Every summer fans and pundits complain about rising transfer fees. This year the evidence is the £17million West Ham bid for Darren Bent, and the £18million Manchester United spent on Owen Hargreaves.
The blight of rising player fees makes fans exclaim disbelief, and pundits fret about the future. But here at Pseud’s Corner we think for ourselves, so lets celebrate the history of rising prices with a look at the past.
Alf Common - £1,000 – 1905
As one of the best young players in English football, Alf Common left Sunderland shortly after they finished football league runners-up in 1901. He moved to Sheffield United for £350 and went on to win the 1902 FA Cup, scoring in the final against Southampton. Two years later he claimed his first of three England caps, scoring twice.
Common then returned to Roker Park, and quickly left again in a transfer that rocked football.
Sunderland were considered among the big clubs of the English league in 1905. Middlesbrough were trying hard to stave off relegation. They succeeded in doing so partly thanks to an outlay of an incredible £1000 for a player who cost Sunderland a record £520 just a few months earlier.
Boro built on that survival and recorded their best ever league season in 1914, finishing third. But by then Common had moved on to Arsenal where he failed to score as they were relegated in the 1912-13 season. He then finished his career with Preston North End where he claimed a division two winners medal.
David Jack - £10,890 – 1928
David Jack has two notable firsts to his name. One is that while winning the 1923 FA Cup final with Bolton Wanderers, he became the first player to score at Wembley Stadium. The other was that he was English football’s first £10,000 player.
Jack started his career with Plymouth Argyle and moved to Bolton Wanderers shortly after. While there he won the FA Cup twice, scoring the winner in his second triumph, this time against Manchester city in 1925.
Bolton were later forced to sell their most prized asset and top goal scorer because of financial difficulties. Arsenal stepped forward and paid the amazing £10,890 in 1928, 23 years after Alf Common’s landmark move. And just like 1905, this transfer nearly doubled the previous record.
The move proved a success for Jack who joined Arsenal in a golden age under Herbert Chapman. He won the FA Cup again, and went on to win three division one titles in the early 1930s before retiring as younger players pushed him out of the team.
Jimmy Greaves - £99,999 – 1961
Denis Law - £115,000 – 1962
Jimmy Greaves and Denis Law were both the first £100,000 player in English football. And to understand this anomaly you will have to read on to Trevor Francis. In the mean time these two strikers signed for what were at the time England’s two most glamorous clubs.
Greaves had left Chelsea aged just 21 having already scored over 100 league goals. He went to Italy and AC Milan where the lack of a wage cap meant he could earn more money. Law signed for Torino that same year for the same reason, leaving Manchester City who had themselves spent a British record £55,000 on him.
The outcry at Britain’s best players leaving for Italy led to the end of the wage cap. And with that Greaves left AC Milan as their top scorer after just a few months, while Law followed Greaves shortly after.
Bill Nicholson did not want to burden his record signing’s reputation with the status of first £100,000 player. As such he agreed with AC Milan that one pound short of six figures was enough. When Law signed for Manchester United, Matt Busby dispensed with such concerns by paying a whopping £115,000.
These players became legends in what fans consider to be the golden age of both clubs. In 1963 Greaves inspired Spurs to win Britain’s first European trophy. Law then inspired the Red Devils to become the first English European Cup winners in 1968. They both went on to score more than a goal every other game for their countries making Law the current joint top goal scorer for Scotland, and Greaves third for England.
Trevor Francis - £999,999 – 1979
Nottingham Forest manager Brian Clough and Spurs manager Bill Nicholson had more in common than their legendary love of passing football. Hence, like Greaves before him, Trevor Francis did not quite earn Birmingham City the landmark seven figures that he effectively cost. Clough wanted to save his player from that pressure.
Oddly though, while Clough set the price £1 below the landmark figure Steve Daley did not become the equivalent to Denis Law 18 years earlier. His transfer from Wolves to Manchester City for £1.438million was a record, but every history book makes Francis the first £1million man.
Trevor Francis was a stunning player at a mediocre Birmingham City, and like Law and Greaves before him he won nothing until he moved. Three months after the February transfer he not only won the European Cup, but scored the winning goal in the final when he headed home John Robertson’s cross.
Sadly from that point on his Forest career went down hill. Clough tended to play him on the right instead of as centre forward; he lost the 1980 League Cup Final, and he missed the European Cup Final that year through injury. He was sold a year later.
Despite his Forest woes Francis continued to be a key figure in the England squad making more than 50 appearances, and in 1981 he moved to Manchester City and then on to Sampdoria with whom he won the Coppa Italia in 1985. He then moved to Atalanta and then Glasgow Rangers where he won his last trophy, the Scottish Cup in 1987.
Alan Shearer - £15million – 1996
Aged just seventeen, Alan Shearer broke his first record on his Southampton debut. He became the youngest scorer of a hat trick in league football, a record previously set by Jimmy Greaves in the 1950s. He also scored thirteen goals in eleven games for England U21s, and in 1992 made his debut for England, scoring alongside Gary Lineker.
That same year Shearer became English football’s most expensive player when that same year he was bought by Blackburn Rovers. The £3.6million was seemingly well spent. Having turned down Manchester United he scored 130 goals for Blackburn Rovers in just four years, 112 of which were in the league.
During his time at Blackburn Shearer won the PFA Player of the year, scored 30 league goals in three seasons, and won the Premier League. He also cemented his place as an England international, winning the Golden Boot at the European Championships in 1996.
That summer he moved to the club he supported as a boy, Newcastle United. The transfer cost Newcastle £15million, nearly twice the previous record, and although it was intended to end their long trophy drought it failed. Shearer earned runners up medals for the Premier League and FA Cup, and was voted PFA Player of the year again, but never won another trophy.
He earned 63 caps and scored 30 goals over his career, and scored a club record 206 goals for Newcastle, the last of which came in his final game for the club against local rivals Sunderland. The fact that more than 100 of those goals were league goals meant another note in history, Shearer joined Jimmy Greaves as only the second player ever to score 100 league goals for two clubs.
£100million – 2012?
Sixteen to eighteen years seems to be a fairly constant period for a 10 fold rise in English football’s record transfer. With that in mind we should plan for the next landmark to be reached in around 2013.
We can also assume a number of things about the player involved before then. He will probably be young, will almost certainly be an international if not before then after the move, and he may not actually cost as much as £100million. He will win trophies before or after the move, and would probably already hold the transfer record before the big one happens.