The first million-pound football player here in the UK was Trevor Francis. Sadly, he recently passed away from a heart attack on the 24th of July 2023, at the age of 69.
Trevor John Francis was born in 1954 in Plymouth, Devon. He joined Birmingham City as a schoolboy and made his first ever first team appearance in 1970 at the age of 16. At that time, he was the club’s youngest debutant, a record subsequently beaten by a few days by Jude Bellingham in 2019.
In 1971, while still 16 years old, he became the youngest-ever player to score four times in Football League history when Birmingham City beat Bolton Wanderers 4-0.
All-in-all, he appeared in a Blue’s shirt 340 times, notching up 133 goals.
In 1978, Francis sealed a loan deal with the North American Soccer League side Detroit Express. He played 19 games for them, scoring 22 goals, and also featured in the NASL first eleven along with Franz Beckenbauer and Giorgi Chinaglia. On completion of the loan, he returned to St Andrew’s, still as a Birmingham City player.
A year later, in 1979, Trevor Francis made football history. He became the first million-pound player when he transferred from Birmingham City to Nottingham Forest for a fee of £1 million. At the time, then Notts Forest manager, Brian Clough, told the press that the transfer fee was £999,999 in order to try and take the pressure off Francis. It was, however, well over the £1 million mark – more than double the previous record.
Francis spent 2 years at Forest, and his most significant goal was the one and only goal that led to Forest winning the European Cup in 1979.
On the national, international stage, Francis represented England 52 times, scoring 12 goals. He played as a member of the England team in the 1982 World Cup.
Between 1981 to 1988, he played for Manchester City, Sampdoria, Atalanta, and Glasow Rangers.
In March 1988, on a free transfer deal, Francis signed for QPR. In the first half of the 1988/89 season, he made 10 appearances before taking over as player/manager in December 1988, following Jim Smith leaving to manage Newcastle United. However, he suffered a knee injury in January 1989, which ruled him out of playing for the rest of the season.
He marked his return to play in September 1989 with a hat trick against Aston Villa.
In 1990, Francis signed to play for Sheffield Wednesday, and later, when the then manager, Ron Atkinson, departed, he took up his second stint as a player/manager, guiding Wednesday to a third-place finish in 1992 and in the following year to a place in the finals of both the FA and League Cups.
In 1994, he hung up his boots as a player, having made 672 appearances for clubs and country, scoring a total of 243 goals.
Having had two player/manager experiences, Francis’ next management role was a Birmingham City when he moved back to St Andrew’s in 1996 as their full-time manager. Over the next 5 years, he guided the Blues to 10th, 7th, 4th (twice), and 5th place finishes, and a League Cup final (which they lost on penalties to Liverpool) in 2001.
In November 2001, he became manager of Crystal Palace, but after 2 consecutive failures to get promotion to the Premier League, Palace sacked him.
Not only was Trevor Francis an accomplished football player, but he was also a great person, and his death has resulted in accolades from many famous and distinguished football professionals.
He had previously suffered a heart attack in 2012 but recovered. In later life, Francis spent 6 months of the year in England and 6 months at his apartment near Marbella, Spain. It was while there that he suffered a fatal heart attack on the 24th of July, 2023. The world of football mourns his loss.
The first million pound footballer in the world was technically Giuseppe Savoldi whose transfer from Bologna to Napoli for two billion Lira (around £1.2 million) in 1975 topped the previous record transfer which was for Johan Cruyff from Ajax to Barcelona in 1973.