Alf Common; another early hero of Arsenal

Alf Common was mentioned in the last piece – the prelude to the Sunderland game.  Here’s the full story on one of the men who helped stave off relegation for Woolwich Arsenal.

Alf Common played for South Hylton and Jarrow before joining Sunderland in 1900.   He got a runners up medal in 1901 and then moved to Sheffield United for £325.  He duly won the Cup with United and scored the first goal in the Final.

He then won three caps for England.  But in 1904 he refused to re-sign for Sheffield U stating that he needed to go back to Sunderland to look after his “business interests”.   By this time his fee was £500 plus a goalkeeper.

Six months after this he was on the move again, this time to Middlesbrough, and by now the fee was an amazing £1000 – as Boro tried to avoid relegation.  Alf scored in his first game.  He scored 58 goals in 168 games.

So why did players move so often?  It wasn’t just Alf Common, there were many like him who would get up and move from club to club.

The most obvious reason is that officially each club could only pay their players the same fixed maximum wage.   But, clubs were able to help out in other ways, and this is what the players were looking for.   There might be funding to help launch a business, there could be support with the running of that business, and there could be underhand payments.  All were illegal of course, but they certainly happened all over the place.

Of course I make no allegation against Alf Common at all – I have read nothing to suggest that he took any backhanders.  My comment is simply that for some players a move might include a better house, or some other side benefit.

Anyway back to the story.  At 30, Alf Common was ready to move again – and this time it was a strange one, to Woolwich Arsenal, who as we have been seeing were having a really tough time of it in 1910.   He joined ready for the start of the 1910/11 season for a fee of about £300, and played 80 games scoring 23 goals.

Common was vital to Arsenal’s survival over these years, and it was only as his powers faded in in the 1912-13 campaign that Arsenal stumbled towards their one and only relegation.   We sold him to Preston in that season for £250.   He finished playing in 1914 and died in 1946 aged 65.



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Arsenal in 1910 – the first edition of this book has almost sold out.  We will be publishing a second edition shortly, but if you want one of the First Edition copies, you should order now.  It is Arsenal in 1910, the complete story as a novel.

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