THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

The transfer policies would be unlikely to work these days

icon transfers5 May ~ Bournemouth’s recent promotion comes with a good backstory; penury to Premier League in seven years. The great thing about some backstories is that they get better each time they are told, a highlight burnished or a blemish neatly airbrushed away. The various accounts of Bournemouth’s rise reminded me of how the story of my club Oldham Athletic’s promotion to the old Division One has improved over the years.

It is still a good story, but the idea of a “charity shop XI” first gaining promotion and going on to be founder members of the Premier League merges a few details together and neatly overlooks some others. In 2011, Rob Smith in a blog on the Guardian website put it succinctly, Oldham had raided “Everton, Leeds and Manchester City for gems they didn’t know they had”.

Like all good stories there is some truth in it, but the reality was more a case of steady squad construction over a period of two or three seasons and a necessary dash of serendipity. The story starts with Joe Royle signing Denis Irwin from Leeds United on a free transfer in 1986. At that time Irwin had played over 70 times for Leeds and so was hardly unknown to them. Irwin was one of a number of signings by Royle from Leeds United as Billy Bremner tried to sort out the Yorkshire club’s playing staff. What makes Irwin’s signing particularly prescient was that he was eventually sold on for over £600,000 and became one of Manchester United’s greatest post-war players.

Royle brought in two players from Everton – Ian Marshall and Neil Adams – both with first-team experience, albeit limited, and both for fees. More in keeping with the story as it is now told were his captures from Manchester City. Earl Barrett cost £30,000 after a handful of games and Paul Warhurst £10,000 before he had played a first-team game.

The success of Warhurst’s signing had an element of good fortune attached to it. The player came to Oldham with health and fitness problems, and Royle, in his autobiography, suggest that City might have seen the deal as some kind of revenge for the Barrett “capture”. Besides their on-field contributions, the players went on to earn Oldham combined fees approaching £2 million to add another gloss to the story. Four other key signings in the promotion-winning side, all involving fees, were established professionals from Leeds, Hull and Watford.

A different way of looking at Joe Royle’s team building would be to ask whether it would be possible in today’s financial climate. Royle acknowledges that Irwin was initially reluctant to join Oldham for what was a relatively modest pay increase. Oldham’s physio at the time suggests that the recruitment plan was based on offering some of the players “£5 or £10 per week more to come to Oldham”. Obviously with the passage of 25 years the numbers might be different, but the prospect of offering a marginal pay increase to a squad player with a posse of representatives and agents seems at best remote.

The details of Bournemouth’s rise may be polished a bit in future but the overall tone of the story will depend on how successful Eddie Howe is in keeping them up. And surely every fan of a so called “unfashionable club” wishes him luck with that. Brian Simpson

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