It was sad to read that Trevor Francis, the first £1 million player in British football history, died in July 2023 at the age of 69.
The striker wouldn’t have known it at the time, but his 1979 move from Birmingham City to Nottingham Forest would set off a chain reaction that would see the world’s first eight and even nine-figure transfer fees being paid in the decades that followed.
Of course, Brian Clough – the manager who signed Francis for Forest – would have you believe that he actually paid £999,999 for the player’s services….he wrote that he didn’t want the landmark of the million pound sum to ‘go to his head’. After fees and taxes were paid, the actual amount was closer to £1.1 million.
The duo would enjoy great days together in Nottingham, winning two European Cups amongst other things, while Francis’ place in the annals of British football was secure.
But, of course, he wasn’t the only player to contribute to the milestones of football transfer in the UK.
First £1,000+ Transfer – Alf Common
Alf Common is responsible for not one but two milestone moments in English football transfers.
He was the first £500 player in the beautiful game, re-joining Sunderland from Sheffield United for the magic mark in 1904.
Common would double up – quite literally – just six months later, leaving Sunderland and joining Middlesbrough in what was then a record £1,000 transfer.
Both buying clubs could argue that they got a good deal, with Common firing the goals that took Sunderland to second place in the First Division, while Middlesbrough – who faced relegation prior to the capture of Common – would survive and enjoy a six-year unbroken spell in the top-tier courtesy of their new forward player.
First £10,000+ Transfer – David Jack
British football’s first five-figure transfer fee was paid in 1928, with David Jack joining Arsenal from Bolton for the princely sum.
Notching some 267 goals across a 15-year career, Jack will forever be the subject of pub quiz debate after he achieved another remarkable milestone: he was the first ever player to score at Wembley Stadium, nothing in the 1923 FA Cup final as Bolton defeated West Ham.
According to football folklore, Arsenal boss Herbert Chapman persuaded Bolton to sell Jack to him by getting the club’s representatives drunk at a hotel – while ordering double gin & tonics for the Trotters’ reps, Chapman himself was drinking just tonic water.
First £100,000+ Transfer – Denis Law
Denis Law was one of football’s first true mavericks – enjoying two spells at Manchester City with a stop-off at their despised rivals Manchester United in-between!
Law was also one of the most sought-after strikers in European football, with three of his transfers breaking various records.
He joined Man City from Huddersfield Town for £55,000 in 1956 – a then English record fee, before becoming the first £100,000 player in 1961 when he left Manchester for Italian club Torino.
Law would later return to England at Manchester United, with the Red Devils paying £115,000 to Torino in 1962; again, a British record.
You can see why Law was so wanted, given that he became the first and only Scottish player to win the Ballon d’Or in 1964 and ended his career with 303 goals in 602 appearances – including 46 in a single season for United in 1963/64.
First £1 Million+ Transfer – Trevor Francis
As we’ve learned, Francis shattered the glass ceiling in football by becoming the domestic game’s first £1 million player.
Was it money well spent? Given that Nottingham Forest won two European Cups and a Super Cup with Francis leading the line, you’d have to say that Clough was justified in splashing out the cash on his new man.
Francis would go on to win 50 England caps, scoring twice at the World Cup in 1982, before going on to win silverware later in his career at Sampdoria and Sheffield Wednesday.
First £10 Million+ Transfer – Alan Shearer
In 1996, Alan Shearer had the world at his feet after his 37 goals – the third season in a row he’d passed the magic 30+ milestone – led Blackburn Rovers to the unlikeliest of Premier League titles.
Manchester United was Shearer’s likely port of call after a persuasive chat with Sir Alex Ferguson, but when the striker’s hometown club Newcastle United came calling, the pull on Shearer’s heartstrings was greater than the thrill of playing for one of British football’s best ever managers.
He agreed terms on a £15 million deal to join the Magpies from Blackburn, going on to win exactly zero trophies at Newcastle as Ferguson added stacks of silverware to United’s cabinet.
Does Shearer regret it? Only he truly knows….
First £50 Million+ Transfer – Fernando Torres
After the turn of the new millennium, transfer fees in world football went berserk.
By 2011, the UK has its first £50 million player – Fernando Torres swapping Merseyside for London and red for blue when he joined Chelsea from Liverpool.
The Spaniard appeared to be the closest thing to a sure bet in football, blasting 65 goals in just 102 appearances for the Reds.
But whether the price tag lay heavy or not only Torres knows, however he failed to recapture his best at Stamford Bridge – scoring just 20 goals in 110 games. That said, the striker did win the Champions League and FA Cup in his time with Chelsea.
First £100 Million+ Transfer – Philippe Coutinho
While Jack Grealish was the first British player to command a £100 million transfer fee when he joined Manchester City from Aston Villa, there had been a prior deal that opened the door to the nine-figure club.
In 2018, Philippe Coutinho became just the third player in history – and the first involving a British club – to be sold for £100 million+. Liverpool cashing in on Barcelona’s evident desperation to sign the Brazilian.
The irony, for Reds supporters at least, is that Coutinho never matched the heights he reached at Anfield – another, perhaps, whose career was derailed by the pressure of being a milestone man.
The race is on now to become the first £1 billion player!