Tom Holford

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Tom Holford
Tom Holford.jpg
Holford, in his first spell at charge at Port Vale
Personal information
Full name Thomas Holford
Date of birth(1878-02-22)22 February 1878
Place of birth Hanley, England
Date of death 6 April 1964(1964-04-06) (aged 86)
Place of death Blurton, Stoke-on-Trent, England
Height 5 ft 5 in (1.65 m) [1]
Position(s) Wing-half
Youth career
Senior career*
1898–1908 Stoke 248 (30)
1908–1914 Manchester City 172 (34)
1914–1924 Port Vale 56 (1)
International career
1903 England 1 (0)
Managerial career
1914–1918 Port Vale (player-manager)
1932–1935 Port Vale
*Club domestic league appearances and goals

Thomas Holford (22 February 1878 – 6 April 1964) was an English footballer who played for Stoke, Manchester City, Port Vale and the England national team. His primary position was wing-half, but over the course of his career he played in many different positions. [2] He later managed Port Vale on two separate occasions, serving throughout World War I, before a three-year spell from 1932 to 1935. He also served the club for many years as a trainer and a scout. In 1924 he turned out for the Vale at the age of 46 years and 68 days, making him one of the oldest ever players in the English Football League.


Early and personal life

Thomas Holford was born on 22 February 1878 in Hanley, Staffordshire. [3] He was the fifth of six children to Thomas Henry and Anna Davis (née Edwards), a potter's manager and potter's sponger respectively. [3] He worked in the pottery industry from at least 1891 to 1921. [3] He married Sarah Jane Platt in 1903, and the couple had two daughters, Lily and Annie. [3]

Club career

Holford in his playing days. Tom Holford1.JPG
Holford in his playing days.


Holford started his career with Granville's Night School and Cobridge, before he moved on to one of the two local league clubs; Stoke in 1899. [3] He "did not put a foot wrong" in his first seasons at the club, before establishing himself as the centre of Stoke's half-back line between James Bradley and George Baddeley following Alf Wood's departure in March 1901. [4] For the next ten seasons Holford was a near ever-present in the Stoke team, racking up 105 consecutive appearances from March 1903 to March 1906. [4] His good performances won him an England cap in 1903 and he is considered the smallest centre-back ever to play for England at just 5 ft 5. [4] During Holford's time at the club he played the game in a fiery style, although he was never sent off. [4] He succeeded George Baddeley as captain in 1905. [4] Holford's manager Horace Austerberry described him as "an excellent passer of the ball and one who played every match as if it was his last". In 1908 Stoke went bust and dropped out of the English Football League and played in the Birmingham League. Holford was too good to be lost to non-League football and so he had to leave his home-town club, who he played nearly 270 games for. [5]

Manchester City

In April 1908 he signed for First Division Manchester City, making his debut on 21 April against Bristol City, a match which finished goalless. In his first full season at the club he made 27 appearances and was the club's second highest goalscorer with 15 goals, which included three hat-tricks. [6] However, Manchester City finished second-bottom in the First Division, and Holford again suffered relegation. In the 1909–10 season Holford won a Second Division championship medal as his club made an immediate return to the top flight. Though he had been an ever-present in 1912–13, [7] Holford lost his place in the first team in the 1913–14 season, making all but three of his 15 appearances in the first ten weeks of the season. He made his last appearance for Manchester City on 13 April 1914 against Newcastle United, [8] giving him a final total of 183 appearances and 38 goals for the club. [2]

Port Vale

Upon leaving Manchester he was joined Port Vale back in the Potteries as player-manager. He led the side to North Staffordshire Infirmary Cup victory in 1915, but two years later was conscripted into the army to serve as a gunner in the Royal Garrison Artillery. [9] After playing his part in World War I, as well as guesting for Nottingham Forest and Newcastle United, [9] he returned to Vale in the summer of 1919. Regaining his place, he helped the club to win the Staffordshire Senior Cup and share the North Staffordshire Infirmary Cup in 1920. Due to his age he hardly played after October 1920, but played his part in the club's 1922 North Staffordshire Infirmary Cup achievement. [10]

He retired as a player at the end of the 1922–23 season. Over his full career Holford played 474 league games, an exceptionally large number for the period, he had played everywhere except in goal. Upon his retirement he became a trainer for Port Vale, only to make his final appearance on 5 April 1924 at a club record age of 46 years and 68 days. [10] At the time this also made him the second-oldest to play in the Football League, after Billy Meredith, and as of 2008 he is the sixth oldest Football League player of all time. [11]

International career

He won his only England cap on 14 February 1903, in a 4–0 win over Ireland at Molineux. [12] [3]

Style of play

Holford was nicknamed "Dirty Tommy" due to his sometimes reckless tackling. [13] He was also regarded as an excellent passer of the ball. [14]

Managerial career

He had two spells as manager of Port Vale, the first as player-manager from 1914 to 1918 when he was player-manager. His second appointment came in June 1932, with the club in the Second Division. [15] He signed wingers Bob Morton and Jimmy McGrath, and led the Vale to a club record 9–1 victory over Chesterfield on 24 September. [15] After top scorer Stewart Littlewood picked up an injury, he signed ex-England international Louis Page as a replacement; and also boosted the club's defence by signing Len Armitage. [15] In January 1933, he sold left-back Jimmy Oakes to Charlton Athletic for £3,000. [15] His team finished four points above relegation in 1932–33, and he released Billy Easton, Louis Page, Stewart Littlewood, Tom Tippett, Jock Leckie, and Ben Davies, whilst Wilf Kirkham retired. [15]

He signed players such as Trevor Rhodes, Jack Vickers, Ken Gunn, and Billy Tabram, the result of which was an eighth-place finish in 1933–34 – then a record best for the "Valiants". [15] However, "the end of an era" followed, as players such as Bill Cope, Sydney Dickinson, Len Armitage, Billy Tabram, Fred Mills, George Poyser, and Jimmy McGrath departed. [15]

In preparation for the 1934–35 campaign, Holford signed goalkeeper John Potts, 'outstanding' outside-right John Friar, inside-left David Galloway, and centre-half Joe Craven. [15] After a good start, results tailed off into a scrap against relegation, and Vale ended up fifth from bottom. [15] Leaving the club in summer 1935 were: James Baker, Bob Morton, Jack Blackwell, Joe Craven, Galloway, Ted Critchley, and Jack Round. [15] He prepared for the 1935–36 season by signing striker George Stabb, centre-half Harry Griffiths, left-winger Arthur Caldwell, left-back Roderick Welsh, and right-half Michael Curley. [15] However, he was relieved of his post in September 1935 so that he could concentrate his efforts on scouting. [15] He retired as a scout in 1950, having also been a trainer at the club from July 1939 to July 1946. [10]

Personal life

Holford was a cousin of Wilf Kirkham. [10]

Career statistics


Source: [16]

Appearances and goals by club, season and competition
ClubSeasonDivisionLeagueFA CupTotal
Stoke 1898–99 First Division 500050
1899–1900 First Division710071
1900–01 First Division601070
1901–02 First Division29340333
1902–03 First Division33240372
1903–04 First Division34310353
1904–05 First Division34220362
1905–06 First Division36220382
1906–07 First Division35510365
1907–08 Second Division 2912633515
Manchester City 1907–08 First Division200020
1908–09 First Division2612131715
1909–10 Second Division3012413413
1910–11 First Division29220312
1911–12 First Division32220342
1912–13 First Division38020400
1913–14 First Division15000150
Port Vale 1919–20 Second Division26000260
1920–21 Second Division23110241
1921–22 Second Division501060
1923–24 Second Division200020
Career total4766534751072


Source: [17] [18]

National teamYearAppsGoals
England 190310


Managerial record by team and tenure
Port Vale [16] 1 June 193230 September 1935137473159034.3


As a player

Manchester City

Port Vale


As a manager

Port Vale

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