After 12 years of financial austerity due to paying off the construction costs of their new ground at Highbury and debts incurred during World War 1, in the summer of 1925 Arsenal were finally able to start spending money on transfers at levels commensurate to their peers.
Arsenals first major signing with their new manager, Herbert Chapman, at the helm caused quite a stir within the game due to one of the terms of the transfer which, to do this day, remains unique.
Arsenal were interested in signing 33 year old (34 in meerkat years) Charlie Buchan from Sunderland.
Buchan had actually been on Arsenal's books as a teenager, playing four games for the reserves in 1909-10 and scoring two goals. However, as an amateur he wasn't paid but he put in a claim for travelling expenses. This caused some friction with between young Charlie and George Morrell, Arsenal's manager which resulted in Charlie deciding his footballing future lay elsewhere. Despite offers from Fulham and Bury he signed for Leyton in the Southern League. A year later he signed for Sunderland for a £1000 transfer fee - a huge amount at the time for a teenager.
Buchan is, without doubt, one of the greatest players of his generation, if not the greatest. He scored 209 league goals for Sunderland (still a club record) and played 379 league games despite missing four seasons due to World War 1, during which he won the Military Medal.
Sunderland's directors believed that, despite his advancing years, Buchan was still more than capable of playing a good game in the top flight and wanted £4,000 for their man at a time when the British transfer record was £6,500. In his autobiography published in 1949, Arsenal's former manager, Leslie Knighton, claimed that he had bid £7,000 for Buchan just a year earlier (without the knowledge of Arsenal's directors) which had been rejected by Sunderland.
The clubs and player agreed to the transfer and it was announced on 3 July with the newspapers, over the next few days, speculating that the fee was £4000.
In mid-August the actual details of the transfer were leaked and the newspapers had a field day when they found out that it was actually £2000 down and £100 per goal scored by Buchan for Arsenal in 1925-26. Speculation arose as to whether Buchan would be asked to "go easy" to keep the total fee low. However, the flip side would be that if Buchan scored goals, fans would flock to Highbury to see him do so.
With Buchan not having scored in his first four games, the Liverpool Echo reported on 9 September that the Arsenal directors had offered Sunderland an additional £1,000 to square the deal but the Sunderland directors refused as they still believed in Buchan's ability.
Ironically, he broke his duck against Liverpool three days after this story, although there was some doubt as to whether the ball had already crossed the line when Buchan tapped it in. Sunderland got their first £100. Charlie then scored six goals in his next six games to ease Sunderland's worries about getting the raw end of the deal.
On 28 November Arsenal and Sunderland met at Highbury. Buchan scored his 12th goal of the season in a 2-0 win that saw Arsenal climb above their opponents and put them on top of the Division One table.
The Daily Herald produced a series of cartoons about the fee and what would happen when Buchan's current and former teams met. These are included in Just Another Gooner's fantastic Arsenal One Two Five website. Click on the image on the right to view them in full size.
What we at The Arsenal History have noticed among many of the books written about Arsenal's history is the discrepancy of how many goals he scored and how many of those goals Sunderland were paid £100 for.
No one disputes that Charlie scored 19 league goals for Arsenal in 1925-26. However, some record books state that he scored one goal in the FA Cup and some believe that it was two. These books then disagree on whether just league goals counted or if FA Cup goals were included. This means that Sunderland could have picked up £1,900, £2,000 or £2,100 in addition to their original down payment of £2,000.
The official history written by Phil Soar and Martin Tyler is the most confusing, stating that the final figure was £4,100 for 19 league goals and two FA Cup goals but the records section in the middle of the book shows Charlie only scoring one goal in the FA Cup!
And Wikipedia says that it was 21 goals, so that must be true as it has sources, no?
We can now confirm with 100% certainty that Sunderland were paid a total of £3,900 by Arsenal for Charlie Buchan. Over the last few months we have been given access to many of Arsenal's official records that we have been digitising. We hope to start publishing some of these in the near future.
The image below is taken from one of Arsenal FC's accounts ledgers that covers the years 1923 to 1927. It gives a breakdown of all of the payments made to Sunderland with respect to Buchan's transfer. We would like to thank Arsenal FC for allowing us to publish this document. (Click on the image to enlarge it in a new tab).
Was it worth it?
In 1924-25 Arsenal finished one place above the relegation zone. Despite this, they were the best supported team in the country with gate receipts of £36,000. In Buchan's first season, Arsenal finished as runners-up in the First Division, by far their highest ever finishing position. Gate receipts were up 25% to £45,000 which more than covered Buchan's fee.
Charlie spent three years at Arsenal before retiring having captained the club to their first ever FA Cup final in 1927.