Obituary: Cliff Holton

Only four men since the Second World War have scored more goals in English League football than Cliff Holton, though the big, burly Oxonian never scaled the giddy heights predicted for him as a young Arsenal star during the early 1950s.

In mid-decade, as he stood on the threshold of his prime, he suffered a plateau in his development which saw him converted into a half-back, then dispatched to the lower divisions for the remainder of his career. However, his response was both spirited and emphatic: returning to his striking role, he contributed a further double- century of strikes over the subsequent nine years, becoming a cult hero at several clubs in the process.

Surprisingly, Holton had begun 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 his thunderous power of shot in either foot, which accounted for many of his goals.

This enviable catalogue of attributes brought encouraging progress in 1951/52, though he disappointed at Wembley as an injury-riven Arsenal lost the FA Cup Final to Newcastle. The following campaign ended in glory, though, Holton's 19 goals in 21 outings helping to secure the League Championship, and the promising 24-year-old was spoken of as an England international of the future.

Alas that was not to be. Thereafter the Gunners began to labour and in 1954 / 55 Holton lost his berth to the ageing Tommy Lawton. 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 pounds 9,000 in October 1958.

He was 29 by then and many believed that his best days were behind him. In fact, he was about to enter his most productive period. 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.

When he left for Northampton in 1961 - Watford reckoned he was spending too much time on business interests - there were protest petitions from outraged fans, whose judgement was soon borne out. Just five hours after joining the Cobblers on a Saturday morning, Holton had scored a hat trick for his new employers. Watford then struggled unexpectedly for the rest of the season. Later, Holton's goals helped both Northampton and Crystal Palace gain promotions, and he went on to net regularly in a second spell at Watford in 1965 / 66, then for Charlton Athletic in 1966 and for Orient in 1966 / 67, before a gammy knee forced retirement in 1967.

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.

Cliff Holton's tally of 293 League goals in 570 appearances has been bettered by only Arthur Rowley, Jimmy Greaves, John Atyeo and John Aldridge since the war. And but for his infuriating mid-Fifties blip, that select list surely would have been significantly shorter.

Ivan Ponting

Clifford Charles Holton, footballer: born Oxford 29 April 1929; played for Arsenal 1947-58, Watford 1958-61, 1965-66, Northampton Town 1961-62, Crystal Palace 1962-65, Charlton Athletic 1966, Orient 1966-67; died 30 May 1996.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: HR Manager

£36000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Ashdown Group: HR Manager Shared Services - Uxbridge, - 1 Year contract

£50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: HR Manager Shared Services - Uxbridge, Stock...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Human Resource Officer and Executive Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join one of...

Ashdown Group: HR Assistant (Events business) - Central Manchester - £20K

£18000 - £20000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Assistant (Events busi...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

Typefaces still matter in the digital age

A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

Crisp sales are in decline

As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

Ronald McDonald the muse

A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
13 best picnic blankets

13 best picnic blankets

Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'