On leaving school Cliff Bastin he started to train as an electrician, but also joined his first club was Exeter, playing for the reserves for the first time on December 24, 1927. He was in the first team by the following April aged 16 years 1 month playing against Coventry City in a 0-0 draw. In his home debut for the first team he scored two in a 5-1 win against Newport County. In all he played 17 times for Exeter and scored six.
The story that is told is that Herbert Chapman actually went to St James Park, Exeter, to watch a Watford player but was so taken with Cliff that he negotiated to buy him. Certainly Chapman did travel the country following up reports from Arsenal scouts, so the story does have a ring of truth although travelling to Exeter to watch a Watford player when Watford was so much closer seems unlikely.
But however it happened Cliff Bastin was duly signed for Arsenal for £2,000 (about £400,000 in today’s money using comparative wages probably around £4m using transfer fee inflation) on 27 April 1929. I suspect it was a bit like watching Martinelli for the first time, without any knowledge of what one might see.
Because of his youth, Cliff earned the nickname “Boy Bastin”. Within a year he was the youngest ever FA Cup winner.
At this time Herbert Chapman was changing the tactics of the Arsenal wingers, following recent changes in the offside rule. Wingers, up to this point had been playing up and down the line. Chapman’s idea was to get the wingers to cut inside, either with the inside forwards dropping back, or with inside forward moving out to the wing to receive the ball if the move into the centre broke down. Boy Bastin was the ideal player to do this since he had played both on the wing and as an inside forward.
It was a tactical innovation that to take advantage of the change of the offside law. But more than this Bastin became a dead-ball specialist, and dangerous in the air at the far post – another rare trait for a winger at the time. In his first full season (1930-1) he scored 28 goals in 42 games playing in each game at number 11. Arsenal won the league after being 14th the previous year.
In all he scored 150 goals in 350 games for Arsenal – a remarkable achievement for a player who spent all his games on the wing. He won the league five times and the Cup twice. He was capped for England 21 times.
Cliff Bastin also played the game used as the backdrop to “The Arsenal Stadium Mystery” film and in the 1942 movie “One of our aircraft is missing”.
In 1936 Bastin suffered from a serious attack of the flu, which led to an inner ear infection, which in turn led to the onset of deafness. Although his form declined somewhat he was able to keep playing, and during the last three pre-war years he often played as a half back rather than a winger.
War broke out when Bastin was 27 and was excused war service for failing the army hearing test, instead serving as an ARP Warden at the Highbury. During the war he played 241 games and scored 70 goals.
He played in the first six matches after the war in the 1946/7 season but then retired. His total including cup games for Arsenal was 178 goals in 395 games.
In retirement, he ran a cafe, wrote for the Sunday Pictorial and went on to be a publican, and died aged 79 back in Devon.