Hanley, Staffordshire born centre half Tom Holford played for Staffordshire junior club Cobridge from 1897, joining Stoke City in May 1898, making his Football League debut at Sheffield United that September, although he didn’t establish himself as a regular in the Stoke first eleven until March 1901 following Alf Wood’s departure that month. He “did not put a foot wrong” in his first seasons at the club, before establishing himself as the centre of Stoke’s half back line between James Bradley and George Baddeley. For the next ten seasons Holford was a near ever-present in the Stoke team, racking up 105 consecutive appearances from March 1903 to March 1906. His good performances won him an England cap playing in a 4-0 win over Ireland at Molineux in February 1903, and he is considered the smallest centre back ever to play for England at just 5 ft 5 inches.
During Holford’s time at Stoke he became known as ‘Dirty Tommy’ as he played the game in a fiery style, although he was never sent off. He succeeded George Baddeley as Stoke’s club captain in 1905. Holford’s manager Horace Austerberry described him as “an excellent passer of the ball and one who played every match as if it was his last”.
In 1908 Stoke went bankrupt and dropped out of the Football League and to play in the Birmingham League. Holford was too good to be lost to non-league football and so he had to leave his hometown club, for whom he scored 33 goals in 269 appearances. He became a Manchester City player on 18th April 1908 making his debut against Bristol City three days later. Although they were relegated in his first full season, despite Holford, deputising at centre forward, scoring hat-tricks against Bradford City, Tottenham Hotspur in the FA Cup, Everton and Sheffield Wednesday during the season. They won the Second Division Championship the following season, 1909-10, with Holford scoring 12 goals in 30 League appearances that season, again playing mainly at centre forward. After a total of 38 goals in 183 appearances over six seasons for Manchester City, he left to re-join Stoke, now in the Southern League, in April 1914, before becoming player manager of Port Vale very soon thereafter. He also guested for Nottingham Forest during the First World War in between his service in the War in the Army.
After the War, already 41 years old, he played on. He was player-manager of Port Vale until March 1920 and he played his last match for them at Derby County in April 1924, when he was aged 46 years and 68 days, making him one of the oldest ever players in the Football League. By then he had scored once in 58 matches for Vale and made over 500 career appearances. He became manager of Port Vale again from June 1932 to September 1935. He then continued at Vale as a scout, retiring in 1950 having also been a trainer at the club from July 1939 to July 1946. He was a cousin of Port Vale player Wilf Kirkham.