The signing of Michael Owen for £16m in 2005 marked the end of one of the longest periods in the history of Newcastle United that they didn’t break their own transfer record. It had been nine years since the club broke the world’s record fee to sign Alan Shearer for £15m. Though it’s understandable that having broken a world record, few clubs will go out and repeat the feat any time soon.
It wasn’t the longest Newcastle fans had waited to see a trophy signing like none before however. We have to go back 80 years for that. There were ten years between signing Jack Hill from Burnley for £8,100 in 1928 and Harry Clifton from Chesterfield for £8,500 in 1938.
That eighty year record stood until summer 2015, which marked 10 years since the signing of Owen. Now, as we approach summer 2017 the unprecedented streak continues and we look set to hit 12 years between Newcastle record signings.
For now, we can only dream about which players will arrive in the summer. If promoted, the cash currently sloshing around the Premier League is such that it wouldn’t be unreasonable to think the club would move into another level of investment that matched the ambition of the appointment of Rafa Benitez.
Newcastle fans know better than most that spending big doesn’t necessarily deliver players or a team that will automatically match their valuation or the fervent expectation that goes with it, so I’m not suggesting this is a necessity, we all love a bargain bit of business, but it goes without saying that big arrivals arriving on big fees will stir the imagination of supporters like nothing much else.
Most of us will view the Shearer signing as the epitome of this. With his purchase, Newcastle didn’t break their previous record, they smashed it to smithereens. A 124% increase on the £6.7m previously paid for Faustino Asprilla. It was audacious and incredible and in my youthful naivety, I assumed unprecedented at St James’ Park.
But the club historians and supporters over 110 years old know better. Asking about on Twitter I was able (I think) to list all of the club’s record fees, and thanks to the input of these more learned fans, I found that it’s another of Newcastle’s world record signings that has the Shearer signing beat in terms of how far it stretched the club from the previous record. George Wilson was a £1,600 signing from Irish side Distillery in 1907 and that fee eclipsed the previous record of £700 for Andy McCombie (himself a world record signing for the club) by 129%.
The McCombie signing had contributed to the club having won two league titles in three seasons prior to Wilson’s arrival. Newcastle were already at the peak of the game. Splashing out on Wilson for outside left helped them to their third title in five years, in the 1908/1909 season.
Imagine! In 2017, this would be like us spending £90m+ to outdo the Pogba signing at Man U, and then going and doing it again by 2020. But then again, not really, even accounting for inflation, the figures back then were miniscule. Here’s how the Newcastle United record transfer fee has progressed through the years, with actual fees and what they would be in 2016 using Bank of England inflation. World records have been highlighted:
This is football, the national game, prices always have and always will sky-rocket at rates far beyond inflation. We’re clearly not going to be in the Pogba market, but if we’re going to finish mid-table we don’t have to throw silly money around, but we have to be willing to keep pace with the spending of other clubs and outbid those clubs we’re competing with to make signings the manager has identified as important.
Since starting to write this, reports that Ben Gibson would be deemed too expensive for Newcastle at £20m have served to highlight the concern many fans have. It could be paper talk, but it fits what we’ve come to expect, even while Gibson matches the club criteria of being a young lad with potential to improve his valuation, even after spending £80m in our last premier league season, doubts still remain about the willingness to push the boat out to secure the players we need to fill specific gaps the most, at a premium. The fear is we will remain bargain hunters. I hope Rafa is not frustrated if he does the job of getting us promoted.
Thanks to @paulbrownUK, @Guisboroughmags, and @ToonOldFan for providing much of the older data for NUFC record transfers. Player fees might be on wikipedia, but knowing which fees were records is something else, and all knowledge is theirs or sourced by them, while any mistakes, if there are any, are mine and will be gratefully corrected.
You can follow the author on Twitter @bigchrisholt
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