Moxley, Staffordshire born goalkeeper Tommy Allen played his youth football for various local sides including Bilston United before the First World War, and during the War he played for Wolverhampton Wanderers before joining First Division side Sunderland in May 1919. He made his Football League debut at Aston Villa in September 1919 and during Sunderland’s first post-war season he vied for the ‘keeper’s gloves with Leslie Scott and James Dempster, making 20 appearances. Despite the fact that he was seen as a fine prospect at Roker Park, at the end of the season the Sunderland management failed to include his name on the list of players retained for the following season and he was quickly snapped up by Southampton for their first Football League season.
He made his Southampton debut in their inaugural League fixture at Gillingham that August, soon becoming the backbone of The Saints’ defence, and in his first season Southampton narrowly missed out on promotion. In the 1921-22 season he kept 26 clean sheets as Southampton took the Division Three (South) Championship on goal average from Plymouth Argyle. The Saints’ total of only 21 goals conceded in a 42 match season was a Football League record which stood until 1979 and remains a record for Southampton. Allen did not concede a goal in any of the final seven games of the season and by the time his defence was finally breached by Leeds United on 28th August 1922 he had gone 845 minutes without conceding a goal.
He was a tall, slightly built man and according to Holley & Chalk’s “Alphabet of the Saints” “his agility was often described as miraculous”. His slender build was frequently the cause for banter in the dressing room; players in the bath would cry out in mock alarm: “Look out, the plug’s pulled – we don’t want to lose Tom down the drain!” Saints struggled to make any impact in the Second Division but enjoyed some exciting runs in the FA Cup. In 1923 they got through each of the first three rounds after replays (over First Division Newcastle United, Chelsea and Second division Bury), before going out to West Ham United after a second replay. In the first Fourth Round match against West Ham at The Dell Allen was injured as he bravely thwarted Vic Watson and was replaced in the replays by veteran ‘keeper Herbert Lock.
In 1925 the Saints defeated Liverpool 1-0 in the fourth round to reach the semi-final where they came up against another First Division side, Sheffield United. In the match played at Stamford Bridge on 28th March 1925, Saints’ defender Tom Parker had a dreadful afternoon, first scoring an own goal, then suffering a rare miss from the penalty spot (shooting straight at the ‘keeper) before a mix up between him and goalkeeper Allen gave The Blades their second goal.
Southampton were again drawn against Liverpool in the third round of the FA Cup in January 1926. In the first match, at The Dell, Allen collided with his teammate Michael Keeping and had to leave the pitch with bruised ribs. Arthur Bradford took over in goal for the remainder of the match, which ended goalless. For the replay (lost 1-0), Allen was replaced by Len Hill, who kept his place until Allen returned to the team at the end of February.
In 1927 The Saints again reached the FA Cup semi final defeating Newcastle United on the way. In the semi final match, played at Stamford Bridge on 26th March 1927, Saints were beaten 2-1 by Arsenal with their goal coming from Bill Rawlings. In this match, Southampton came up against their former star full back Tom Parker who had had a nightmare in Saints’ previous semi final appearance two years earlier. This time Parker was on the winning side as Arsenal moved on to Wembley, before famously losing to Cardiff City in the Final.
In the early part of the 1927-28 season, Allen was injured and new signing George Thompson took over for eight matches, before Allen’s return to fitness in November. In June 1928, Allen moved on to Coventry City at the same time as Bill Henderson, with Bill Stoddart moving the other way in exchange. In his eight seasons with The Saints he made 323 appearances, which remains a club record for a goalkeeper.
He was an ever present in his first two seasons at Coventry, but after four seasons and 163 appearances at Highfield Road he signed for Accrington Stanley, where he spent the 1932-33 season, making 37 appearances. Now aged 36 he was nearing his 500th League game, a milestone he reached in his first game with his next club, Northampton Town, where he remained for the 1933-34 season and for whom he made 25 appearances. This was followed by three years with non league Kidderminster Harriers and a spell at Cradley Heath. He retired from football in 1938.
NB in the photograph Allen makes a save in a match against Bury.