This article originally ran on our sister site, Tale of Two Halves, back in May 2019 – and with all the Erling Haaland chat around goals scored it felt like a good time to remember the last player to really, really score a silly amount of goals in a season in England – Clive Allen.
At first glance, the story of Clive Allen appears to be one of regularity: a tidy if unspectacular career played out mainly in the top flight of English football with a few England caps thrown into the mix. Basically, neither a journeyman’s tale nor the account of a hero.
However, the life and career of Clive Darren Allen is one that warrants more than a cursory understanding. The first-ever teenager to be transferred for a million pounds, Allen played for no lesson than seven London clubs in an 18-year career. Allen would then go on to score the winning goal in an FA Cup semi-final, be at least partially responsible for a pitch invasion and near-riot, be controversially transferred to and from Arsenal without making a league appearance in between, score 49 times in a single season, and finally wind up his career with a stint at an eighth London club when he turned out for London Monarchs American Football side as a placekicker.
Part of a famous footballing family, Clive Allen is the son of Les who was an integral part of Tottenham Hotspur’s Double-winning side of 1961. His uncle, Dennis Allen, played over 400 games for clubs including Reading and Bournemouth, while his cousin, Paul, famously became the then youngest-ever FA Cup finalist when he appeared in the 1980 final for West Ham against Arsenal.
Clive Allen signed for another one of his father’s former clubs, Queens Park Rangers, and made his breakthrough in 1978 as a precarious 17-year-old. Appearing in a side that struggled in the First Division and then failed to get promotion out of the second following relegation, Allen made his mark with 32 goals in 49 league appearances. It was a more than impressive record that brought him to the attention of established giants of English football and it was no real surprise when Arsenal, then managed by Terry Neill, expressed an interest in securing his signature in the summer of 1980.
What was a surprise, however, was the size of the fee involved. It was a period in English football when transfer fees were going through the roof with Trevor Francis becoming the first million-pound signing the previous year when he left Birmingham for Nottingham Forest. Since then, Steve Daley and then Andy Gray had raised the record transfer fee to near the £1.5 million mark with transfers involving Wolves, Aston Villa and Manchester City.
Clive Allen’s transfer from QPR to Arsenal, however, was the first million-pound deal involving a teenager. Arsenal had just sold Liam Brady somewhat against their will to Juventus and were perhaps looking to make a signing or two as both a statement of intent and as part of a rebuilding process, yet with Alan Sunderland and Frank Stapleton established in the side it was hard to see where Allen was going to fit in.
Three pre-season games were all it took for Terry Neill and his assistant, Don Howe, to realise they had made a mistake and so a deal was done with Crystal Palace to swap Allen and reserve goalkeeper Paul Barron for Palace’s England left-back, Kenny Sansom.
It was a deal that remains clouded in a degree of mystery and intrigue to this day. It seemed strange at the time that Neill would wish to swap a striker for a defender, and rumours have abounded that the deal was either a tax-induced one or because QPR refused to deal directly with Crystal Palace when selling Allen in the first place.
Either way, the move took Allen to Selhurst Park and brought him into contact with Terry Venables for the first time. Palace under Venables had been promoted from the Second Division a season previously and had been dubbed ‘Team of the Eighties” in recognition of their potential. 1980-81, however, was to be the season that the wheels fell off somewhat and relegation loomed the following May with Venables long gone (incidentally to QPR where he had previously played and coached).
Allen’s time at Palace was not a success for the club, but he still managed to end the season as the club’s top goalscorer. At the end of the season, Venables put in a bid for Allen which was accepted, and he was on his way back to Loftus Road a mere twelve months after leaving.
A further three seasons were spent playing for Rangers and Venables during which time promotion to the top flight was secured and followed by a top-five finish back in the First Division. It was in the 1981-82 FA Cup, however, that Rangers and Allen came closest to securing a major trophy.
A run to the quarter-finals saw Rangers matched with Allen and Venables’ old team, Crystal Palace. Given what was at stake combined with the fact that there were a number of other players on both sides with connections with both clubs, a volatile atmosphere was always likely to ensue.
Palace turned up at Loftus Road with 8,000 spectators in tow who amused themselves with barracking Allen throughout. In a script that could have been written by the editorial team at ‘Roy of the Rovers’, the scoreline remained blank until the final minute when Allen popped up in the Palace area to bundle home a winner.
Undoubtedly pleased with his day’s work and the now likely outcome, Allen decided to share this joy with his Palace tormentors. In order to do so, he was required to sprint the length of the field to where the away fans were housed and so after an 80-yard charge he stood on his own penalty spot enjoying the moment and inviting the Palace fans to share in his happiness.
Despite it being the 90th minute, Allen had shown a surprising turn of speed. It was this speed that was now required to take him to safety as a large section of the Palace support decided upon the final whistle that they would indeed like to join in the festivities but not quite in the way Allen had perhaps anticipated.
With no perimeter fencing in place at Loftus Road, the Palace fans came over the surrounding wall in their hundreds causing Allen and the rest of the players to turn on their heels and head for the changing rooms at a fair old lick upon the final whistle.
In the semi-final at Highbury, First Division West Bromwich Albion were defeated by the only goal of the game thanks to a strange goal that came about when a defensive clearance rebounded off Allen and into the net nearly rendering him unconscious in the process.
Although the final was lost 1-0 to Tottenham after a replay, Allen would play for QPR in his second spell until 1984 when both he and Venables left the club. While Tel was off to Sunny Spain and Barcelona, Allen moved across London to White Hart Lane where he would be joined by his cousin Paul a year later.
Four seasons at Spurs followed in which Allen and the side were on the brink of challenging for honours without ever actually securing any. In his first season, Spurs challenged for the league title for three-quarters of the season before falling away and finishing third. In 1986-87 under the leadership of David Pleat, Spurs at one point looked on course to challenge for all three domestic trophies. Although ultimately they did not have quite enough in the locker to overcome the Merseyside duopoly in the league, they reached the semi-final of the Littlewoods (League) Cup before losing out to Arsenal over three games and also lost the FA Cup final to an unfancied Coventry City side.
Clive Allen opened the scoring in that 3-2 defeat at Wembley and in doing so scored his 49th goal for Spurs in that amazing season. Playing as a lone striker in a 4-5-1 system, Allen’s predatory instincts were perfect for the formation and he enjoyed the best season of his life.
Unfortunately, Pleat left Tottenham shortly afterwards and with Glenn Hoddle also moving on, that particular Spurs team quickly broke up. Although Allen was reunited with Terry Venables once again when he replaced the outgoing Pleat in autumn 1987, Allen only stayed a further six months at White Hart Lane before leaving to try his luck in France with Bordeaux.
Allen only stayed a single full season in France and despite a more than healthy goalscoring return, he returned to England’s shores in 1989 and to Manchester City. The remainder of his career was spent as somewhat of a footballing nomad with two years at Maine Road being followed by spells at Chelsea, West Ham, Millwall and Carlisle United where he ended his professional career.
Despite his prowess at club level, Allen never really got much of a look-in at full international level. In total he made just 5 appearances for the full side under Bobby Robson, failing to score in any. Whilst it’s true there were many other players in contention at the time, Allen could perhaps be forgiven for thinking he deserved a bit more of a chance than he was ultimately afforded.
Two years after retiring as a player, Allen announced he was going to try his hand at a different form of football and duly signed for the London Monarchs American Football team. American Football was at the time enjoying a short-lived surge in popularity in Britain and for a while, the London Monarchs performed before 40,000-plus crowds at the old Wembley Stadium.
Deployed as a kicker, Allen took to his new sport reasonably well scoring a number of field goals and soon proving that his signature was no publicity gimmick.
Allen has since enjoyed a long career in coaching and has twice been caretaker manager of Tottenham as well as being employed in various background positions at the club.