Alan Skirton: first man to score a European goal at Highbury

By Tony Attwood

Alan Skirton was born 23 January 1939 in Bath, and was signed from Bath City for £5000 in January 1959 by George Swindin.   In total he had 153 games for Arsenal’s first team in League and Cup.

He moved on to play as an amateur with Bristol City as an amateur but they chose not to sign him, but having returned to Bath he was picked up as a possible player both by Arsenal and Chelsea.  However he chose Arsenal because they had a reputation for helping to train players for their career after football.

Unfortunately soon after signing Alan was taken ill with TB and missed a whole year from his career.

His debut came on 20 August 1960 when played at number 7 in the first game of the season, a 3-2 away defeat at Burnley.  In all he played 16 league games that season both at outside right and outside left, sometimes playing on the opposite wing to Danny Clapton, with the players also sometimes alternating in playing position on occasion.

In his second season he played in 38 of the 42 league games and became the club’s top scorer.  But, as with so many players before and since, he then lost his place not because of a loss of form but because of change of manager.  However over time other players did emerge to challenge him most notably  John Macleod and George Armstrong.

Here is Alan’s league record…

  League Goals Manager
1960/1 10 3 Swindin
1961/2 38 19 Swindin
1962/3 28 10 Wright
1963/4 15 7 Wright
1964/5 22 3 Wright
1965/6 23/1 9 Wright
1966/7 2 2 Mee
Total 144/1 53

In 1966/7 Alan only played the first two games of the season before being transferred to Blackpool, but this time his transfer was not because of one player taking his place.   Armstrong played most of the season at outside left, but there was no settled player for the number 7 shirt, Coakley, Nelson, Court and Simpson all trying the position without enormous success.

The transfer to Blackpool was for £65,000 and Alan left having played 145 league games for Arsenal, and scoring 53 goals.  He had incidentally played 144 times for Bath.  After that he played for Bristol City, Torquay United, Durban City (in South Africa) and Weymouth.

Upon retirement Alan became a commercial manager at Weymouth, Bath City and finally, Yeovil – where there is a great testament to his work on their web site.

Although the club won no trophies during Alan’s time with Arsenal, he himself created a record as the first Arsenal player to score a goal in a European game – scoring the first goal in the second leg of round 1 of the Inter Cities Fairs Cup.  The game was against Stævnet of Denmark on 22 October 1963 – Arsenal had won the first leg 7-1 (Geoff Strong got three as did Joe Baker – MacLeod getting the other).  The second leg was lost 2-3 in front of just 13,569 people.

Alan Skirton did an interview a while back for and speaking of Arsenal he said,

“When you had played 11 games for the first team you got a blazer. I was as pleased as punch going down to the West End to get measured up. It was marvellous. It meant the world to me.

Arsenal was, and still is, a lovely football club. I came to a tribute night for my friend Frank McLintock and sitting next to me was a lady and her son. It was Geordie Armstrong’s wife and son… tremendous.

This is what Arsenal is all about. One of the players who is sadly not with us anymore but not forgotten by the Club who has embraced his family. I just think this is incredible; it’s something Arsenal is so fantastically good at. They never seem to forget. Anybody that has been connected with Arsenal will always be very, very glad about it.

“I enjoyed every minute of my time there and the teams I played in with the likes of George Eastham, Joe Baker, Jimmy Bloomfield, George Armstrong, Jon Sammels, Frank McLintock and others would be a mile in front of the stars of today.”

Alan also had an insight to offer on the fitness approach under Bertie Mee as physio as Alan returned from a year out.   “When I reported to Highbury I was still on 10 tablets a day but he [Mee] ran my guts out to get me fit. I even had to run around Highbury with Bertie on my back. I tell you I threw up every morning and afternoon at those sessions. But I thought the world of that fellow; he was such a lovely man.”

Alan is now retired, and having seen him play many times in my childhood, I’d like to wish him many more happy years in retirement.

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15 Replies to “Alan Skirton: first man to score a European goal at Highbury”

  1. I read that his biggest regret in life was leaving the Arsenal. I’m too young to have ever seen Alan play but from everything I have ever read, both about and from him, just seems to radiate his complete love for the club.

  2. I saw him many times – this is a lovely write-up about a player from those lean years!

  3. I remember one game in particular that Alan played in it was against Spurs in 1962. It was the year after the great Spurs side won the double. They took the lead with a goal from Dave Mackay we equalised with a goal from Mel Charles we were attacking the clock end and Alan scored with a blistering shot to win the game 2-1. I was 16years old at the time,I remember that game as if it was yesterday.

  4. I used to love watching Alan charge down the right wing. He was big and very fast. He sometimes shoulder charged the full back to get past him. There was a lot of excitement at Highbury in those days and as a young lad I really enjoyed match days.

  5. I remember the Highbury Express – my little mob in the West Stand, half way line often wondered why, with his physique, he didn’t play centre forward. He certaily had the power and goalscoring. We just used to love the opposition full backs being bounced like drunks at closing time.

  6. Was at the staevnet game 7,1 away, we ll murder them, lost 3,2 ,
    My late dad hated skirton, called him daisy skirton, my first season, we were a big club who had fallen away, and the older supporters were very impatient, as skirton alluded to, arsenal are a class act, but we needed it on the field, it took 7 more long years, fairs cup second leg, i was there, the place went bonkers, dont believe the official attendance, highbury was rammed, the start of modern arsenal, 18 years of hurt, gone

  7. I always remember Alan running down the wing so fast that he was unable to stop and had to leap over the railings into the crowd. I was only a schoolboy then but I loved that forward line with Alan… Baker, Eastham, young George Armstrong etc.

  8. I remember Alan as a national serviceman in the RAPC at Devizes in 1958/59….he had a great sense of humour….good to share his company in the QM barrack room along with Bill Gibbons, Mo Mockett, “Arty” Towns, “Tubs” Hill, Brian Vincent amongst others

  9. I am so sorry to hear that Alan Skirton has passed away. He was an exciting and often effective player. My friend and I called the last ten minutes of a match “Alan Skirton time” since he seemed to score frequently in that closing period of matches.

  10. Sad news. I knew someone who years ago had connections with Yeovil Town and said what a great character Alan Skirton was and doing such a good job there.
    An exciting player at Arsenal, I remember when he was signed and then held back by illness and national service. When on top form a handful for any defender to contain. I believe older Arsenal fans of that time compared him to Alf Kirchen of the 1930’s team because of his fast powerful style and finishing. Like Kirchen, who went back to Norfolk from where he came, Skirton returned to his roots in the West country after he was nearly finished playing.

  11. An interview with Alan in Backpass magazine a couple of years ago highlighted how much he still loved our club.

  12. Blackpool fan here- loved watching him charge down the wing, very fast for a big build man.Happy memories of him starring in a 6-0 win against Newcastle Utd 66/67 season.

  13. Just to add to the picture. We had a song for him reflecting his powerful presence and play.
    ‘We’ve got the Bomb, we’ve got the Bomb e I adio we’ve got the Bomb.
    less than subtle but reflected his runs down the wing and his powerful heading ability!

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