Arsenal smash the transfer record


Who invented away support?


By Tony Attwood

On August 4th 1938 George Allison, the Arsenal manager broke the British transfer record in signing Bryn Jones from Wolverhampton, for £14,500.  So outrageous was the fee seemed (and what with this being Arsenal) questions were asked in Parliament.

74 years later to the day, as by chance Arsenal are in the process of making one, perhaps two, deals (although without any talk of breaking the record of course) we consider what happened.

Because of the 2nd world war, that record stayed far longer than most – it was not broken again until September 1947 when Billy Steel went from Morton to Derby.

It was the second time running that Arsenal had broken the record, for the previous transfer record was David’s Jacks transfer from Bolton to Arsenal in October 1928 for £14,500.

Arsenal did not appear in the transfer records list again until December 1971 when Bertie Mee transferred Alan Ball from Everton to Arsenal for £220,000 in what turned out to be a failed attempt to keep the Double Winners at their high standards.

Next we appeared on the list with Dennis Bergkamp in June 1995 with the £7.5 million from Inter.

And then for the one and only time we appeared on the transfer record charts on the selling side: selling Nic Anelka to Real Madrid for £22.5 million in 1999.

The current holder of the record is Cristiano Ronaldo who went from Man U to Real Madrid for £80m.  Compare this with the transfer at the start of the record transfer list.  It is usually given as happening in 1893 – the first £100 transfer.  Willie Groves from West Bromwich to Aston Villa.   Arsenal were playing in their first season as a league club, in the second division, at the time.

As for Bryn Jones at Wolverhampton he won the first of 17 caps for Wales.

Jones started well, scoring three in his first four games, but then that was it – he couldn’t score again in the 30 games played that season.  Perhaps the mantle of succeeding Alex James was too much for him – and certainly the press soon got on his back.  The media, then as now, love nothing more than the big guys getting it wrong.

In Forward Arsenal, Bernard Joy (another Arsenal player who we have considered on this site – and a man who played along side Bryn) wrote…

Do we write Bryn Jones down as a gamble that failed, or would he have been a success eventually? The outbreak of war in September 1939 prevented us from ever finding the complete answer. There were signs before then that, as James had done, he was weathering the bad patch which always seems to follow a change of style from an attacking to a foraging inside-forward. […] My own view, however, is that Jones’s modesty was the barrier to achieving the key role Arsenal had intended for him. He could not […] regard the spotlight as a challenge to produce his best; all the time it irked him, making him self-conscious and uneasy.

Bryn Jones served with the Royal Artillery in the war and aged 34, made 26 appearances in the first post-war season and scored just 1 goal.  In his final season he played 7, and scored 1.

After leaving Arsenal he coached at Norwich from 1949-51 and then ran a newsagents shop in Highbury.  He died in October 1985.


1: Launching Islington 100 – 100 years of football in north London

2:  Remembering Lt Colonel Sir Henry Norris – the man who rescued Arsenal in 1910, built Highbury in 1913, and brought in Herbert Chapman as manager.

3: Proposals for a major exhibition to celebrate 100 years of Arsenal in Islington at the Emirates Stadium.

4: The commemoration of the men who moved the Arsenal: Jack Humble, William Hall, Henry Norris

5: Celebrating Arsenal’s 100 years at the club’s AGM

6: Send in your memories of Highbury

4 Replies to “Arsenal smash the transfer record”

  1. Of course transfer values vary according to position on the pitch. I seem to remember that Bob McNab was the most expensive full-back ever when he came to us from Huddesfield and that was surpassed (big time) when Kenny Sansom arrived from Crystal Palace.
    I’m not sure that David Seaman wasn’t the most expensive goalkeeper ever when he came from QPR and we have, I think, been repsonsible for spending the ‘highest ever amounts on a teenager’ in cases like Matthew Upson, Jermaine Pennant and, maybe Theo Walcott. All of which demonstrate what an unpredictable deliverer of value the transfer market is.

  2. When Bryn Jones was signed in 1938, great things were expected of him. During WW2 I saw him play on a number of occasions, but by then training had disappeared and players turned out for the team nearest their work, mainly to keep reasonably fit.
    By the end of the war, he was approaching his middle 30’s and on rejoining Arsenal never really regained his former ability.
    On the subject of pricey transfers, in 2000 we paid £13 million for Sylvain Wiltord, a record at that time.

  3. Bryn Jones ended his days running a newspaper shop in Green Lanes, near Newington Green…we regularly bought sweets on our way home from school. Somehow I dont see our current record signings needing to do that.

  4. @Andy Bishop,
    How right you are. During WW2, Bryn, along with all other professional footballers were paid a maximum of £2.50 per game!

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