Trevor Francis: Britain’s first million pound footballer (after tax and VAT)

Trevor Francis Forest

With the sad news that Trevor Francis has passed away today aged 69, we are rerunning some old articles from the sites remembering England’s first-ever million-pound signing. As part of an old 1978/79 season series on (previously under our ownership), STEVE MITCHELL recalled the eye-watering deal that shocked the nation.

On February 9, 1979, England striker Trevor Francis joined Nottingham Forest from Birmingham City in a deal worth over £1million; a British transfer record at the time.

The actual amount was officially recorded at £975,000, but apart from the fee, Forest had to pay a £97,500 levy and eight per cent VAT on £78,000 which made the total cost of the move £1,150,500.

It had seemed as though the deal was going to fall through at the eleventh hour when Forest boss Brian Clough stated that he didn’t want Francis playing summer football in the US with Detroit, but because the player had already signed a contract, Clough had no alternative but to allow him to go.

When he was officially unveiled to the press, Francis declared that; “I am going to the best side in the First Division, but the America thing was important to me.”

His transfer divided opinion across football; Ipswich Town striker Clive Woods called for the transfer system, “To be abolished,” before going on to confidently declare that, “I can’t see the £1million transfer being repeated.”

Bristol City frontman Joe Royle was a little more philosophical about the whole situation, explaining that; “I think it’s best to take a positive outlook and consider the good things that have come out of it.”

Both clubs involved in the move were happy; Birmingham cleared their overdraft, Forest have secured a star striker that will get crowds flocking to the City Ground and the money has actually stayed in the game.”

West Bromwich Albion’s Tony Brown claimed that Birmingham City’s failures had, “cost Francis honours” before going on to question his decision to play summer football in the States.

Many people had questioned why Clough wanted another striker in the first place, with young Garry Birtles in devastating form this season after his move from Non-League football in the summer.

It was a baptism of fire for Francis however, when he pulled on the Forest shirt for the first time, for a third-team match at city neighbours Notts County, in front of a crowd of just 40 spectators.

His first-team bow was also typical of the way Clough and his assistant Peter Taylor operated, with Francis playing a cameo in a testimonial at Exeter City for winger Nicky Jennings.

Clough didn’t even turn up to watch his big-money signing, sending Taylor on his own to a match that was a near sell-out thanks to Francis’ inclusion in the Forest squad. But seeing as he was late to the player’s unveiling, due to the fact that he was playing squash with Birtles, this came as no surprise to anyone.


The Football Pink has been asking fans to send in their memories of Francis’ big money move; here’s a selection of the best ones;

Tommy Conlon (@TConlonthecouch) writes; my mother was at Sunday Mass the following week. This was small-town Ireland. The priest, an elderly Canon unfamiliar with these matters, in his sermon, was appalled that any human could have a price tag of £1m. But he struggled repeatedly to get the player’s name right.

One of the altar boys, a local lad more familiar with Match of the Day and football stickers etc, prompted the priest with a whisper so loud it was heard by several rows of the faithful. “Trevor Francis, Father, it’s Trevor Francis!” Much mirth ensued in the Mass post-mortem.

Stu Walker (@studidit) explains that; I remember the day after (the first European Cup win) when a mate and I were waiting at the City Ground for the team coach to come in. We were 13 years old at the time and in awe of the players stepping off the bus holding the (European Cup) trophy. I also recall following Trevor Francis shouting for his autograph and he completely blanked us. £1m scorer of the winning goal or not, he still got a mouthful from two Clifton council kids.

Jon Cook (@jon_c_67)
told us that; In 79, my dad Tony Cook was District Librarian at Gilstrap Library, Newark. Trevor Francis, recently moved to Forest, came in & joined the library. He had a chat with my dad (a lifelong #BCFC fan) signed an autograph on library-headed paper and then left with some football biographies.

Here’s an absolute gem from Il Padrino (@martin_sneath); Francis with Brynn Gunn and Donny McCloud joining us for a kickabout on Stapleford recreation ground the day after he signed for Forest…would never happen nowadays.