It may not seem like a major point, but this summer could see our record transfer fee paid being broken after 19 long years. Danny and Nicky are no doubt very frugal when it comes to spending the club’s money, but if a deal comes up that represents value for the club, they’ll take it.
We’re being linked with a couple of out of contract players who are under the age of 23, and therefore they would command a transfer fee. It is highly likely that we may have to pay more than the £75k which is our current record fee paid, and therefore finally break a long-standing record that has been a reflection on our financial clout as much as our decline.
It was the summer of 1998 when we last forked out a big transfer fee, the recipients were Bury and our reward for investing so heavily was striker Tony Battersby. It seems like a different era, and it is difficult to believe that in the two decades since we haven’t been in a position to spend a similar amount on players to help our cause. I suppose the Bosman ruling of 1995 made transfer fees less important, and since then much of our recruitment has been free transfers.
Battersby was a skilful if not consistent striker, and he was always capable of scoring great goals and turning in effective performances. If he had done it on a regular basis then he would have been worth every penny of his transfer fee. He didn’t, and as his Imps career bumbled along it became clear he was in decline from the moment he signed for the club. He weighed in with a goal here and another one there but he never made a significant enough impact to be anything other than a squad player. Towards the end of his time with Lincoln he looked unfit and short on motivation and it wasn’t a surprise when his contract was terminated in October 2002.
The summer prior to signing Battersby we’d spent the same amount on another player, defender Dean Walling from Carlisle. Walling was the polar opposite of Battersby, a committed and resolute centre half who was never found wanting for effort or endeavour. He weighed in with almost as many goals in his first season as our star striker did the year after, but serious injury restricted him to just 42 appearances in a Lincoln shirt. We did recoup some of the fee though, Doncaster paid £25k for his services in June 1999.
So who were our record signings prior to Walling and Battersby? Three players held the record, all signed in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. The first player to arrive for £60k was winger Gordon Hobson in September 1988, re-signed from Southampton after leaving the Imps in 1985. There is no doubt Hobson was worth the money, even as he entered the final stages of his career he was an influential player who had the ability to change a game at the drop of a hat.
In October 1989 we brought in another £60k winger with a touch of flair and an eye for goal, Alan Roberts signed from Sheffield United. The 26-year old was viewed as a superb signing, he’d impressed in his years at Bramall Lane and by dropping down to our level he caused quite a stir. Sadly after just a couple of games he got injured, damaging his knee in an FA Cup tie with the oddly named Billingham Synthonia. He was forced to retire in 1990 after just ten outings for City.
The third and final player to hit the £60k mark came from Leicester in January 1990 in the formidable form of Grant Brown. I don’t need to tell you that particular piece of business ended up representing excellent value for money.
We seemed to be doing significant business in the 1980’s, our record fee paid fell several times. In the autumn of 1987 we paid Port Vale £48,000 for winger Paul Smith, a player who stayed until 1995 and whom again represented excellent value for money.
For a short while in the 1989/90 season City had four players who had held the record transfer fee paid, Hobson, Roberts, Smith and Grant Brown. Sadly, there wasn’t a game where all four played at once, although three of them featured on six occasions. Smith, Brown and Roberts played together in two draws (Grimsby 1-1, Hereford 2-2) and a defeat (Exeter 3-0), whilst Robert, Smith and Hobson played in a win (Cambridge 4-3) and two defeats (Carlisle 3-1 and Scarborough 2-0). All that money spent and we won one in six!
Before Smith our record signing was George Shipley, for whom we paid £45k from Southampton. Prior to that the incumbent of the record fee paid was lively striker Derek Bell, a £36k capture from Barnsley. Both were stellar players for City, unlike Tommy Tynan, a player we forked out £33k for in 1978 who, like Roberts, made ten appearances before moving on.
Andy Graver had become our first five-figure transfer fee in 1955 when he arrived back from Leicester for £14k, having only moved to them a year before for £27k. His record stood until September 1974 when the fans contributed towards a £16,666 fee for keeper Peter Grotier, a record that stood until Willie Bell doubled it to bring in the hapless Tynan,
Other notable landmarks were just after the war in October 1948 when we paid Everton £6k for Jock Dodds, a record we equalled in December 1952 when we paid Man United the same for Brian Birch. Can you imagine us buying a player from either of those sides for a club record fee now?
Transfers have changed over the last twenty years, and given the freedom of movement afforded to players when a contract ends, it is often expensive folly to splash out big sums on players. Sean Raggett will come very close to being our biggest outlay if rumour is to be believed. The tribunal fee was around the £50k mark, but a rumoured 30% sell on fee would lift the total figure to somewhere around the £140k mark.
The one thing we can be sure of is we won’t be spending record fees on a player who will only turn out ten times for us. The press around Barrow are reporting that we didn’t have the same valuation of Jordan Williams that Barrow did, and given that figures of £250k were bandied about last summer it isn’t surprising.
It’s all about value for money at this level, and in that respect if we are going to spend fee I expect it to be on a Paul Smith, Grant Brown or Gordon Hobson, not an Alan Roberts, Tony Battersby or Tommy Tynan. Spending big money doesn’t always necessarily bring you the best results, just look at Habergham, Woodyard and Arnold if you need an example of that.