Do you remember Cliff Holton?

He was born in Oxford and was a natural sportsman, winning medals for swimming and diving as befitted the son of a Headington boat builder, reared by the river. He was an outstanding school track athlete, played cricket for Essex Seconds for four years, turned down a place as a professional with Middlesex and reserved his penchant for fast-medium bowling in local club cricket.


Later, he became an outstanding golfer, serving on the board at Hadley Wood, still playing off a seven handicap and working for the Herts Handicap Committee. His father’s view was that professional football was a dead-end job which prompted Cliff to become an apprentice tool-maker with Morris.

He began his football life as a defender, serving Isthmian League Oxford City as a full-back before joining Arsenal in 1947. It was not until 1950, after National Service in the Army, that he was switched to centre-forward and he earned a place in the Gunners’ senior side in the spring of 1951. Imposing, strong and far quicker than was suggested by a rather ungainly, loping gait, Holton adopted a rampaging style which unsettled opponents. He wasn’t a bad passer either, but he was most famous for the thunderous power of his shot with either foot, which accounted for many of his goals.

He was in the Arsenal side to reach the FA Cup Final in 1952 and his19 goals in 21 outings helping to secure the League Championship in 1952-53, and the promising 24-year-old was spoken of as an England international of the future. He continued to figure for Arsenal for another three seasons and on 6 October 1956, he scored four goals in a home match against Manchester City, becoming the first player since Jack Lambert to score more than three in a game at Highbury.

He lost his place to an ageing Tommy Lawton but a year later, having been switched to left-half, Holton was restored to the side and became captain for a spell. But despite doughty service in various roles, he was judged surplus to requirements as the new manager George Swindin sought to revamp a lacklustre team. Holton was sold to Watford for £10,000 in October 1958. After taking a little time to settle at Vicarage Road, he became one of the most revered figures in the Hornets’ history, netting a club record for one term of 48 League and FA Cup goals as he skippered them to promotion from the Fourth Division in 1960.

His departure from Vicarage Road in the late summer of 1961 to Northampton Town caused such a furore; his shadow remained over the club for a decade. Fifteen years later, when Jim Bonser resigned as chairman, he was still trying, to no avail, to justify that transfer, which disillusioned a generation of Vicarage Road regulars. He finally admitted when he stepped down, what everybody had known 15 years earlier: “We got rid of the wrong man”.

At Northampton Town in 1961 – he scored a club record 36 goals in 1961-62, achieving the rare feat of holding the all-time goals in a season record at two different clubs. He went on to play for Crystal Palace, signing in December 1962 and was part of the Palace side which achieved promotion to the second tier in 1964, with 43 appearances that season scoring 20 goals. He then returned to Watford on 6 May 1965, before moving on to Charlton Athletic and subsequently Leyton Orient.

Only four men since the Second World War had scored more goals in English League football than Cliff Holton namely Arthur Rowley, Jimmy Greaves, John Atyeo and John Aldridge, all of whom, unlike Holton, concentrated solely on a striking role. However the big, burly Oxonian never scaled the giddy heights predicted for him as a young Arsenal star during the early 1950

He finally retired in 1968, due in part to a knee injury and left the game completely. A forthright and articulate individual, Holton seemed ideal soccer management material but he preferred instead to concentrate on a precision engineering business, which he ran until 1989 before working part-time in sports marketing.

He died suddenly in 1996 at the age of 67 while on holiday in Almeria, Spain.

His scoring record was –

Goals Games  G.P.G.
Arsenal 83 198   2.39
London XI 3 4   1.33
Watford 84 120   1.43
Northampton Town 62 86   1.39
Crystal Palace 40 101   2.53
Charlton Athletic 7 18   2.57
Leyton Orient 17 41   2.41
Total 296 568   1.92



85 Responses to Do you remember Cliff Holton?

  1. Big Raddy says:

    GN5. Excellent read. I knew the name but not the man.

  2. mickydidit89 says:

    Cliff who? 🙂

    Thanks GN5. I’ll be back to savour a little later.

    Meanwhile, I just read Rasp’s comment at the tail end of yesterday’s comments. It’s 20 years today of Arsene at the help.

    Happy Anniversary you smooth talking Frenchie 🙂

  3. Great write up on Cliff. He was my first Arsenal idol.

  4. Neverhappywhingeingdoomer says:

    Thanks GN5. Your historical posts are excellent and much appreciated. Having read it I now feel we need a Cliff Holton.

    Happy anniversary Arsene.

  5. chas says:

    Magnificent, GN5.

    The GPG column confused me a bit until I realised it was Games per Goal instead of Goals per Game.

    That scoring record for Watford is amazing. A goal every one and a half games. No wonder he was revered.

    The other phrase that caught my eye was, ‘reared by the river’. Never a pleasing prospect if you have a puerile sense of humour. 🙂

    The mention of Jimmy Greaves gives me an opportunity to put this photo up I saw the other day. I always liked Greavesie, especially after he said,

  6. TotalArsenal says:

    Cheers GN5, beautifully written and well researched. If ‘GPG’ stands for goals per game, then the calculations are done the wrong way round. This is suggesting Holton scored 1.92 goals per game, where in reality it is 0.52.

  7. chas says:

    Holton with the second at 40 seconds.
    Doesn’t Highbury look gorgeous?

  8. Big Raddy says:

    Jimmy Greaves was my first hero. I hated that he played for Spurs.

  9. chas says:

    Big Cliff Holton – superb.

  10. chas says:

    See my 10.13 🙂

  11. chas says:

    I also loved the fact that he switched to Left Half when Lawton arrived, but immediately he was transferred, he switched back to doing what he did best, banging in goals.

    It reminded me of this from yesterday. 🙂

  12. chas says:

    This is superb.

  13. chas says:

    Looks like Granit’s fitting in. 🙂

  14. andy says:

    just missed out on seeing him play..but many photos/words in my collection of arsenal programmes as a little ‘un

  15. fred1266 says:

    Nice reading able one of our legend, since he was way before my time

    How many here say him play

  16. Rasp says:

    Thanks GN5, I’ve heard the name but knew nothing about the man – and what an exceptional guy he was.

    Watford got rid of him too early, it looks like we did the same – I wonder why? Could it have been just his ‘forthright nature’

  17. TotalArsenal says:

    I see Chas, so Gibbs has a rubbish goals per game rate but his games per goal rate is sky high 😀

  18. GunnerN5 says:

    Thanks for the comments, I’ll be back later to respond.

    Fred – Holton joined Arsenal the first year that I started to watch the games so it’s most likely that I saw all of his games at Highbury; both first team and reserve games.

    He was one of my boyhood heroes.

  19. GunnerN5 says:

    Chas – Thank you for your enhancements, they always improve a post, glad you figured out the GPG.

    I knew every inch of Highbury back then and my family were all well known at the clock end, especially my grandfather who commanded respect – and got it!

  20. chas says:

    Belting photo

  21. mickydidit89 says:

    Superb read GN5, thanks

    You work well with that master of clips ‘n bits, Chas. Your nib work, his techy stuff. It all comes alive. Terrific stuff.

  22. GunnerN5 says:

    My father I law and Jimmy Greaves co-owned a Sports shop, which they closed at noon to go to their local for “lunch”. It was rare to see them both in the shop after lunch and it was even rarer to see them sober.

    My father in law died of alcohol poisoning while Greaves was able to overcome his demons. Greaves was a great guy to talk to and his football stories were incredible to hear. But like most ex-footballers he could never say no to a drink and was never short on people who wanted to buy him one.

    Oh and the store was short lived and fell into bankruptcy.

    Gee; yet more stories from an overflowing memory bank.

  23. Top stuff GN5

    Holton is a magnificent specimen. Normally I can not stand these good at everything sporty types. We had a kid like that, Peter Pierce, at our school. Captain of the football and cricket teams and champion door bell ringer at knock down ginger. He never got caught ringing peoples door bells, were as I would get confused and end up running into there house to escape.

    I seriously hated the f*ucker. On one occasion, after ringing a bell I tried to escape by running through the geezers back garden, but didn’t make it past the hallway so was held there whilst the bloke called the police. A few minutes later the bell rang again so he went to answer proclaiming “Right you little shit, plod are here”, but as he opened the door all we could see was Pierce making his getaway.

    I love these old players. Have you ever conned a women into believing you love them GN5? I have, and its a most satisfying experience, but I could never do that to an Arsenal player photographed in black & white. My affection is real.

    Funny, I dont feel like that with 1970s in colour Arsenal players. The young ones all look like Bay City Rollers and older ones as though there expert safe crackers who have just completed a five year stretch?

    I can not let Arsenes 20 year anniversary pass without thanking and congratulating the great man on his achievement. A true legend.

  24. chas mobile says:

    Apparently Arsene was unveiled as the new Arsenal manager on 22nd September but didn’t actually start in the job until 1st October. So we haven’t missed it. 😉

  25. GunnerN5 says:

    “Knock down ginger” Terry I have no idea how you create your responses so, quickly and right on topic. But please keep them coming, you must be one of the funniest people in the football blogging world.

  26. chas says:

    Maybe Neverhappywhingeingdoomer could write something for the 1st October?

    At least we’d then know it was going to be a balanced piece without too much fawning and adulation. 🙂

  27. Eddie says:

    superb GN5, thank you very much. Never heard of Cliff Holton but will not forget now

  28. GunnerN5 says:

    Eddie, He was the sort of striker (centre forward) that we used to rate very highly, strong, forceful, fearless, a great shot with either foot – a blunderbuss of a player and an out and out leader.

    I was devastated when he lost his place to Tommy Lawton but was overjoyed when he got his place back then I lost all respect for the new manager George Swindin when he sold Cliff to Watford.

    Swindin was our manager for 4 unsuccessful seasons ending up with an average position of 9.25, while Cliff went on to become a folk hero at Watford.

  29. Big Raddy says:

    Fawning adulation? On AA? Surely not

  30. chas says:

    Not if Neverhappywhingeingdoomer writes it, anyway.

  31. LB says:

    We’ve never had it so good.

    When I were lad………………..

  32. Eddie says:

    “strong, forceful, fearless, a great shot with either foot – a blunderbuss of a player and an out and out leader” – that is hard core porn in footballing terms 🙂

  33. GunnerN5 says:


    He was the same type of player as Alan Shearer.

  34. Eddie says:

    GN5 – you’ve ruined it for me now 🙂 I cannot stand shearer and his orange face. Do you think Cliff was using fake tan too?

  35. GunnerN5 says:

    Eddie we are talking about the late 50’s – nobody used sun tan cream so certainly not fake tan spray.

    He played in the same style – the similarity ends there.

  36. GunnerN5 says:

    By the way I would love to see a Shearer/Holton type of player at Arsenal today……………y

  37. Eddie says:

    do you think Perez or Xhaka could be the answer? Xhaka is putting some extremely promising performances. Wenger said he didn’t know about Granit’s long shot abilities!!

  38. GunnerN5 says:

    No Eddie neither has the same ability, that is not to say they aren’t skilled players they just are not like the old style strikers.

  39. chas says:

  40. chas says:

  41. Big Raddy says:

    Do you think those boots glow in the dark?

  42. chas says:

    Not sure, but I bet Santi’s smile does.

  43. Big Raddy says:

    Were those girls on the Starship Enterprise?

  44. mickydidit89 says:

    Morning all

    Slightly rushed as blasting off soon towards Ems, before doing a U-turn just hours before KO tomorrow and beating a hasty retreat. Going to hurt.

    Would love to be watching us thrash Chavs

    Almost a shame Maureen won’t be in attendance either, but his time will come wohahaha

  45. chas says:

  46. Eddie says:

    micky – this is exactly what me and Peaches were saying the other day – we still hate chavs because of Mourinho, it is hard to separate those two disgusting outfits

    raddy – I know, I know, I know. my heart breaks when my pugglet cannot breathe. They are the best dogs ever, but the flat face is a crime, not matter how cute.

  47. Eddie says:

    OMG, Mourinho REALLY did say he will break Wenger’s face!!!!!!!! surely this is illegal, to make direct threats like that??

    what a complete and utter scumbag

  48. JM says:

    (Foreword by Arsène Wenger, in the “The Wenger Revolution”.)

    “In England I believe your football club is part of your passport. You live with it, you die with it. It is a bit like nationality – nobody in England would ever consider changing their passport during their lifetime. It is the same for their club.


    Arsenal has become my passport now. Only six months in a club nowadays is massive. You cannot be 20 years inside a club and not feel accountable for what’s happening. That’s impossible. So of course it has become my identity. My passport is red and white in fact.”

  49. Eddie says:

    my passport is red and white too 🙂 Of course it is, I’m polish 🙂

  50. chas says:

  51. Neverhappywhingeingdoomer says:

    Haha Chas….(from yesterday)

    I don’t mind a bit of fawning at all for Arsene’s anniversary. His achievements are great so fawning should be the order of the day in said post. Best to leave it to someone slightly more fawny though. Morose barstewards should not be considered under any circumstance for an important post like this.

  52. chas says:

    Are you coming to the FF tomorrow?

  53. Neverhappywhingeingdoomer says:

    No not at the game tomorrow Chas, so no need to change venue, you can go and enjoy the FF in all its glory without aggravating twerps ruining your day 🙂

    I will be watching the game though. Meeting with friends and we had originally chosen a pub without BT sport. I have just had an emergency phone conversation with the other chap (also a gooner) to form an action plan for venue change and how best to sell it to our wives 🙂

    My next scheduled game is Spuds with the family from overseas. I managed to persuade my nephew to be a Gooner despite unsavoury Spud and Chav influence closer to him, so no mean feat. I guess all those Thierry Henry youtube vids I kept showing him when I visited did the trick. This will be his first ever visit so a great one for atmosphere and fingers crossed for the result.

  54. chas says:

    Shame, NHWD, I need some tactical enlightenment.

  55. Neverhappywhingeingdoomer says:


  56. chas says:

  57. GunnerN5 says:

    Chas I remember the 7:17am epic only too well.

    I was in The Mad Hatter pub with my Arsenal mates and we were surrounded by hordes of drunk Man U fans, we of course were stone cold sober?

    It was September 21st, 2003 the game was f*****g intense and either team could have been ahead but there we were still 0-0 when that prat Van Whostoleroy conned Vieira into getting sent off and then at the death they were awarded their obligatory penalty – for a clear dive (No.5 in the Fergie Rule book)

    I was so pissed off that I stormed out to the WC and missed the penalty – I went back expecting a room full of rejoicing Man U fans but instead It was the Arsenal fans who were jumping up and down.

    It took me a while to understand what had happened but then I became a carbon copy of Keown and got into a lot of bother with some of the Man U fans – luckily I have a lot of big friends to protect me, which they did.

  58. GunnerN5 says:

    Gee that was 13 years ago almost to the day?

  59. LB says:

    That’s a good story GN5

  60. GunnerN5 says:


    The pub was my local for many years and I persuaded the owner to turn it into a football pub, my son is an expert on TV set up and installation. So to cut the story short I took care of attracting football fans and my son took care of the electronics. It became the most popular pub in town and on game days people would line up outside 2 hours before game time, I was allowed in the back door.

    We moved away when I retired but still went back on big game days, unfortunately a new owner miss managed the cash flow and it closed down about 3 years back.

    Nothing stays the same – does it?

  61. Big Raddy says:

    I was at that game 7.17. Excellent atmosphere amongst the Gooners.

  62. Eddie says:

    Keown 🙂

    ha ha ha, I told my mother what Mourinho said about Wenger. She was shocked, saying ‘he is an insane person, should be sectioned’ 🙂 she is right, how could he publically come out with such tripe??!!

    it is a pity we don’t play United for 2 months, I hope that our players are going to teach the Despicable One a lesson

  63. Big Raddy says:

    The cricket is really exciting. Come on Middlesex

  64. Eddie says:

    I have been doing some soul searching – why did Mourinho’s statement infuriated me? After all I am in the ‘Wenger out’ camp and have not said one good word about the Frenchie for some time now.

    here is the answer. A few weeks ago I was in a park with my dogs. There was an annoying feisty pup, half staffie half pit bull, just like my younger dog. The puppy started chewing on the pug – biting his ears, neck, tail, would not leave the poor pugglet alone. My dogs are angels, never growl, bark, get annoyed, never. Pug let the pup do it until my staffie spotted it. He came over, got in between the two, pinned down the puppy, held him there for a few seconds, then let him go.

    Two minutes later the annoying pup was chewing on the pug again. Bambi noticed it again, came over, pinned the pup down, held him a bit longer this time, then let him go.

    This repeated 3 times and the pup didn’t come back.

    Now, Bambi terrorizes the pug all the time. He can, it is his pug, but he won’t let anybody else do it. Same with me and Wenger. An outsider says a bad word about AW and will scratch his eyes out, virtually of course.

  65. chas says:

    I always thought that the human should assume the role as pack leader.
    If this is the case, you tell Bambi to stop terrorising a lower member of the pack as pack leader, it stops immediately?

  66. Eddie says:

    but I like watching it 🙂 Bambi terrorises the pug until pug loses his temper and kills the staffie. There is never one mark left on the pugglet, but Bambi has many tiny teeth marks. It is a bit like brotherly fighting, they don’t hurt each other

  67. Eddie says:

    chas – in other words ‘a responsible human assumes the role of the pack leader’. I am just one of the pack, barking the loudest 🙂

    enjoy the game tomorrow, should be electric. good night

  68. chas says:

    I’ve never owned a dog, so I really have no idea, apart from snippets gained from watching the Dog Whisperer.

    Btw, I never said ‘responsible’. 🙂

    P.s. I also never said you were ‘barking the loudest’.

  69. Big Raddy says:

    Morning All,

    “responsible” 😀 😀

    Dogs are like children, they need both carrot and stick.

  70. Eddie says:

    good to see Raddy’s is up early

    I am soooooo looking forward to a tasty PM, go for it Raddy, take the chavs apart before the KO. A bit of their dubious history wouldn’t go amiss.

    And a provocative title so we will get a few of them going

  71. Eddie says:

    chas – about dogs, now that you have started me…:) I call my Bambi a village idiot; he is so friendly, happy that sometimes I think his tail will come off from wagging it too much. Whichever local park we go to people know him – Bambi, Bambi, Bambi! They all love him. But it came to a crunch, ie half chewed pug he did the incredible thing, a human couldn’t do a better job. I was so proud of him

    Because of what he is, half pit bull I am always scared when other dogs have a go at him – he could kill them with his huge teeth and powerful jaws. But he ALWAYS walks away, doesn’t even growl. I wish I was like that

  72. chas says:

    So does many a random bearded cyclist.

  73. Eddie says:

    my ex boss is in the middle holding a newspaper. One of the nicest people I have ever met, through and through socialist. Stopped talking to his Gunner brother after some nasty racist comment. But when it comes to Chelsea he changes to a nutter

  74. Eddie says:

    feck the cyclist, he asked for it, trying to break the mirror on my new car

    what time are you leaving? Car?

  75. Big Raddy says:

    There is a new post

  76. Keith says:

    I was a Palace supporter and saw Cliff play many times, a remarkable centre forward, he could hold up the ball waiting for his other forwards such as Ronnie Allen, with whom he had a good partnership, to come forward, and no one could get the ball off him.
    40 goals he scored for us, many of them powerful.long distance shots. Several times we were in awe as he scored from his own half with shots that hit the net like cannon balls.

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