England inside-right Alf Common will always be
remembered as the first £1,000 transfer when he left Sunderland for
Middlesborough in 1905.
Alf Common was born on
25 May 1880 at his parents' home, 27 North Milburn Street, Sunderland, the son
of Robert Ridley Common, a riveter, and his wife, Sarah Ann Towers. He played
for South Hilton juniors and Jarrow before signing for his home town team in
1897 as a goalscoring centre forward or outside right. In November 1901, not
long after he had broken into the Sunderland first team, he was transferred to
Sheffield United for a fee of £325. He played a vital part in Sheffield
United's run to the cup final of 1902, in which he scored in the first game and
made the pass for the winning goal in the replay. There is some
suggestion that homesickness led to his return to Sunderland in 1904 for £520.
Common will always be remembered for the fact that he was the first
to cost £1000. That was the sum which Middlesbrough paid Sunderland to take him
to Teesside in February 1905. Some members of the Football Association (FA),
most notably J. C. Clegg, had long believed that the practice of ‘buying and
selling players is unsportsmanlike and most objectionable in itself, and ought
not to be entertained by those who desire to see the game played under proper
conditions'. Common's transfer provoked an attempt to bring
the market for players under some control, and the FA actually made a rule, to
come into effect from 1 January 1908, that no club should be entitled to pay or
receive any transfer fee, or other payment exceeding £350 upon or in respect of
the transfer of any player. It lasted for three months. It was so obviously
being ignored by the clubs that it had to be withdrawn.
The signing of Common was part of a last-ditch strategy to save Middlesbrough
from relegation and Common's goals helped to do the trick. He was also appointed
club captain. The club was later to be convicted by the FA of paying illegal
bonuses to players during their successful cup run in 1904 and the relegation
battle of 1905. None of the players was suspended but eleven out of the twelve
Common appeared twice for England while at Sheffield United, scoring two goals.
He was also selected to play centre forward against Wales in 1906 while a
Middlesbrough player. It was at Middlesbrough that he played for a time with
Steve Bloomer. Common was an aggressive and robust forward with an eye for goal.
At 5 feet 8 inches and 13 stone he was a tough proposition in the penalty area,
and scored 65 goals for Middlesbrough in 178 appearances. In 1910 he moved south
to Woolwich Arsenal, this time on a free transfer because Middlesbrough had no
money to pay the £250 benefit which he had been promised at the beginning of
that season. By then he was probably past his best and was certainly troubled by
weight problems. In
December 1912 he was transferred to Preston and was a member of the team which
won the second division championship in 1913.
Common left football in 1914 and returned to the north-east to become a licensee
in Darlington, first at the Cleaver Hotel in Skinnergate and then spending
eighteen years at the Alma Hotel, Cockerston, until his retirement in 1943. He
was something of a local celebrity, in part owing to a combination of his
sporting exploits and his jovial and loquacious character. His ruddy face seemed
straight out of a Christmas pantomime. He died eleven months after his wife, on
3 April 1946 at his home, 326 Coniscliffe Road, Darlington.