Risk & Reward: The Market For Players

Credit Graham Burrell

Twenty-seven years ago today (as I write), Darren Huckerby scored City’s only goal as we went down 3 – 1 at Barnet, writes Richard Godson.

We were playing in what was then known as League Division 3 but is now known as League Two. Before long, Huckerby was on his way to Newcastle before ending up at Carrow Road, Norwich where he became something of a hero. Two seasons later we won promotion, by which time Gareth Ainsworth had also come and gone.

My point is this; the evidence is there. We can win and have won promotion having sold star players. Ainsworth is said to have cost us £25,000 when he arrived from Cambridge United and to have grossed the club £500,000 two years later. Huckerby started his professional career at Sincil Bank and scored 5 goals in 28 league appearances before the Toon came knocking and shelled out four hundred grand for his services. Something of a risk, wouldn’t you say? Especially as he clocked only a single appearance in his one season at St James’ Park. Mind you, Newcastle banked a million quid when they shipped him out to Coventry a year later. Over the course of three seasons with the Sky Blues he scored 28 times in 94 appearances in a successful partnership with Dion Dublin. That earned him a £6 million transfer to Leeds United where he scored twice in 40 appearances before crossing the Pennines to Maine Road in a deal said to be worth £3.38m. City in turn sold him to Norwich for an initial £750,000 rising to an eventual £1m after the Canaries were promoted.

Of these, I’d say Lincoln, Newcastle and Coventry, plus Norwich for that matter, took a risk and were rewarded for their investment. Leeds and Manchester City gambled and lost heavily.

All this brings us to Anthony Scully and the club’s transfer policy. City have three main sources of revenue; the supporters, through ticket sales and merchandising, the corporate world, through sponsorship and advertising and finally the players, through trading in and out. All of these can vary and are dependent on and linked to on field success. I should just add at this point that cash injections from new or existing directors are not revenue but capital, which further strengthen the foundations of the club.

During an extraordinary period from 2016 to 2019, City’s on-field success was such that revenue from the first two enjoyed an unprecedented boost from our extended cup runs. Actually, so did the third, albeit indirectly at first. It seems evident, to me at least, that the boost from the cup runs enabled the club to considerably upscale its infrastructure. By this, I do not mean physical assets such as the training ground or the pitch at Sincil Bank. The organisation of the club was also transformed with the arrival of a Chief Exec and a Director of Football among others.

I was fortunate enough to attend the “Evening With….” Event at the beginning of this season and as well as getting to meet the new Head Coach, I also had the benefit of a presentation from Jez George on what I can only describe as a highly sophisticated player recruitment and acquisition policy. If you are offered a chance to witness a presentation like this, take it. You will not be disappointed. The recruitment team’s due diligence is very, for want of a better word, diligent. That doesn’t mean they do, or will, get it right every time. You will have read in a previous article of Zack Elbouzedi and Theo Archibald who are two examples of acquisitions that didn’t perhaps work out quite as hoped. We are talking of people here and people have personalities, they get injured or even do not turn out as expected in spite of all the research the team carry out (and they carry out an awful lot.

An Evening With

But the recruitment team do get it right as Tayo Edun, Harry Toffolo and now, Harry Anderson have shown. The club retains an interest in Mr A as they did in the case of Harry T and no doubt with “Everybody say Tayo” as well. If any of these follow anything like the path of Darren Huckerby, the club will be quids in. Toffolo, whose career only really took off after he joined Lincoln, is already on that trajectory and the club continue to benefit accordingly.

Of course, not every player is signed with a profit on sale as the foremost prerequisite. I’m speculating here but Chris Maguire and John Marquis might have been just such. Liam Bridcutt was very likely recruited more for what he could offer while he was at Sincil Bank rather than what he might bring after he moved on. This was very much the case with Darren Huckerby when, in the latter stage of his career he arrived at Carrow Road, which is why I included Norwich among the clubs who reaped a reward from the risk they took with him.

Behind all this we have a forward-thinking board of directors, headed by a far-sighted Chairman and that is what gives me confidence Lincoln City will continue to prosper, not in spite of selling Anthony Scully but because of it.