The modern game sees the sands shifting more regularly than ever before and such are its inconsistencies and vagaries that a player spending more than five years at any one club is nowadays deemed ‘a veteran’.
It didn’t always use to be this way, however, and until fairly recently most clubs would entertain ‘one-club players’ within their ranks. These would be players who spent the entirety of their careers at the same club, clocking up the appearances and never angling for a move. If fortunate, these players would then be rewarded for their loyalty and longevity with a testimonial at, or near, the end of their careers.
Although there are still exceptions (the Manchester United ‘Class of ‘92’ trio of Giggs, Neville, and Scholes; Tony Adams at Arsenal; Jamie Carragher at Liverpool, etc) these seem to be few and far between.
There have been several players who were nearly ‘one-club men’, but then perhaps spoiled their record by moving on for a short spell right at the end of their careers. These are players most readily associated with one club in particular but whose record upon closer inspection shows they actually played elsewhere.
A modern-day version of this phenomena would be John Terry. Terry will of course always be associated with Chelsea, and after more than 700 appearances and countless trophies, it is hard to visualise him in the shirt of another club. Yet many people perhaps forget the season he spent playing for Aston Villa at the end of his career and the dozen or so games he played earlier whilst on loan at Nottingham Forest.
Ask any West Ham fan of a certain vintage to name his or her favourite ever Hammer, and it’s a good bet that both the names of Trevor Brooking and Bobby Moore would get a good airing and yet neither player was a one-club man totally loyal to West Ham alone.
Moore is a legend of the game and is universally recognised as one of the best players to ever pull on a football jersey. In a career lasting almost twenty years, he wrote himself into the history books as the only man to captain England to World cup success as well as winning domestic and European honours with his beloved West Ham.
However, it wasn’t all plain sailing for Moore as he managed to upset the hierarchy at Upton Park with some transfer requests dating back to 1966 just before England’s World Cup success. This and other falling-outs with West Ham manager, Ron Greenwood, eventually led to an acrimonious departure from Upton Park in the spring of 1974.
Therefore, what should have been a star-studded one-club career actually ended up being played out in the Second Division with Fulham. Deemed surplus to requirements by West Ham and Greenwood, Moore was denied the opportunity to leave the club on a free transfer and so pick up some sort of financial recompense for having been denied big money moves earlier in his career. Instead, Greenwood and the West Ham board rather pettily held out for a transfer fee of £25,000, thus denying Moore of a payday.
In later years West Ham would treat Moore even more shabbily by unofficially banning him from the ground.
A decade or so after Moore left Upton Park for the last time as a player, his successor in the fans’ hearts did likewise. Trevor Brooking had played alongside Moore for several years at the start of his career, of course, but it wasn’t until Moore decamped for Craven Cottage that Brooking really came into his own as a West Ham stalwart.
Despite relegation with the Hammers in 1978, Brooking refused overtures from other clubs to lure him away and so when he finally decided to call it a day and walk away from first-class football in the spring of 1984, he did so firmly entrenched as a one-club player.
However, there was to be a twist in the tale.
In 1985, Brooking was tempted out of retirement to play for Cork City in the League of Ireland. As these were competitive fixtures in a professional setting, Brooking is therefore not technically deemed a one-club player. Bit harsh, perhaps, but there you go.
David O’Leary made more than 700 appearances for Arsenal between 1975 and 1993, and still holds the club record for the number of appearances. On the face of things, therefore, he is the very epitome of the ‘one club man’, but what many people have perhaps forgotten is the short-lived, and mainly unproductive, spell he spent with Leeds United right at the tail end of his playing career.
Finally released from Arsenal in the spring of 1993, after making his farewell appearance for the club in the FA Cup Final of that season, O’Leary took up an option from Howard Wilkinson to join the Elland Road club for what he hoped would be an Indian Summer. Unfortunately for him, injury plagued most of his two years at the club and he only totalled 14 appearances for the club in total.
Just as O’Leary is synonymous with the red half of North London, so is the name of Steve Perryman with the white half of that particular neck of the woods. Signing for Tottenham Hotspur straight from school, like O’Leary at Arsenal, Perryman went onto make a record number of appearances for his chosen team. By the time he had played his last match in 1986, Perryman had turned out for Spurs no less than 866 times.
It is some record and it is unlikely to ever be beaten. It was a period that saw considerable success with two FA Cup victories, two UEFA Cup successes and two more in the League Cup. A solitary England cap also came Perryman’s way in the run-up to the 1982 World Cup but he failed to make the final squad.
In the spring of 1986, Perryman’s time at White Hart Lane was finally up, but rather than decide to retire immediately, he carried on playing in the First Division with Oxford United. He stayed at the Manor Ground for a season before stepping down a couple of levels and finally finishing his career as player-manager of Third Division Brentford.
The all-conquering Liverpool sides of the 1960s, 70s and 80s were based on stability and it was not uncommon for the sides to remain unchanged for seasons on end. Players were often recruited from lower division sides and after a period of acclimatization, introduced to the first team where they would stay, injury permitting, for the next several years.
In addition to these cut-price signings, some players would emerge through the ranks and go on to have long Anfield careers without quite making it into the ‘One-Club’ category. The most recent example of a case in point is, of course, Steven Gerrard who, after spending fifteen seasons in the heart of Liverpool’s midfield decided to play out the last days of his career in America rather than accept becoming a squad player under Brendan Rodgers.
Back in the 1960s and 1970s, players such as Tommy Smith, Ian Callaghan, and Phil Thompson started their careers on the books as apprentices at Melwood and ended up gaining medals galore while scaling the peaks of England and Europe. Smith and Callaghan played all the way from the Second Division up to and including Liverpool’s first two European Cup successes at the tail end of the 1970s, while Thompson came through a decade or so later and ended up being on the club’s playing staff for four European Cup victories, playing in two successful finals.
However, none of the three quite ended up with the Liver Bird being the sole club badge of their illustrious careers. Smith and Callaghan left Liverpool in the summer of 1978 to join fellow Liverpool Old Boy, John Toshack, at Swansea City where they enjoyed a season or two, with Callaghan also going on to have a final swansong at Crewe Alexandra. Phil Thompson, meanwhile, left Liverpool in March 1985 not having appeared in the Liverpool first team for eighteen months and played for a season at Sheffield United before retiring at the relatively young age of 31.
The above examples highlight players who are possibly deemed as ‘one club men’ by those who fail to recall their late-career moves, but there are some players who fall into the transverse category: that of starting their careers quietly and discreetly elsewhere before joining the club that was to make their name. These players then became synonymous with their clubs to the degree that some might be forgiven for thinking they played their entire careers there.
Some examples include Billy Bonds of West Ham and Arsenal defender Lee Dixon. Both had exemplary careers propping up the defences of their respective London clubs, but while the number of appearances they made was in the high hundreds, what is sometimes forgotten is Bonds started his career at Charlton while Dixon played for a number of clubs before arriving at Highbury.
Bonds made over a hundred appearances in all competitions for Charlton before his move to Upton Park where he went onto break the record for most appearances as a Hammer, while Dixon clocked up more than 150 appearances for Stoke and Burnley amongst others.
Then there are the players who everybody knows played for several clubs and yet they are most readily associated with one side in particular to the degree that they have become almost honorary ‘one-club men’. These perhaps include Ian Rush at Liverpool and Frank Lampard at Chelsea.
Therefore, the association of certain players with certain clubs is often an ingrained one, and sometimes those we consider as being loyally welded to the very fabric of a particular side upon closer examination fail to quite live up to such exacting standards.