Some things in football, as in life, are deemed worse than others.
For example, Alan Shearer, amongst others, contends there ‘is nothing worse than spitting at an opponent’. Others might say diving is the most heinous of ‘crimes’’; whilst yet others indicate that it is attempting to get fellow professionals booked or sent off through the waving of imaginary cards in the officials’ faces.
Whilst no doubt all these infractions are – in the parlance of commentators – not ‘what we want to see in the game’, perhaps the greatest ‘crime’ a player can commit is the move over to the dark side. This is when a once-revered player leaves a club where he has become a legend to sign for their biggest rivals, be that in terms of location or tradition.
Let’s have a look at some of the more controversial – and hence entertaining – cases.
Leeds United and Manchester United:
There is a definite ‘War of the Roses’ rivalry here between the two clubs separated by the Pennines, but it does seem rather loaded on one side, though. Although there is an underlying current of enmity from the followers of the United of Manchester in the direction of those supporting the United from Leeds, it is in no way at the same level as that reciprocated.
In short, Leeds hate the Reds of Manchester, while the recipients of their ire ‘merely’ intensely dislike them in return. It is for this reason that Manchester United’s propensity to sign some of Leeds’ major stars over the past four decades or so has been met with mirth on one side and pure apoplexy on the other. Although it is true that Johnny Giles made the journey from Old Trafford to Elland Road way back in 1963, the majority of high-profile transfers between the clubs have been in the opposite direction.
In the late 1970s, Leeds had a fairly decent team that was just coming out of the Glory Days of the Revie era. The 1977 FA Cup semi-final had been reached (and lost to Manchester United) but there were still hopes that better days would come again. Meanwhile, Tommy Docherty had laid the foundations for an exciting and potentially successful team and had already won the FA Cup before managing to get himself sacked for carrying on an affair with a club employee’s wife.
Docherty’s successor, Dave Sexton, took over and in the space of a couple of months in the 1977-78 season made moves for two of Leeds United’s star players.
First Joe Jordan signed for Sexton in January 1978 for £350,000 and just a month later McQueen followed in a £500,000 deal. The feelings amongst Leeds fans were understandably high, but were probably more acute in the case of McQueen than Jordan, initially anyway, due to McQueen publicly stating a matter of weeks before his transfer that he intended staying at Elland Road his entire career. His comments upon signing for the Old Trafford club that ‘99% of players would tell you they want to play for Manchester United and the other 1% are liars’ probably didn’t help much, either.
Fast forward a decade and a half and a certain Frenchman had just helped inspire Howard Wilkinson’s team to Leeds’ first championship success for almost twenty years. Wilkinson then made a phone call to his Manchester United counterpart, Alex Ferguson, enquiring about the possibility of signing his Irish full-back, Denis Irwin.
Receiving short drift on his inquiry, Wilkinson was about to hang up when out of the blue Ferguson enquired about the possible availability of Eric Cantona. Much to his – and, subsequently, everyone else’s – surprise, Wilkinson was not averse to the idea and the rest is history.
It is fair to say that the decision to release Cantona was not well-received by the Leeds faithful and, despite winning the league just a few months prior, the relationship between Wilkinson and the home supporters was never quite the same again.
If that wasn’t a bitter enough pill for Leeds fans to swallow, then the transfer of Alan Smith from Leeds to Manchester United in 2004 tipped them over the edge. Smith was emerging as an exciting young talent at Elland Road but as the club lurched from one financial crisis to the next, it was apparent that he would have to be sold. This was confirmed with Leeds’ relegation from the Premier League in the spring of 2004.
On an emotional day when Leeds’ relegation was confirmed, Smith could be seen in floods of tears kissing the club badge and declaring undying loyalty to his hometown club. Although Leeds fans reluctantly accepted that Smith would need to be sold, when it became apparent that he was bound for Old Trafford, there was a whole different mindset amongst the Elland Road faithful.
‘Judas’, ‘traitor’, ‘turncoat’ were some of the more polite epitaphs shoveled in Smith’s direction and the foul aftertaste of the move was to linger for years. Many years later it was revealed that Smith really did have no say in the matter and that Manchester United were the only club to agree to pay Smith’s transfer fee in its entirety up front. As Leeds were facing administration at the time, Smith was told by the club’s powers that be that the choice was stark and simple: either join Leeds’ hated rivals or perhaps be responsible for the club slipping out of existence altogether.
Liverpool and Everton:
Transfers across Stanley Park are still relatively rare but have been known to happen. The majority of the most recent ones have been in the direction of Goodison from Anfield and some of these transfers have been more well-received than others.
In 1982, a double deal involving David Johnson and Kevin Sheedy move from Liverpool to Everton in the first direct transfer between the clubs for 20 years. Johnson, a Liverpool-born supporter of the Reds, had started his career at Goodison and had scored at a reasonable rate before moving to Ipswich and then onto Liverpool in 1976 where he would eventually form a good working partnership with Kenny Dalglish and pick up four league titles before losing his place to a young Ian Rush.
His and Sheedy’s transfer made waves at the time as they were the first direct transfers between the clubs since Johnny Morrissey signed for Liverpool from Everton in 1962. Initially, certain sections of the Goodison faithful were not enamoured by the prospect of signing players cast off from Liverpool, but while Johnson struggled to settle on his return to Goodison, Sheedy went onto become nothing short of a legend in the blue and white of the Toffees.
The better part of ten years later saw Peter Beardsley make the same journey ‘over the park’. Deemed surplus to requirements by first Kenny Dalglish and then his successor, Graeme Souness, Beardsley took up Howard Kendall’s offer to throw in his lot with the blues, and, in contrast to Johnson and Sheedy, was welcomed with open arms.
A year later Gary Ablett made the same switch. He also struggled to get the Everton fans on his side, but in 1995 he became to date the only man to win the FA Cup with both sides when he played in Everton’s 1-0 victory over Manchester United.
One of the most controversial moves between the clubs came in 2000 when Nick Barmby transferred from Everton to Liverpool. It was the first direct transfer from Everton to Liverpool since 1959. Everton fans were furious by what they saw as Barmby’s treachery, but the player himself was readily accepted by Koppites. He endeared himself even more to Liverpool supporters when he scored in the Anfield version of the Merseyside derby in his first season.
A year later Gerard Houllier returned to Goodison with cheque book in hand and this time returned with Abel Xavier in tow. A rather low-key signing, Xavier’s move was met with a collective shrug of the shoulders on both sides of the park but he does hold the distinction of being the only player to play Merseyside derbies for each club in the same season.
One player who played for both sides and did provoke a stir was Steve McMahon. A boyhood Evertonian, McMahon left Goodison in 1983 and looked set to be heading straight for Anfield. Instead, fearing the pressure of a direct move to Liverpool, he signed for Aston Villa where he stayed for two seasons before becoming Kenny Dalglish’s first signing for Liverpool. A combative player, McMahon was never exactly forgiven nor welcomed back to Goodison Park with open arms.
Tottenham and Arsenal:
Like Liverpool and Everton, moves between the North London rivals have been relatively few and far between but have nevertheless occurred over the years to some degree.
One of the strangest affairs concerned a managerial move in the 1970s. Terry Neill had enjoyed a steady playing career and had made almost 300 appearances for Arsenal. After leaving Arsenal, he had a spell as player-manager of Hull City and was then really rather surprisingly appointed as Bill Nicholsen’s successor as manager of Tottenham Hotspur in 1974. After two largely undistinguished seasons in charge at White Hart Lane, the managerial position at Highbury fell vacant and Neill succeeded Bertie Mee, therefore earning Neill the mantle as the manager who succeeded both double-winning managers.
As manager of Arsenal, he returned to White Hart lane twice in 1977 to sign former players. First Scottish centre-half Willie Young signed on the Highbury dotted line, and then, more contentiously, goalkeeper Pat Jennings was signed for a nominal fee. The story goes that the Tottenham board had considered Jennings to be over the hill and so miffed was he that he promptly turned down the overtures of Manchester United to sign for Arsenal out of spite.
Despite the bad feeling surrounding the transfer, Jennings remains one of the only players to be held in equally high esteem by the supporters of both clubs.
The same, unfortunately, cannot be said of one Sulzeer Jeremiah Campbell. Sol, as he is more commonly known, came through the ranks at Tottenham and after nine years and more than 250 appearances, had established himself as club captain and an England regular. In 2001, with his contract at White Hart Lane running down, Campbell was in high demand and knew that he was in a strong negotiating position. With seemingly the pick of Europe’s clubs to choose from, Campbell supposedly pledged his future to Tottenham before making an abrupt turnaround and signing for Arsenal on a free transfer instead.
In 2017, Tottenham played their final game at White Hart Lane and to mark the occasion a procession of past players and managers were invited to its farewell. Bemused to be left off the guest list was one, Mr. S. Campbell.
More recently a move in the opposite direction raised eyebrows when William Gallas moved from Arsenal to Tottenham.
A look at Arsenal and Tottenham relations wouldn’t be complete without at least a cursory examination of another managerial appointment. After a glittering playing career with Arsenal that included winning the double in 1971, it was no surprise that after starting his managerial career strongly at Millwall, one day George Graham would find himself back in the marble halls of Highbury as the boss. What was surprising, however, was his ascension to the manager’s chair at White Hart Lane in 1998.
Sacked by Arsenal in 1995 for financial improprieties, Graham spent a year out of the game as he served out a suspension. He then re-emerged as manager of Leeds United in 1996. A strong start with Leeds saw a fifth-place finish and hopes were abound that he could reproduce some of the magic that had led Arsenal to six major trophies during his time there. What happened next, though, was astounding.
Alan Sugar had taken over the running of Tottenham Hotspur and when the club needed a new manager in October 1998, Sugar put his businessman’s head on and went for ‘the best manager available’. The fact that Tottenham supporters were never going to take to Graham with his Arsenal roots was of no concern or interest to Sugar, but the League Cup triumph of 1999 notwithstanding, Graham’s two-and-a-half-year spell at White Hart Lane was anything but plain sailing.
There have, of course, been many other cases of a beloved player joining a detested rival, and, indeed, fans of most if not all clubs could give lay to similar tales but the above highlights some of the most controversial.