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Tommy Caton: The teenage sensation gone too soon

From a stellar teenage talent to a tragic early death, Tommy Caton’s star shone at its brightest during his time with City.

Tipped to captain England one day, the Kirkby-born teenager with a shock of blond curly hair, represented Liverpool Boys and England Under-16s before being snapped by the Blues for the 1978/79 campaign.

 

He quickly became an integral figure of the youth and reserve sides and played in both legs of the 1979 FA Youth Cup final against Millwall – City losing 2-0 on aggregate.

 

Malcolm Allison had returned to take the reins for the 1979/80 campaign and having sold off a host of established internationals during the summer, he instead focused on youth and for the opening First Division game of the 1979/80 campaign, the 16-year-old Caton and 17-year-old Steve Mackenzie were handed their debuts against Crystal Palace.

 

Caton also appeared in the Blues’ second consecutive run to the FA Youth Cup final, again playing in both legs of the final that City lost 3-2 on aggregate to Aston Villa.

 

Caton was a superb find for Allison and the teenager played in all 42 league games in his first season and when Allison was sacked a few months into the 1980/81, new manager John Bond had no hesitation on keeping Caton as part of his defence.

 

The youngster would experience a third successive year of final heartache as the Blues were beaten by Tottenham in the 1981 FA Cup final replay.

 

TOMMY CATON: The City defender attempts to stop Ricky Villa's spectacular solo goal in the 1981 FA Cup final

 

Such was his influence, he was voted the MCFC Player of the Year for 1981/82 – in a team that included Trevor Francis, Dennis Tueart and Joe Corrigan – the youngest ever recipient.

 

During the 1982/83 campaign, Caton became the youngest player to reach 100 top flight appearances, aged just 19 years and five months, but as City dramatically were relegated on the last day of the season with a 1-0 home loss against Luton Town, so Caton decided his future lay elsewhere.

 

He began the 1983/84 season alongside his regular defensive partner Nicky Reid before Arsenal had a bid of £500,000 accepted and the in December ’83.

 

He’d scored twice in a 2-1 win over the Gunners the previous season and they undoubtedly remembered Caton when they scoured for defensive recruitments.

 

Still only 21, he’d made two games shy of 200 appearances, scored eight goals and served the Club with great distinction and yet still had his whole career ahead of him.

 

Capped 14 times by England Under-21s, it seemed a call-up to the senior side was imminent for Caton, but it never came.

 

Despite craving a club with stability, his time with Arsenal saw several managerial changes (he’d already witnessed four at City) and his form seemed to suffer as a result.

 

Though he played 35 games in his first campaign, partway through his second season at Highbury he lost his place to the emerging Martin Keown.

 

His third campaign saw him slip further down the pecking order with Tony Adams and David O’Leary first choice so in February 1987, Caton accepted the chance to transfer to Oxford United who paid £160,000 for his services.

 

He would stay for 18 months at the Manor Ground, moving on to Charlton Athletic in November 1988 where he picked up a nasty ankle injury during his second season.

 

Caton battled for three years to recover from the injury, but he would never play again and finally was forced to retire in March 1993 aged 30.

 

A father of three young children, tragically, Tommy died of a heart attack on 30 April 1993 – just a few weeks after calling time on his career.

 

His son Andy, now 30, went to play for Swindon Town and several league non-League clubs.

 

As for his father, he remains one of the best young defenders the Blues have ever produced.

 

On this, the 25th anniversary of his death, the Club remembers one of its brightest talents.

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