30 January 1987: Arsenal sell Tommy Caton to Oxford.

by Tony Attwood

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On 30 January 1987 Tommy Caton was sold to Oxford Utd for £180,000.  He was one of those amazingly talented footballers but one of the wild bunch; he died aged 31.

Thomas Stephen Caton was born 6 October 196.  He was a centre half, one of the wild bunch of hard-drinking Arsenal players, but nonetheless a great player for all that – although he never achieved anything like his potential with Arsenal.

Tommy was born in Liverpool, and started out with Man City in 1978 and played in the cup final aged 18.   By the time he was 19 he had played 100 first division games, and although obviously not a goal scorer by trade he did score two against Arsenal on 4 December 1982.

However, Manchester City then had one of their collapses for which at the time they were quite well known, and were relegated in 1983 ending up one point behind Coventry and safety.

Caton didn’t fancy the second division so asked for a transfer and moved to Arsenal for £500,000.  It was said that he wanted a club with stability but within two weeks of his arrival, Terry Neill was dismissed, to be replaced by Don Howe.

Tommy made his debut under Terry Neill’s management on 3 December 1983, wearing the number 6 shirt, playing alongside David O’Leary.  He replaced Hill who moved to right back, himself replacing Robson who later re-emerged at number 7.   Caton’s arrival also meant that Arsenal did not have to rely on Chris Whyte at all, whose failings had come to the attention of the crowd.

He was the regular in his position playing 35 league games in 1984/5 but only 20 in 1985/6 in which season, from mid-December on, his place was taken by Martin Keown.

By the start of 1986/7 a new central partnership of O’Leary and Adams had taken over (Keown being moved on because he dared ask for a pay rise) and thus there was no longer a place, under Graham in his first season, for Caton.

Caton however was not transferred at once, leaving in February 1987 for Oxford Utd for £160,000 – a huge diminution in his value, due to his lack of recent games and the start of his foot and ankle problems.   In November 1988 he moved again, this time to Charlton who at the time were in the first division.

They like Man City at the start of his career, were relegated, but Caton suffered the injury which cut his career short, and he retired from football in March 1993.

The tragedy of Tommy Caton at Arsenal however was not just drink – it was also that he arrived as a flamboyant character under Neill, within weeks found himself playing under Howe, and then suddenly under Burtenshaw and finally Graham.  Only a few players could satisfy all of those men.

After 100 league and cup games and 3 goals, at 24 his time at a big club was over without him ever living up to anything like the potential he had shown at Manchester City.

But the tragedy was far, far deeper than that because only one month after giving up football because of the injuries, on 30 April 1993 he died suddenly of a heart attack.  He was just 30, and left a family with three children.



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