David Halliday: top scoring centre forward who couldn’t make it at Arsenal

by Tony Attwood

David “Dave” Halliday was born 11 December 1901 in Dumfries and trained initially as a motor mechanic playing for the works team of car maker Arrol-Johnston.

The works team merged with two others in 1919 to form Queen of the South and the following year on 17 January Dave started playing for them, (and not Queen of the South Wanderers as Dean Hayes has it – that club closed in the 19th century).  In all he played 19 games with them, and is also reported to have played for Tayleurians. 

As QoS had only just formed they only played friendlies and local cup matches including the Dumfries Charity Cup of which QoS reached the final in front of a capacity 4500 crowd.  Halliday scored and put Queens ahead, on their way to winning the cup.

St Mirren offered him a place in their team as a part-timer, and thereafter he moved on to Dundee in 1921 whereupon he changed from being a winger to a centre forward.  He now finished as top Scottish League scorer in 1923–24 with 38 goals from 36 games.  He played for Dundee in the 1924–25 Scottish Cup final, losing 2–1 to Celtic and eventually totalled 90 goals in 126 league games, and played for the Scottish League.

In 1925 Sunderland’s Charlie Buchan went to Arsenal following Chapman’s take over of the management at Highbury, and Sunderland paid £4,000 for Halliday.  He made much use of the new offside law, and scored 35+ each season and with 43 in 1928/9 he was the top scorer in the league ultimately getting 100 goals in 101 league games.   He is said to be the only man in the top division in England to score 30+ goals in four consecutive seasons.


Quite why Sunderland allowed the player to go south is not known.  A director of Sunderland was reported in the Sunderland Echo as saying, “There are things which it is impossible to discuss beyond saying that the directors hands were forced.”  That sounds like a financial problem – which Arsenal were willing to solve.  Also Arsenal would have been well aware of Halliday, because of Buchan’s two years at Arsenal.

But Halliday only played 15 times for Arsenal, scoring eight goals.  So what happened?

David Jack started in the number 9 shirt in the 1929/30 season, but was soon replaced by first Johnstone and the Lambert.  Halliday came in to the first team from November 9 to December 28.

After that there was some more shuffling around until on January 11, Lambert came back for the FA Cup match in which he scored against Chelsea.  Lambert kept his place and on 8 February got a hattrick against Everton.

It wasn’t clear cut which player was best suited to play the number 9 role at first, but the figures by the end of the season, revealed why Chapman believed in Lambert.  While Halliday played 15 league games and scored 8, Lambert played 20 and scored 18.  Plus he played 8 in the FA Cup and scored 5, including one of the two goals that beat Huddersfield to win Arsenal their first ever trophy.   Also we must note that four of Halliday’s goals came in the 6-6 draw with Leicester in the midweek before the cup final, a game that was meaningless for both clubs in terms any trophy.

Of course when not playing Halliday played in the reserves and according to Arsenal.com scored 39 times in just 29 Football Combination matches.  So he could still do it, but it was clear that Lambert could do it better, and indeed Lambert was the one who would be chosen as the prime number nine next season, and Chapman’s choice was vindicated as Lambert got 38 goals in 34 matches to help Arsenal win the league for the first time.

With Arsenal heading for 127 goals in the season Dave Halliday was released and signed for Manchester City in November 1930, only a year after joining Arsenal, for a fee of £5,700, a very interesting profit for Arsenal.   At City Halliday continued his new scoring rate moving from 0.53 goals per game at Arsenal to 0.61 at City, where he was just about the only goalscorer getting 47 goals in 76 league games.

The truth is that Halliday’s prime form came in the immediate aftermath of the change of the offside law in 1925.  By the time he had got to Arsenal every club had their own way of playing the new law, but it was Arsenal that had the unique counter attacking approach that “WM” gave them, and it was clear that Halliday did not have the speed to adapt to this.


Dave then ended his  senior playing career with Clapton Orient between from December 1933 to the end of the following season, scoring 36 goals in 56 first team games.

He then moved on to become player-manager of non-league Yeovil & Petters United. He also scored a further three goals in the FA Cup proper for Yeovil & Petters United (as Yeovil were known at the time following an amalgamation) before taking over as Aberdeen manager in 1937.

Halliday was appointed manager of Aberdeen on 22 December 1937. In 1945–46 he won the Scottish League Cup and also won Aberdeen their first ever title as well as the Scottish Cup.


After Aberdeen he spent three years at Leicester City and won them the second division title.  After that he returned to north east Scotland working for Leicester City as a scout.  He died aged just 68 on 5 January 1970.

Here’s his playing career.  There are no games figures for QoS as they were outside the league at the time.

Years Team Games Goals
1920–1920 Queen of the South
1920–1921 St Mirren 13 2
1921–1925 Dundee 126 90
1925–1929 Sunderland 166 156
1929–1930 Arsenal 15 8
1930–1933 Manchester City 76 47)
1933–1935 Clapton Orient 55 33
1936–1937 Yeovil and Petters United

In his playing career in the league between 1921 and 1936 he played 449 games and scored 373 goals.

Arsenal in the 1930s

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