Cliff Bastin is a legend.
An Arsenal goal machine, third in their all-time record goalscorers list behind Thierry Henry and Ian Wright (who, it must be noted, are both strikers while Cliff was a winger). An England international, capped 21 times by his country. Most importantly though, an Exeter boy through and through.
Born in 1912, just a 15 minute walk from St James Park, Cliff grew up playing for Ladysmith Schoolboys football team, winning the Schools Challenge Cup in 1925, and the English Schools League in 1926. It was in the 1926 Exeter Schools’ Final that Cliff caught the attention of Exeter scouts, as the winger scored six goals in a 7-1 win for Ladysmith over Newtown.
Cliff was invited to play for City’s reserves in late 1927 and he scored twice on his debut, a 2-0 victory over Bath City.
With the first team beckoning he didn’t last long in the reserves, and only a month after his 16th birthday, Cliff made his Grecians debut in a 0-0 draw at Coventry City, becoming City’s youngest ever player until Ethan Ampadu played, aged 15, against Brentford in 2016.
Just a week later the winger scored twice on his home debut to help a rampant Exeter demolish Newport County 5-1. After just 17 appearances and six goals, Cliff then left City to join Herbert Chapman’s Arsenal in April 1929 for £2,000. Chapman actually spotted Cliff whilst scouting a Watford player as City played against the Hornets at Vicarage Road.
After his debut against Everton in October 1929, Bastin instantly became a first team regular at just 17 years old, establishing himself in a side that contained experienced internationals such as England captain Eddie Hapgood and Wales defender Bob John.
By the time he was 19, Cliff became the youngest ever player to win the First Division, an FA Cup and an England cap, making his national team debut in a 3-1 win over Wales at Anfield.
Cliff continued to be a regular for Arsenal until the outbreak of World War Two, when his career was halted at 27 years old. Due to increasing deafness, Bastin was excused from military service but he did serve as an ARP Warden, stationed on top of Highbury Stadium.
After VE Day normal league football resumed, but Cliff would only play seven more times for Arsenal, making the fact that he scored so many goals for the Gunners even more impressive due to his professional career being effectively cut short by war.
Post retirement, Cliff returned to Exeter to run the Horse and Groom pub in Heavitree before passing away in his home town in 1991.
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