Football is regarded as one of the most expensive sports in the world, and this is in part due to the tremendous transfer fees of recent years. Where fans could previously watch their favourite teams for pennies, the entire industry has matured into one that’s expensive for fans and lucrative for players. Finance in football has changed a lot over the past 100-and-a-bit years. Let’s go back through the years of footie financing.
How Modern Football Financing Became Extreme
Trevor Francis was the first £1m transfer player in 1979 when he was bought by Nottingham Forest. Fifteen years later, Chris Sutton was paid £10,000 per week and just one year after that, Dennis Bergkamp was paid £25,000 a week – causing scandals across the world as Stuart Pearce called it a ‘huge waste of money’. In 2000, Sol Campbell quadrupled that in his move from Spurs to Arsenal – the highest wage in football had increased from £100 to £100,000 a week in 40 years. After that, Carlos Tevez took home £1m a month and, according to CashLady, Ronaldo and Messi are earning roughly $9000 (£7,000) per minute on the pitch – each. With modern football being as expensive as it is and so many transfers taking place every year, it will be interesting to see how much higher the salaries will come to be in the coming years.
Moving Closer to Today
Jimmy Guthrie, who had to abandon playing football after a car accident and WWII, took over as chairman of the Players’ Union in August 1946, after the war. The UK had announced high spending to recover from the damage done by the war, and this was reflected in football as Jimmy recovered wages to £12 a week, or £506 today. In 1961, the PFA decided a wage cap wasn’t doing anybody any favours, and the world had its first player paid £100 per week – Jonny Haynes. Just one year after that £100,000 was paid by Manchester United to Torino for Denis Law. That’s over £2m today.
In 1905, the highest transfer fee so far in history was recorded – Alf Common joined Middlesbrough for £1,000, which is the equivalent of £122,505.38 in today’s money. That still feels small by today’s standards, but it set off a trend in rising fees and wages. In 1922, the average weekly wage was increased to £8, and in 1928 David Jack was the first footballer to be transferred for a fee in excess of £10,000 – from Bolton to Arsenal. That fee was the equivalent of £632,944.44 in today’s money. The escalation was clear to see.
150 years ago, it was illegal to pay your players as the sport was solely an amateur game. The biggest scandal in football history at that point came in 1879 when two players for Darwen were found to be paid money for their performances. This rocked the football world and gave many players and teams similar ideas, therefore creating a financial black market of football until officials finally relinquished their obstinacy and legalised professionalism in 1885. Almost immediately, the market lost control, causing the leagues to impose a strict wage limit of £4 a week. According to the Bank of England, £4 in 1880 was equivalent to £484.81 today.