In the good old days, football was played by toffs with big moustaches, and was called 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 – at the time, £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 Malmö, earning Forest their first European Cup.
The advent of the Premier League and its multi-million-pound broadcast deals (the current deal, signed in 2012, is worth £3bn 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. But in the January 2015 transfer window, at least £130m was spent by Premier League clubs. The top deals included Chelsea forking out £23.3m to Fiorentina for Colombian winger Juan Cuadrado, and Manchester City handing Swansea City £28m for Wilfried Bony.