Trevor Again: how Forest smashed the transfer record for Francis
In the age of mega inflation-busting transfer fees for the likes of Ronaldo, Bale and Pogba, £1 million may seem like chicken feed. However, in the 1970s this was considered a mammoth amount.
In 1979 Brian Clough brought striker Trevor Francis over to Nottingham Forest. He cost a total of £1.18 million, making him the most expensive British transfer at the time. The move caused a sensation.
Francis was considered one of the most talented young strikers in English football. He started his career at Birmingham City in 1971 and notched up an impressive tally of 119 goals during his time at the club. He had also been handed his England debut by Don Revie.
By 1978 his career seemed at a crossroads, though. He agreed a secondment from Birmingham, playing a season for Detroit Express in the North American Soccer League. Now 25, his immense talents seemed to be wasted in a glorified retirement league.
However, his name was about to go down in British footballing history. Brian Clough and Peter Taylor had just led Forest to the First Division title and League Cup. They were looking for added firepower upfront and Clough had always been an admirer of Francis.
They got in contact with Birmingham and Francis, and the forward was soon on his way to the East Midlands to discuss terms.
Clough had initially been keen to avoid breaching the £1million figure. After all, he was no fan of big money and wanted to avoid putting undue pressure on Francis. His bid was £950,000, but associated costs meant this ballooned up to £1.18 million. This was more than double the previous British record.
Even if the final figure was a historic one, Clough was in no mood to add extra hype to the situation. As the nation’s media assembled in a dingy press room at the City Ground, Clough arrived late, dressed in his tracksuit, squash racket in hand.
It was perhaps part of Clough’s man-management skills and gift for handling the media. He did not want the occasion to go to young Trevor’s head. Clough would go on to tell Francis, somewhat tongue in cheek, that the figure was actually £999,999.
Francis was brought further down to earth as he joined the Forest team for training. Clough told Francis to “just give the ball to John Robertson – he’s a better player than you.”
Indeed, Francis would not walk into the first team and found himself on the margins for much of the season. Many were already starting to question his price tag.
Francis would get his one redeeming moment, though. Clough gave him the nod to start in the 1979 European Cup final against Malmo. In a tight match, Francis scored the winner. He got on the end of a John Robertson cross, athletically guiding a header into the net. It was commented that the goal alone repaid his massive fee.
Unfortunately, Francis never did seem to reach his full potential at the City Ground. He was on the peripheries for the next couple of seasons. Part of the problem was that he never seemed to fully fit into Clough’s system. Clough and Taylor frequently played him on the wing instead of upfront. Without a settled position, he was not able to find his best form.
Persistent injuries also saw him frequently sidelined and he missed out on England’s squad for the 1980 European Championships (arguably a blessing in disguise).
After three years, Clough seemed to have lost patience. Francis departed to Manchester City. He spent a season there before moving to Italy, enjoying reasonable success at Sampdoria. He went on to play for Atalanta, Rangers, QPR and Sheffield Wednesday.
Francis never became the legend he promised to be. Ultimately he is remembered primarily as the first British million-pound man.