9 February 1979: Britain’s first £1m footballer
British football's first £1m transfer took place on this day in 1979 when Trevor Francis moved from Birmingham City to Nottingham Forest.
In the good old days, football was played by toffs with big moustaches, who called it “soccer” to differentiate it from “rugger”. Then the oiks got involved, and they wanted paying. And with professionalism came transfer fees.
The first transfer fee paid in Britain was a whopping £100 as Willie Groves moved from West Bromwich Albion to Aston Villa in 1893. The following year, there was uproar as Alf Common went from Sunderland to Middlesbrough for £1,000. And the swinging Sixties saw Denis Law head from Manchester City to Torino for £100,000.
But it took until this day in 1979 for the million-pound barrier to be broken in Britain, when Trevor Francis moved from Birmingham City to Nottingham Forest. (Francis wasn't the world's first million-pound footballer; that honour goes to Italian Giuseppe Savoldi, who went from Bologna to Napoli for two billion lira which, at the time, was £1.2m.)
Forest's manager, Brian Clough, claimed the fee was £999,999, but, along with taxes, fees and other obscure expenses that come along with football transfers, the actual amount paid was £1.18m.
Many think Francis never really lived up to his potential at Forest. He spent six months out injured, but in the 50 appearances he made, he scored 22 goals. And in the 1979 European Cup Final, it was Francis' flying header that sealed a 1-0 victory over Malmo, earning Forest their first European Cup.
The advent of the Premier League and its multi-million-pound broadcast deals (the current deal, from 2019-2022, is worth some £1.6bn per season to premiership clubs) left the game awash with money. And that has led to rampant transfer-fee inflation. In 1992, seven years after the Premier League was formed, Nicolas Anelka left Arsenal for Real Madrid for £22.5m. In 2009, Cristiano Ronaldo fetched £80m for Manchester United, again from Real Madrid.
In these days of undisclosed fees, it can be difficult to keep track of who went where for what. At the time of writing, however, the most expensive player playing in England is Manchester United's French midfielder Paul Pogba, who cost around £90m when he transferred from Italian club Juventus in 2016. The most expensive player ever sold by an English club is Philippe Coutinho, who went from Liverpool to Barcelona in 2018 for a reported £105m.