Butler: Looking back at English Football's original £1M man

Noel Butler
8/30/2013 3:29:29 PM
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The manager walked into the press conference dressed in the most outlandish looking shiny nylon red jacket.

Carrying of all things a squash racket.

"He seemed more anxious to talk about squash than his record deal," was how the BBC described the moment.

Not bothering to sit down, perhaps he was already late for the squash court, the man dubbed as 'the greatest manager England never had' addressed his audience.

An immediate hush descended over the room.

"He has all the equipment needed to be a highly successful player that's why we have invested £1,000,000 of Nottingham Forest's money."

The historic seven-figure transfer fee had been breached.

February 9th, 1979 was the day English football welcomed its very first £1 million player, when Trevor Francis moved the short distance from Birmingham City to Nottingham Forest.

Deal brokered by Brian Clough esquire. No hair dryer required. The maverick's maverick.

"Is there any formula you want him to fit into?" a member of the media brassily inquired.

"No, no, no. We have no formula here apart from success." Clough immediately retorted.

He wasn't kidding.

I'd like to see José Mourinho take over a team languishing in mid-table mediocrity in the Championship, guide them to the pinnacle of English football and win the BPL at the very first time of asking.

As an encore?

Win the European Cup the following season, knocking the holders out in the first round.

The first question asked of Trevor Francis at his unveiling was if he felt any burden by becoming that million pound man. 

Clough had taken care of that by always claiming the fee was only £999,999. The actual total figure with taxes and fees worked out at £1,180,000.

This though was no shirt wearing, badge kissing moment. Photo ops didn't fit with the times. In any case Nottingham Forest didn't sign a shirt sponsor until 2 years later.

Francis though did arrive to the lunch time announcement with his fur coat wearing WAG.

That was about as Hollywood as the occasion got.
Contrast this to where we are today as the €100m Gareth Bale to Real Madrid cliff hanger looks set to go down to the deadline day wire.

Fully aware in this social media driven era football now resides in which confidentiality is the opportunity cost - Madrid brazenly erected a stage inside their stadium in which it is expected Bale will be unveiled from.

Jutting out from the sacred director's box of Estadio Bernabeu where the original Los Blancos legend Alfredo Di Stéfano anoints each new arrival, the stage that was put up shortly after Madrid opened up their campaign with the 2-1 victory August 18th against Betis, looks like it will have to be ripped down.

No not because Bale isn't eventually going to get his shirt wearing, badge kissing moment. The little matter of a home La Liga date on Sunday is appearing rather ominously on Madrid's immediate horizon.

A mighty embarrassing moment for President Perez and all concerned at the home of world football's biggest revenue generators.

Perhaps Spurs Chairman Daniel Levy will oblige and pick up the demolition and reconstruction costs.

Bale, who by all accounts yesterday afternoon was out shopping in one of London's smarter looking shopping districts. Cristiano will be so proud of you Gareth, especially for that pink t-shirt and matching baseball cap get up that was flashed around Twitter.

Now if you think Madrid's courtship of Bale, the soon to be anointed GB11, seems to have gone on far longer than Tolstoy's War and Peace then you better think again.

Brian Clough's assistant Peter Taylor revealed at Francis' unveiling - which occurred around what could be best described as a mid-priced ranged coffee table - Nottingham Forest had initially reached out to Birmingham City a full eight years before finally landing their million pound man.

Remind me again, how long before the transfer window closes. Please no extensions Mr. Platini, especially so for your old mate Arsene.

The UEFA President himself was drawn into the sorry mess at yesterday's Champion's League group stage draw.

Where he rather prophetically stated, "Today a player is more a product than a footballer with a whole pile of people trying to get commissions. I think we and FIFA should think about that and find something more healthy."

Whenever we finally get to eclipse that €100m moment the soft spoken Bale is sure to be asked if his slender frame feels the weight of such an obnoxious sum.

Don't answer. What matters is what Bale does on the pitch and not necessarily on that world famous manicured one that adorns the Spanish capital.

If Bale can achieve what Trevor Francis did within months of signing for Forest then all will be forgotten.

Even Cristiano will forgive you for eclipsing his £80m word record sum. That's presuming he's not back home to Old Trafford Tuesday morning for €100m and €1.

It was May 30th, 1979 the occasion the European Cup Final.

Not even four months after signing for Forest who should pop up at the far post in first half added time with the diving header? 

You guessed it, Trevor Francis.  The lone goal of the game, and with it Forest crowned European Champions.

No badge kissing. Just a 25-year old footballer doing what he loved doing best - scoring goals, not gals.

Over to you Gareth, No pressure then mate.

You can reach and follow Noel Butler at:


Noel Butler

Noel Butler

Noel Butler is an analyst for TSN's soccer coverage and his blog can be read on You can follow him on Twitter at and listen to his radio program oranges@halftime on TSN Radio 690 Montreal.


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