours the English game could then offer - League championship, FA Cup and full England cap.

By the end of the 1930s, when war put paid to what would have been the peak years of his career, 27-year-old Bastin had won five League titles and two FA Cups, appeared 21 times for his country and set an Arsenal goalscoring record that remained intact until 1997.

Devonian Clifford Sydney Bastin was born in March 1912 in Heavitree, near Exeter, and at the age of 14 was playing for England Schoolboys against Wales. He joined Exeter City of the Third Division South in 1927, making his League debut at the age of 16. Arsenal manager Herbert Chapman, having gone to scout a Watford player at Exeter, was instead impressed by Bastin and, with some difficulty, persuaded the youngster to sign for the Gunners in May 1929. The fee of £2,000 was something of a sensation at the time for a teenager who had made just 17 League appearances for Exeter, scoring six goals. Bastin, though, was unfazed. After agreeing the move he went off for a game of tennis.


"Cliff Bastin was one of the most amazing arsenal players the mere fact of a kid aged 19 to win everything is overwhelming, in these days i would really hope that someone like cliff would come and give arsenal some trophies." Zeek | Cairo

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His association with Chapman's Arsenal  was also pretty sensational. He quickly became an integral part of the team that dominated English football for a decade. Bastin made his Gunners' debut at inside-right against Everton on October 5,1929, going on to make 29 League and Cup appearances and score 11 goals that season. By the end of it, he'd been converted to a left-winger and become the youngest player to appear in an FA Cup final, helping Arsenal defeat Huddersfield Town at Wembley to lift their first major trophy.

The following season, 1930-31, the club won their first League Championship, Bastin being ever-present, netting a remarkable 28 League goals and formed an awesome partnership on the left with Alex James. Though still in his teens, he'd also become Arsenal's main penalty taker, testimony to an ice-cool temperament.

Six months later he won his first England cap, against Wales, completing the hallowed hat-trick of achievements aged 19 years and 249 days and earning he prefix 'Boy' as a result. He was a losing Cup finalist and League runner-up in 1931-32, but won Championship medals in each of the next three seasons. The first of them (1932-33) was remarkable in that Bastin scored a staggering 33 goals from the wing.

One view as to why he was so productive was that, unlike most other wingers, he did not hug the touchline but stood a good ten yards inside it and so was well positioned to read and react to the defence-splitting passes of Alex James. The little Scot setup numerous chances and Bastin, being a lethal finisher, enjoyed an enviable conversion rate cutting in from the flank.

The only clouds in Bastin's sky were firstly the 1934 death of Chapman, which hit him particularly hard as he idolised the visionary manager and motivator; and secondly the fact that he was rapidly going deaf.

Winning all the honours aged 19

When the Gunners completed a hat-trick of Championships in 1934-35, Bastin hit 20 goals in 36 appearances. But in the following campaign, with James frequently absent through injury, and Ted Drake having assumed the mantle of goalscorer-in-chief, Bastin was forced to adapt his game and position, so that most of his appearances were as a scheming inside-forward. That didn't stop him scoring six goals in seven FA Cup ties, though, as Arsenal lifted the trophy again.

A further positional switch followed, to right-half to cover for the injured Jack Crayston; but by the 1937-38 season Bastin was back on the left-wing, where he scored 15 goals in 38 League games and collected his fifth League Championship winner's medal. His 21st and last England appearance came in 1938, by which time he'd scored 12 times for his country.

In the final season before the Second World War, Bastin suffered a serious long-term injury to his right leg that restricted him to 23 League games, but against Sunderland in early February 1939 he scored his 150th League goal. It was a club record that stood until February 1, 2006, when Thierry Henry surpassed that particular landmark. Bastin's Arsenal career total of 178 first-team goals in 395 games (League, FA Cup and Charity Shield) had not fallen until Ian Wright overtook it in 1997. Bastin has still scored more FA Cup goals (26) than any other Gunner.

During wartime, having failed the army hearing test and been exempted from a military role, he served as an Air Raid warden, stationed on top of Highbury stadium, but still managing to play nearly 250 wartime games, scoring 71 goals.

On the resumption of peacetime, he played a further six League games for Arsenal before the leg injury that affected him before and during the war forced him to hang up his boots, aged 34. In 1950, three years after his retirement, 19-year-old Brian Glanville approached Bastin with the idea of writing his biography. Bastin, then running a cafe on London's North Circular Road, agreed, and the result, Cliff Bastin Remembers, caused much controversy for its frankness.

Bastin then moved back to Exeter where he ran a pub, and where one of the stands at Exeter City's St James Park is named after him. He died in December 1991, aged 79.


League Championship winner - 1930-31, 1932-33, 1933-34. 1934-35, 1937-38
FA Cup winner - 1930, 1936
FA Charity Shield winner - 1930, 1931, 1934

DID YOU KNOW ... In a bizarre piece of wartime propaganda, Fascist Italy's Rome Radio claimed in 1941 that Cliff Bastin had been captured in the Battle for Crete? It was a compliment to Bastin's fame, though Mussolini was clearly unaware that Cliff's deafness had prevented him from enlisting.

Graham Lister, Goal.com

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