It’s the most ludicrous time of the year. The bi-annual collective mind-prolapse of football managers, players, fans and media that is Transfer Deadline Day is once again upon us, and offices across the country are mysteriously half-filled as grown adults use their annual leave to sit watching other grown adults standing outside football stadiums trying to justify their existence. Another large percentage of the workforce will be glued to live feeds waiting for news of a transfer – any transfer – that they can quickly decry as a rip-off, or sagely turn to Alison in sales and inform her that “Brentford have got themselves a bargain there”, while she stares straight ahead and awaits the sweet release of death.
Transfer deadline day has become a monster, fed by media-frenzy and the non-stop content machine that is Twitter, with constant speculation and fan opinion on players that should be signed, sold, castaway or flown to the moon, and ridden by craggy-faced turd of Lucifer Rupert Murdoch. Sky Sports News’ round the clock coverage has seen peaks of nearly one million viewers for the past few deadline days, which translates to a staggering amount of revenue in Sky subscriptions – enough to buy a replacement for Paul Merson, perhaps in the shape of a Henry Hoover? At the very least it’ll steal less oxygen.
It hasn’t always been like this, though. A long long time ago (2002), transfer deadline day consisted of a memo sent round to all managers at the end of March to remind them that they wouldn’t be able to register any new players in the last couple of months of the season. Unbelievably clubs were permitted to sign players across most of the season, although the majority of deals took place before the season started. This all changed ahead of the 2002/03 season, when the European Commission agreed a deal with UEFA in order to stabilise contractual agreements between players and clubs – the idea being that the guarantee of at least half a season’s commitment from a player gives the club an opportunity to line up a replacement, rather than players being able to move at will and leaving clubs short (and vice-versa). It was also argued that enforcing transfer windows would allow young players the chance to step-up to the first team in the event of injury or suspension.
The very first transfer deadline day saw three major moves take place, with shift-workers, stay-at-home parents and the unemployed treated to the spectacular sight of David Holdsworth move from Birmingham City to Bolton Wanderers on a free. Robbie Keane also made history that day, completing a £7m move to Tottenham Hotspur and creating the tedious ‘Robbie Keane has always dreamed of playing for…’ trope. The January window of 2002/03 gave us more of a sign of things to come, as clubs splashed out on ill-advised moves motivated by sheer panic. Middlesbrough swooping like a myopic eagle to sign strikers Malcolm Christie (7 goals in 42 appearances) and Michael Ricketts (3 goals in 32 appearances) for a combined £6.5m, while Newcastle secured the signature of Jonathan Woodgate from cash-strapped Leeds United for £9million. Quickly it became apparent that Transfer Deadline Day could become a substitute for actual football, and the performance of a club on deadline day became a barometer for fans to judge ambition and success.
The watershed moment in deadline day history came on 1st September 2008, when it was confirmed that Sheikh Mansour and his Abu Dhabi United Group would be buying Manchester City. The takeover from the Emirati billionaire came just in time for manager Mark Hughes to dust off his company credit card and go shopping. Suddenly deadline day took on the air of the final round in Supermarket Sweep, with City’s trolley dash securing the signature of Real Madrid’s Robinho for £32.5m. The bemused Brazilian may not have enjoyed the best of times at the Etihad, but his transfer propelled deadline day to the garbled frenzy of nonsense it is today. It was also a watershed moment in the career of Jim White. The Glaswegian had been working at Sky since 1998, and had anchored Transfer Deadline Day since its inception, but on 1st September 2008 he became the voice of football admin lunacy. Over the past decade White has become a celebrity broadcaster, with deadline day featuring promos of him putting on his yellow tie and getting ready to preach the good news to the nation that Peter Ramage has joined Barnsley on loan. If Transfer Deadline Day is a circus, White is the ringmaster, thrusting a chair into the face of naysayers that suggest his career is a sandcastle built on shouting about mediocre footballers.
For all the hyperbole and hysteria, deadline day has given us some wonderful moments. Watching Liverpool and Chelsea both SMASH their record transfer fees in the same evening on Andy Carroll and Fernando Torres without the foresight of the fruitless seasons to follow was chucklesome. Peter Odemwingie’s Partridge moment, as he drove from West Brom to QPR to try and force a move to Loftus Road, despite there being no interest from Rangers. Harry Redknapp’s Pavlovian reaction to seeing a camera crew, whereby he’s compelled to wind down his window, trot out footballing platitudes, and then head off to complete the signing of Niko Krancjar. The purple dildo (It was a vibrator! – Ed).
Despite the hilarity that deadline day provides, there’s still an ongoing debate between figures in the game that the current state of the transfer window can be improved on. Some have called for the window to revert to the previous system, whereby clubs can sign players until 31st March. It seems counter intuitive, but the argument that the current transfer window drives up the prices of players as clubs capitalize on desperation is a fair point. In the case of Andy Carroll, for example, it seems unlikely Liverpool would have kowtowed to Newcastle’s hard-bargaining were they not working against the clock. Despite all the evidence to the contrary, Mike Ashley didn’t becoming a billionaire by accident.
There are also wide suggestions that the window should shut before the season starts. If clubs can’t get their business done during the 10-12 weeks of the close season, then that’s their problem isn’t it? You’ll find that many of those pundits that subscribe to this idea are the same people that regularly say English managers don’t get big jobs, and also probably vote UKIP. The very simple fact is that the current transfer window covers Europe’s top leagues, which don’t all start at the same time. Ending business in England in the first week of August won’t stop Barcelona lodging an £80m bid for Craig Cathcart, and suddenly Watford need to find another fifth choice defender that no-one’s ever heard of.
So for the time being the window will stay as it is and, once you’ve removed all the slick graphics, the made up stats, the constant throws to reporters, the endless twitter rumours, and the booming Scottish accent, you’ll quickly realise – it’s just another day. Go outside and enjoy the sunshine.