Hanley born centre half Tom Holford played for Staffordshire junior club Cobridge from 1897, joining Stoke City in May 1898. 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 following Alf Wood’s departure in March 1901. 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 in February 1903 playing in a 4-0 win over Ireland at Molineux, and he is considered the smallest centre-back ever to play for England at just 5 ft 5.
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 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 home town 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 3 days later. Although they were relegated in his first full season, they won the Second Division Championship the following season, 1909-10, with Halford scoring 12 goals in 30 league appearances that season. After a total of 38 goals in 183 appearances for City, he left to re-join Stoke, still in the non league in April 1914, before becoming player manager of Port Vale very soon thereafter. He also guested for Nottingham Forest during World War One 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 when he played his last match for them in April 1924 at Derby County, 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 games 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.