Club historian David Bull remembers Cliff Huxford, who has died, aged 81.
Having made his last first-team appearance for Southampton in 1956, Bill Ellerington became a multi-tasking assistant to the Saints manager, Ted Bates.
Given a free-roving scouting mission, he liked especially to watch Chelsea’s Reserves, ever brimming with young talent.
Which meant that, when Bates had the chance to sell Charlie Livesey to Chelsea in the summer of 1959, Ellerington knew just the player to be snapped up in part-exchange: 22 year-old Cliff Huxford, a defensive wing-half, who was “strong, keen and workmanlike,” Bill told Ted, and “very destructive”.
So “destructive” that when “Chopper” Harris – an apprentice at Stamford Bridge at the time of Cliff’s departure – published his list of “iron men”, he placed himself below Huxford.
The deal was done. Terry Paine, the young star of the 1959 team, rated Ellerington’s find: Cliff had so much “drive”, he recalls, and “you knew he’d be there fighting for you, thick-and-thin.”
Add in the fact that Bates extracted a top-up of £12,000 from Chelsea – so that he had money to spend on George O’Brien (another Ellerington recommendation) and Dick Conner – and it is little wonder that Paine considers the purchase of Huxford to be “one of the shrewdest signings that Ted ever made.”
Even Bates himself thought it “amazing”. He promptly made Huxford his captain. The Board’s Management Committee was uneasy: Cliff had played only half-a-dozen first-team games, yet Paine was approaching 100.
Terry was Cliff’s junior by almost two years, but the board persuaded the manager to make Cliff’s appointment provisional, while expressing the hope that Terry would give his new captain the backing that he might need.
But, with Terry being so close to Ted, Cliff increasingly felt that his “authority was being undermined” and that “there was no point in me being captain.”
So he resigned that position after two seasons. By then, however, he and his wife Jill had acquired another mentoring role: homesick teenager Denis Hollywood had moved in with them.
And what an example Cliff set his young charge, who rated him “the best professional in the club – he didn’t drink; he didn’t smoke; he went to bed early.” Throw in the sessions practising tackling in the back garden and this was “a terrific grounding,” Denis affectionately recalls.
Amid all of which Cliff had lifted the Third Division championship trophy at the end of an ever-present first season.
He remained a fixture, with two more ever-present seasons, until 1965/66, a season in which new arrival, David Walker, was a contender for his position and in which, incidentally, Cliff played an odd part in the Saints’ first-ever substitution.
In the days before subs, teams had to have an outfield player ready to replace an injured goalkeeper. Paine was then the Saints’ designated deputy. But when Ron Reynolds went off in the famous 5-4 League Cup-tie vs Leeds in 1961, Ted Bates nominated Huxford, who’d never kept goal before, to take over.
It was “fun”, Cliff told the Echo, as his team-mates built up a 4-0 lead, but “a different thing” when he then conceded four.
On the opening day of the next season, Reynolds went to hospital at half-time. His jersey was entrusted to Paine – but only until Huxford took over for the last 10 minutes.
In the September of 1963 and 1965, Reynolds and Hollowbread, in turn, each suffered a career-ending injury. Huxford took over each time, the difference being that, in 1965, a sole substitute was permitted. So on came Wimshurst, as Cliff took his final turn in goal.
Although he mainly held off Walker’s challenge, that season, he gave way for the last three games in which promotion was clinched. Walker retained possession in 1966/67, but Cliff did make a fleeting appearance as sub, at Blackpool, when the Saints recorded their first top-flight victory, and had one final start in February 1967, his 320th appearance for the Saints.
Having otherwise spent that season in the Reserves, he then enjoyed a year of regular football with Fourth Division Exeter.
All in all, then, an outstanding recovery from being a Chelsea-reject. Cliff now had a non-league flutter and then coached or managed all across Hampshire, while being a Fair Oak-based painter-and-decorator.
He had spent 18 months in residential, and then nursing, care with Alzheimer’s, prior to his death on the morning of August 3rd, the very day of his wife Jill’s funeral.
CLIFFORD GEORGE HUXFORD
8th June 1937 – 3rd August 2018
Cliff Huxford’s funeral is at Wessex Vale Crematorium at 1pm on Wednesday 15th August. All welcome.