It may be hard to believe but the sight of Jim White trying to look excited about a League Two loan signing at five-to-midnight on deadline day is something we’ve only had to endure for the past decade or so, but that doesn’t mean that the history of transfers was any less exciting.
Whether it was an unexpected, out of the blue purchase or a peacock like courtship between two clubs that would go on for weeks – fans would often be left asking the Kennedy-like question, ‘Where were you when you heard about..?'.
It’s widely accepted that the first-time that money had changed hands between football clubs for a professional player was in 1893 when Jack Southworth was transferred from Blackburn Rovers to Everton for £400. Southworth went on to score an amazing 36 goals in 31 games for his new club the following season and Rovers were left counting the cost of losing their best player. Sound familiar?
Despite several measures brought in by the Football League to prevent this unadulterated pilfering of the game’s best players the signing triggered what we now know as the transfer market and such was the clamour among clubs to get the very best players available, that £400 paid by Everton soon looked like something of a bargain.
Transfer fees grew steadily throughout the 20th century, despite something of a slump during the interwar years, but it was the 1960s and 1970s that saw a real acceleration in prices that reflected the ambitions of clubs not only domestically but in European competitions too. A deal worth £99,999 taking Jimmy Greaves from AC Milan to Tottenham was a sign of things to come.
When Denis law returned to Manchester United from Italian club Torino for £115,000 it was the first six-figure fee paid by a British club in a sign of things to come as the swinging sixties gave way to the era of the 1970's superstar and this was epitomised when Trevor Francis signed for Nottingham Forest from Birmingham City for an eye-watering £1 million, but even this was a drop in the ocean compared to what was to follow.
The 1980s saw Bryan Robson, Paul Gascoigne and Tony Cottee to name just a few change hands for fees in excess of a million pounds but it wasn’t until the birth of the Premier League in the early 1990s that we were to witness anything close to the astonishing amounts that we are more accustomed to today.
In the years since we’ve seen no let-up in the amount of money changing hands and the number of clubs wanting to get involved as ever-increasing TV deals and the global popularity of the Premier League has led to a bunch of clubs looking to spend their new found wealth. The summer 2016 transfer window has seen spending smash through the £1 billion barrier for the first time.
Throw-in a new TV deal to the value of £5 billion and it’s fair to say that – like it or loath it – the transfer market in this country is as strong as it’s ever been, and so is our fascination with everything that surrounds it.