John Thomas "Tom" Brittleton (23 April 1882 – 22 February 1955) was a professional footballer. He was one of the pioneers of the long throw-in. With a career spanning over 30 years, including 24 seasons in the Football League, he is the oldest person to play for Sheffield Wednesday in a competitive game.
Brittleton was born in Winsford, Cheshire on St George's Day 1882. He started his football career by playing for Winsford Juniors at the age of 10. Whilst at his next junior club, Winsford Celtic, he played in every position including goalkeeper.
After leaving school at the age of 14, Brittleton signed for the town's senior side, Winsford United. He went on to play many County League games and earned several winners medals in the Cheshire Amateur Cup, appearing in three district finals in one season.
Whilst at United, a Stockport County fan, who was visiting his girlfriend in Winsford, watched Brittleton play a match and informed the Stockport management of his skills. Shortly afterwards he signed amateur forms with County at the age of nineteen. He continued his job at the Winsford Salt Works, and even, on one occasion, missed a Stockport game that he was due to play in so that he could instead play for Winsford in a Cheshire Amateur Cup game. Despite his apparent lack of commitment to County he eventually signed professional forms with the club and hence started his Football League career.
Brittleton began his league career with Stockport County in 1902 as an inside forward. He went on to score ten goals in forty-five appearances for the Lancashire club, and after County had played a game at Ashton in December 1904, the referee sent a report to Sheffield Wednesday recommending the player. Wednesday immediately sent a £200 bid to Stockport which was rejected. Undeterred, the Owls improved their offer to a club record fee of £300, and Brittleton signed for the Yorkshire club on 6 January 1905.
Brittleton made his debut for Wednesday on 14 January 1905, playing in the inside right position in place of Harry Chapman. During his early time at The Owlerton Stadium, Brittleton played in most of the outfield positions before becoming established as a wing-half and a long-term replacement for Harry Ruddlesdin.
Brittleton played in all of Sheffield Wednesday's matches in the 1906–07 FA Cup, culminating in the club's 2–1 victory against Everton in the final at Crystal Palace.
In 1911, Brittleton was invited to represent the Football Association for a summer tour of South Africa. However, the player, once described as "the biggest home bird you could ever meet", declined, preferring instead to spend the off-season fishing.
Brittleton made his international debut on 10 February 1912 at the age of 29 in a match against Ireland which England won 6–1. He won four more international caps, and did not lose a game that he played for his country.
In 1919, Wednesday allowed Brittleton to move back to Winsford, although he continued to play for the club. He went on to make a total of 373 appearances for the Owls in all competitions, scoring 33 goals in the process. His last match for Sheffield Wednesday was against Oldham Athletic on 1 May 1920; aged 38 years and 8 days, Brittleton became the oldest man to play for the Owls. After more than 15 years with the club he was rewarded with a free transfer.
After looking set to re-join non-league Winsford United, Brittleton moved to Second Division Stoke. Brittleton family folklore has it that he actually signed for Winsford before moving almost immediately to Stoke and that the Cheshire club received a small transfer as part of the deal, however no records have been found to back up the claim. He joined Stoke at the age of 41 and many questioned as to Brittleton could still play a part in professional football. However despite his advancing years he still commanded respect and was indeed able to play as through he was in his twenties. Due to his experience he was appointed player-coach at Stoke working alongside Arthur Shallcross. He helped Stoke gain promotion to the First Division in 1921–22 but Stoke struggled the following season and Shalcross was sacked. Jock Rutherford took over but soon left and Brittleton was given the opportunity to become manager but he rejected. Instead he carried on playing in the 1924–25 season playing in eight matches at the age of 45 a record not to be surpassed until Stanley Matthews.
After retiring from League football Brittleton returned to his hometown to take up the position of player-manager at Winsford United whilst also working for ICI. When he finally stopped playing, he became the landlord of the town's Navigation Inn.
His younger brother, Sam (b. 1885), was also a professional footballer with Stockport County, Preston North End and Southampton.
His son, John (1906–1982), played for Aston Villa for three seasons in the 1920s.