Cliff Bastin

Football's Pioneers: Cliff Bastin

Cliff Bastin scored 178 goals for Arsenal between 1929 and 1946. Today, Dr. Andrew Dawes – from De Montfort University’s International Centre for Sports History and Culture – recalls ‘Boy’ Bastin, who played a key part in the innovative ‘WM’ 3-2-2-3 formation developed by Herbert Chapman.
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He remained Arsenal’s all-time top scorer until initially Ian Wright then Thierry Henry took the record. What is remarkable about Bastin’s feat is that his career was interrupted by the Second World War and that he did not play as a centre-forward.

Bastin joined Arsenal in the spring of 1929 from Exeter City as a 17 year-old and made his debut in a 1-1 draw at Everton in October. He was nicknamed ‘Boy Bastin’ by crowd and was moved from his usual inside-left position to outside-left by Chapman, who drew the utmost respect from the youngster.

He established an almost telepathic understanding with the inside-left, Alex James. Chapman’s innovative and counter-attacking WM 3-2-2-3, as opposed to the usual 2-3-5 formation, enabled Bastin to cut inside onto James’ through balls leading to much success.

Bastin’s arrival at Arsenal coincided with the beginning of an incredible period for the club and the player. Yet Bastin was noted for remaining level headed. Arsenal won the FA Cup for the first time in 1930, the Football League for the first time in 1931, were runners-up in both the league and cup in 1932, won the title in 1933, 1934 and 1935, the cup in 1936 and the league again in 1938.

He also appeared 21 times for England during this period, scoring 12 times. In England’s 3-2 victory over World Cup winners Italy in November 1934, the so-called ‘Battle of Highbury’, Bastin was one of seven Arsenal players in the England XI.

He was singled out for attention as England’s danger man by Italy. He was also the subject of a bizarre Italian story, probably propaganda, that he had been fired down as a pilot in 1940 and was being held captive as a prisoner-of-war.

He also featured on the front cover of the programme for England’s game in Berlin in 1938, where England gave the Nazi salute.

Bastin later recounted: 'We had been requested to give the salute by the British Ambassador, in accordance with the insipid policy of appeasement, which was being pursued by the British Government at that time'.

The latter part of Bastin’s career was blighted by ligament trouble and hearing problems. He retired to run a café on the North Circular in London before heading back to Exeter to run a pub. He passed away in 1991.

Despite playing for Exeter City on only 17 occasions, he was honoured by the club with the popular ‘Big Bank’ stand being named after him.

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