There has been comment in the press recently suggesting that some managers would like the summer transfer window to be adjusted so that it closes before the new season is upon us. This seems to me to be a very logical proposal. Preparing for the first game of a season must surely be the top priority at any club, big or small, and continuing speculation as to transfers, in or out, cannot fail to be a distraction.
In fact, why have transfer windows at all?
Before the transfer window system was introduced some 15 years or so ago, transfers could take place at any time, although rules were in place to prevent teams at either end of the League table ‘buying’ their way to a championship, to secure promotion, or to escape relegation.
Many, if not most, of the significant transfers in the history of West Ham United have occurred in midseason. The transfer of Danny Shea from West Ham to Blackburn, for a then record fee of £2,000, came midway through the 1912/13 season and nine years later, in February 1922, another record fee (this time a massive £5,000) took Syd Puddefoot from West Ham to Falkirk.
The writer of the programme notes for the match at home to Hull City, on 11th February 1922, understood that Puddefoot ‘would be branching out in commercial circles in Falkirk’, and when his football days were over would be ‘assured of a nice little competency’. ‘The Scotsman’ newspaper has, online, an article by Ed Johnson entitled ‘When Falkirk broke the world transfer record’ which gives a fascinating insight as to how Puddefoot fared north of the border. Suffice to say, when the initial euphoria over his signing faded and his presence did not help fill the Falkirk trophy cabinet, the dream turned into a nightmare and Puddefoot even suffered abuse from his own team’s supporters, abuse which he felt was in large part due to his English accent. He returned to English football, helping Blackburn Rovers win the F.A.Cup in 1928, before ending his career back at West Ham in the early 1930s.
The fact that West Ham had twice been on the receiving end of record transfer fees contributed to the long-held belief that they were ‘a selling club’, a reputation which was reinforced in the mid-1950s by the sale of fan favourite Harry Hooper, sold to Wolverhampton Wanderers in March 1956 for £25,000.
However, the next few years showed that the Hammers could be pretty shrewd when it came to incoming transfers. When I first became interested in the fortunes of West Ham United, they were in the process of winning promotion back to the First Division after an absence of 26 years. The turning point of that season had been the signing of centre-forward Vic Keeble from Newcastle United in mid-October 1957, for a £10,000 transfer fee. After a poor start (two wins in the opening eight matches), the Hammers were finding some form (three wins in four) and centre-forward Billy Dare had contributed eleven goals in the opening twelve matches. But manager Ted Fenton reckoned that Keeble was the one to transform his team and it was Dare who had to make way for the newcomer.
A year later, the Hammers were back in the First Division and going well, but once again Fenton saw room for improvement and a £30,000 transfer fee winged its way across East London, bringing Leyton Orient’s Welsh international Phil Woosnam to West Ham, just in time to make his debut at home to Arsenal on 8th November.
In March 1962, the Hammers were involved in a record-breaking transfer when Johnny ‘Budgie’ Byrne joined from Crystal Palace for a fee reported to be £65,000 (£58,000 plus the £7,000-rated Ron Brett). ‘Budgie’ Byrne played in the final 8 games of that season, scoring just the once, and early on in the following season, Ron Greenwood experimented with a new partnership, moving Geoff Hurst from wing-half to play alongside Byrne. In doing so, he created the most prolific scoring partnership in the club’s history; in three seasons, Byrne and Hurst totalled 164 goals between them! Will we ever see a repeat of that amazing spell in November 1966, when the Hammers scored 17 goals in 8 days (6-1 at home to Fulham, 7-0 at home to Leeds, then 4-3 away at Tottenham)?
That 8-day spell was the highlight of an incredible first few months of that 1966/67 season. With Bobby Moore, Geoff Hurst and Martin Peters fresh from their World Cup success, and Johnny Byrne and Johnny Sissons finding the net regularly, the Hammers amassed no fewer than 79 goals before the turn of the year. Sadly, the goals dried up in the New Year and before February was out, Byrne had been transferred back to Crystal Palace. A few months later, in May 1967, another cross-London transfer brought a new Hammers’ legend to the Boleyn Ground, Billy Bonds arriving from Charlton for a £50,000 fee.
All of these transfers that I have mentioned, apart from that of Billy Bonds, came during the playing season. The incoming transfers were designed to improve the quality of the team and the outgoing transfers were mostly designed to facilitate the ambitions of players who thought the grass would be greener elsewhere. In the 50 years since Bonzo’s arrival at West Ham, there have been dozens of other transfers in and out, but, until the advent of the transfer window, transfers came about naturally, as a matter of course, as managers became aware of their team’s requirements, then watched and waited for players to become available who might improve their team, or for the chance to off-load players who no longer figured in their plans.
West Ham’s 1975 Cup success was in large part down to the introduction of Billy Jennings, Keith Robson and Alan Taylor, all signed midseason by Ron Greenwood. And, who will ever forget the impact made by the arrival of John Hartson and Paul Kitson in February 1997, the sense of anticipation as the two newcomers took the field against Tottenham under the Boleyn floodlights? The transfer window has made nights like that a thing of the past.