THIS week, Gareth Bale’s £86m move from Spurs to Real Madrid smashed the world transfer record, but there was a time when the North-East’s clubs were setting the bar for bigmoney moves.

On February 14, 1905, Middlesbrough sparked huge excitement – and outrage – as they made Sunderland forward Alf Common the world’s first £1,000 footballer.

The news, reported first in the windows of The Northern Echo offices in Middlesbrough, was pure scandal.

It was the first four-figure transfer fee, and was seen by football purists as a corruption of their game, something that would inevitably create a new breed of mercenary players.

Questions were raised in the House of Commons, Boro were lambasted for paying such an exorbitant fee and Sunderland reproached for daring to ask so much for a single player.

One even called it “a new type of white slave trade, which might one day see transfer fees reaching £2,000 or even £10,000”.

It’s fair to say, then, they underestimated what the next 100 years of football had in store.

Now, £1,000 would not even cover the weekly wage of a Premier League player, never mind constitute a transfer fee.

It was a shock move to say the least, but a necessary risk for Boro.

Struggling at the bottom of the First Division, they needed something to change and saw Common as one of the country’s best goalscorers, “a very fine player indeed” according to Councillor Alf Mattison and Councillor TG Poole, who brokered the deal.

Not everyone shared that view, of course. Athletic News remarked that “the Second Division would be more honourable than retention of places by purchase”.

The 5ft 8in forward, aggressive but with deceptive pace, quickly justified the massive fee, though.

On his debut against a club whose colours he had once worn, Sheffield United, a calmly- struck first-half penalty provided an away win for the first time in nearly two years and the kick-start that Boro needed.

Common’s goals helped to stave off relegation and he would later become club captain.

Born in 1880, he began his career on Wearside, though his first spell with Sunderland was a brief one, he soon moved to Sheffield for £325 and spent three successful years in the Steel City, winning his first England caps in the process.

He was a jovial, “ruddyfaced”, rather tubby player, famous for his attempts to lose weight.

The Northern Echo:
Common, fifth from left, ahead of an England game against Scotland. The date is unknown

Sunderland paid £520 to get him back in the summer of 1904, and almost doubled their money when Boro came in determined to bring Common to Ayresome Park six months later.

He spent five years with Middlesbrough, cementing their place as a First Division side with 65 goals in 178 appearances.

An episode of “drunkenness and violent behaviour” saw him stripped of the captaincy, and he eventually left for Woolwich Arsenal.

After ending his career with a Second Division title at Preston, the man capped three times by his country retired to Darlington in 1914.

Common was landlord of the Alma Hotel (later the Brown Trout) in Cockerton, and a cult hero in Darlington before his death in 1946 at his home in Coniscliffe Road.