Scotland’s world transfer record – 100 years on from Falkirk’s ‘folly’ and Syd Puddefoot


While each recent recruit, from Juventus and the J-League respectively, garnered brief but significant attention for the cinch Premiership – a century ago Scottish football was the epicenter of world transfer deals.

Monday, February 7, marks the anniversary of Falkirk doing the unthinkable – and more than likely unrivalled – by setting the world transfer record. The only Scottish club to ever do so.

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Hearts and Kilmarnock’s names are linked to other global records – but only through sales of Percy Dawson and Tom Hamilton and Falkirk’s £5,000 ‘folly’ for their forward from West Ham United remains the first, last, and likely only time such a record will be paid by a Scottish football club.

Various elements of the Puddefoot story have been apocryphal with such of bags of cash, trains to London and side-lined directors, but it has never been in doubt that Falkirk beat the previous record – set by Hamilton’s £4,600 move from Kilmarnock to Preston North End a year earlier – by £400.

The Football Post at the time ended it a folly, but Puddefoot, according to Falkirk FC historian Michael White, actually approached the Bairns himself, having been stationed in Bridge of Allan nearby on national service and made war-time appearances for the club. Disillusioned later in London, he had handed in a transfer request to West Ham, who needed cash themselves for renovating the Boleyn Ground at Upton Park and held out for a record transfer fee, citing interest from Chelsea, Arsenal and Tottenham and a rejected £4,500 bid.

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Falkirk outbid them all and brought their man north and with it, a little slice of football history.

It was not without recriminations in the Brockville boardroom either, as Mr White explained within his research of the now famous deal.

Syd Puddefoot, once the most expensive footballer in the world. (Photo by E. Bacon/Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)

“The Minute of the February 9th board meeting makes interesting reading,” he wrote.

“The Secretary (manager Willie Nicol) reported the steps taken to secure the transfer of Sydney C. Puddefoot from West Ham United and in connection therewith read the letter received from Puddefoot stating he was likely to be on the transfer list.

“The Chairman had signed a statement that the directors were willing to go to the length of £5,000 for the transfer and Messrs. Hamilton, McIntyre and J.Anderson had initialled the statement as agreeing. The Chairman stated that he had called on Mr Robert Waugh but did not get him in.

“The Secretary and Mr Liddell had gone to London and had arranged the transfer for £5,000, the player to receive £1,000 and his terms £10 per week with a bonus of £2 for a win and £1 for a draw.

Falkirk team including world record transfer signing Syd Puddefoot from West Ham, front row, centre.

“Mr. Waugh, during the discussion protested against the manner in which the business had been gone about, having no opportunity to give an opinion or decision on the matter and wished his dissent to be entered. After discussion, the action of Messrs Liddell and secretary in signing Puddefoot was homologated, and it was agreed to raise the amount necessary by loans.”

A new share issue is also mentioned within the directors’ records while supporters bought bonds and even provided loans totaling £2325 – almost half of the outlay for the striker. The receipts delivered, by hand, by the team manager Nicol – far removed from the modern-day brokering, agent representation and contracts.

Falkirk were even said to have been willing and able to go higher than the world record fee they paid but the ensuing row escalated and resulted in chairman George Chapman resigning, replaced by the dissenting Mr Waugh.

And what of Puddefoot, the now famous record-setting striker?

Receipt from Falkirk FC for a loan of £100 towards the fund to buy Syd Puddefoot, the world record transfer in 1922. Discovered in August 2018

He netted 74 goals for the Bairns in 147 games and was even joined by brother Len on the books at Brockville a season later – but with considerably less success.

A significant portion of the transfer fee was recovered when he was sold for £4,000 to Blackburn Rovers and he went on to win two England caps and command a career in management with Galatasaray and Fenerbahce in Turkey. He died in Essex, suffering from pneumonia, aged 77 in 1972.

His place in football history – and particularly Scottish football history – is assured though for his £5,000 fee exactly one century ago.

His place as the world’s most expensive player was quickly usurped by Sunderland signing Warney Cresswell from South Shields for £6,000 only a month later – there ending Scotland’s dalliance with the most expensive deals in the world.

Puddefoot’s payment, and the preceding £2,500 for Dawson and £4,600 for Hamilton, are all far removed from the current world record paid by Paris Saint-Germain for Brazilian international Neymar in 2017, which stands at £198m.

Scottish clubs may not be paying out anywhere near such exorbitant sums these days, but they are represented by Hearts and Kilmarnock among the past deals of those who do and did, and by Falkirk, the only Scottish club to have ever paid out a world record transfer fee, 100 years ago today.

August 1921: West Ham United Football Club player, Syd Puddefoot, trains at Upton Park six months before his world-record transfer. (Photo by Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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