Bastin, Cliff

Birth Date

14th March 1912





Biographical Text

Cliff Bastin was the home-produced player who, after playing just seventeen league games for Exeter City as a teenager, moved to Arsenal and became one of the pre-eminent footballers of the 1930s. Winning two FA Cups and five league championships, Cliff played 21 times for England in a career that was effectively cut short at the age of twenty-seven with the outbreak of war. He later returned to live in Exeter and died in the city at the age of seventy-nine. A player whose exploits were avidly followed by people in his home town, Cliff was one of the original inductees into the Exeter City Hall of Fame in 2014.   

Cliff was born in Bonnington Grove, Heavitree, Exeter and went to the nearby Ladysmead School were he soon became a footballer of note playing for both Devon schools and, in 1926, England schools. Playing club football for St Mark’s, and also St James’, Cliff joined Exeter City as an amateur on leaving school aged fourteen. Progressing through the ranks Cliff made his reserve-team debut against Bath City on Christmas Eve 1927 when still aged fifteen. Then, having turned sixteen in March 1928, Cliff’s first-team debut followed within a month when he appeared against Coventry City on 14 April 1928.

Playing in three of the four remaining games of 1927/28, Cliff scored twice in his second game - against Newport County - before adding another in the game against Walsall. As the following campaign beckoned, Cliff was held back until the fourth game of the season and only played twice more before appearing in eleven of the final twelve games of the season.

It was during this sequence of matches in March and April 1929 that Cliff established his reputation and reportedly caught the eye of Arsenal manager Herbert Chapman - there to look at a home player - in the defeat at Watford on 6 April. Scoring three times in that late-season spell, Cliff brought his Exeter City tally to six goals in seventeen appearances prompting Arsenal to make a successful £2,000 offer for the young player’s services. He made his final appearance for the Grecians against Crystal Palace in the penultimate match of the season on 27 April 1929 and had moved to Highbury before the season ended. 

Making his Arsenal debut against Everton in October 1929, Cliff - invariably described as “Boy Bastin” - became one of the most talked-about young players in the country as he made 21 league appearances during his first season and played in the FA Cup final victory over Huddersfield Town in April 1930 (following on from one-time Exeter goalkeeper Dick Pym’s successes in the 1923, 1926 and 1929 finals and Silverton-born Harold Blackmore’s in 1929). 

Cliff was now a virtual ever-present in the Arsenal side and made at least thirty-five league appearances in each of the next eight seasons. His England debut came against Wales in November 1931 - aged nineteen - by which time Cliff had won the first of his Football League championship medals. In total he was to win the league on five occasions - 1930/31, 1932/33, 1933/34, 1934/35 and 1937/38 - and the FA Cup twice: 1929/30 and 1935/36. Not only had Cliff achieved the distinction of winning league, cup medals and international caps before the age of twenty but he managed to keep winning honours throughout the 1930s. In all he was to play 21 times for England between 1931 and 1938, including the 6-3 win over Germany in 1938, scoring on a dozen occasions. 

Suffering from injury during much of 1938/39 Cliff had, by the outbreak of war in 1939, amassed 344 league appearances for Arsenal scoring a club-record 150 times in the league and on another 28 occasions in the FA Cup  (an overall record later beaten by Ian Wright and improved by Thierry Henry). Still aged only twenty-seven, and recently married to Joan Shaul, Cliff was living in Enfield and was to be excused from military service on the grounds of his increasing deafness. Serving instead as an ARP warden - often guarding Arsenal’s Highbury ground - Cliff continued to play for Arsenal in wartime football and was on hand when the Football League officially resumed in 1946/47. Making half-a-dozen further official league appearances up until and including the game against Manchester United on 28 September 1946, Cliff retired in January 1947 just short of his 35th birthday. 

Cliff and Joan opened a cafe on the North Circular Road where Cliff would meet the journalist Brian Glanville - still a teenager - to write his 1950 autobiography Cliff Bastin Remembers. Then, shortly after the book’s publication, Cliff returned to Devon firstly taking over the tenancy of The Three Tuns at Silverton before moving to the Horse and Groom in Heavitree just a stone's throw from where he was born.

Living out his life on Pinhoe Road in Exeter, Cliff Bastin died aged seventy-nine on 4 December 1991 with his wife Joan - who had met when he was at Arsenal - living on until 2006. In 2014 Cliff, who had captured the imagination of the people of Exeter with his achievements and fame during the 1930s, was one of the initial group of eight former players inducted into the Exeter City Hall of Fame. 






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