In this mega-bucks modern age where top level clubs thought nothing of spending £40 or £50 million during the last transfer window, it’s easy to forget that football hasn’t always been such big business and, in some parts of the world, still isn’t. Nevertheless, a big new signing can make all the difference to a club no matter at what level they play. Of course, if a team’s a bit strapped for cash then they can get a little creative to ensure that they get their man.
You may have heard of how top flight players like John Barnes and Ian Wright got their first transfers in exchange for training kit and equipment for their local club, but some transfer fees have been a little less pragmatic and a little more gastronomic. Yes, while a player is yet to be transferred for literally peanuts, there have still been a few occasions where apparently a few sausages are enough to secure a solid centre back.
These five instances of players being sold for food have got to be some of the strangest transfer fees in football history.
5. Ernie Blenkinsop – A Barrel of Beer
The son of a Barnsley coal miner, young Ernie Blenkinsop followed his father down t’pit while turning out at left-back for the colliery team at weekends. In 1921, while playing for local village side Cudworth United Methodists, Blenkinsop was spotted by Second Division Hull City and quickly snapped up. It being shortly after the First World War, and Yorkshire, Hull were understandably not that keen on parting with much actual money for their potential future star. In the end they settled on a humble £100 in addition to a barrel of beer to share around Blenkinsop’s former team-mates, something that probably went down pretty well in Cudworth.
How did he do?
19 year old Blenkinsop only made a handful of appearances for Hull, but did enough to convince Sheffield Wednesday to pay actual money (not even a cask of whiskey or anything) to move him from Yorkshire’s East Riding to the West. At Wednesday Blenkinsop became the driving force behind a team that rose from the bottom of the Second Division to become back-to-back League Champions. He went on to earn 26 England caps, captaining the team 5 times. In 1934 Wednesday sold him to Liverpool for £5000, at pre-war prices the equivalent in beer of about 60,000 pints (or over 200 barrels), a pretty impressive increase in value.
4. Ion Radu – Two Tonnes of Meat
Having been relegated from the Romanian top flight in 1998, CS Jiul Petrosani found themselves both struggling financially and overburdened with players. Unfortunately trying to shift those players to raise real cash proved tricky for Petrosani, but that didn’t mean that they were out of options. The club’s chairman took the novel approach of selling midfielder Ion Radu to Chimia Ramnicu Valcea, recently relegated to the Romanian Fourth Division, in exchange for two tonnes of beef and pork. The meat, the chairman stated, could then be sold to pay the wages of the rest of the Petrosani team.
How did he do?
Whether Radu was really worth that huge heap of butcher’s produce is kind of debatable as Valcea continued to struggle both in football terms and in raising non-meat based funds. After six years languishing at the regional level of Romanian football, the club went bankrupt and dissolved in 2004.
3. Kenneth Kristensen – His Weight in Shrimp
Striker Kenneth Kristensen had been performing well for Norwegian Third Division club Vindbjart during the 2002 season, scoring 14 times, but spent that summer adopting a more laid back approach. “He has had a relaxed summer eating seafood on Flekkeroy (an island fishing port off Norway’s South coast),” Vindbjart chairman Vidar Ulstein complained. The solution was simple, to send Kristensen to Flekkeroy IL, the island’s football club, also in the Third Division.
Of course there had to be some fee in exchange and there is one thing that Flekkeroy has in abundance: fresh seafood. An arrangement was made to trade Kristensen for his weight in shrimp. “I had no idea if it was a joke or deadly serious,” Flekkeroy chairman Rolf Guttormsen reportedly remarked, “The Vindbjart chairman said that it was a bit of both, but they wanted the shrimp. No problem, we have enough shrimp”. At a boxing style weigh in, Kristensen was found to be worth 75kg of uncooked crustacean, or about 535g of shrimp per goal in the previous season.
How did he do?
Unfortunately there’s no record of how Kristensen’s new seafood heavy diet effected his goalscoring ability. What we do know, though, is that the following year Flekkeroy finished second in their division, while Vindbjart were fifth. In 2004 Flekkeroy won and were promoted to Norway’s second flight. Kristensen was obviously something of a trendsetter in terms of a “will work for food” attitude in Norwegian football as, in 2005, former First Division player Bard Erik Olsen came out of retirement to play for Fifth Division Tronvik in exchange for a pizza a week.
2. Marius Cioara – 15kg of Sausages
Romania is obviously the land of meat based transfer fees as eight years after Ion Radu was sold for two tonnes of beef and pork, Marius Cioara made the move from Second Division UT Arad to Fourth Division Regal Hornia for a fee consisting entirely of sausages. The Cioara deal, though, was over 120 times less meaty than Radu’s, with the defender’s sausage value just 15kg. If Kenneth Kristensen was worth his whole weight in shrimp, then this makes Cioara worth only about the weight of his right leg in sausage.
How did he do?
He didn’t. Humiliated by the transfer fee (although it’s unclear whether the insult was the fact that it was in sausage or just the small amount of sausage he was deemed to be worth), Cioara decided to retire the day after the transfer went through, rather than face up to all the banger based banter. Hornia were left angrily demanding the return of the transfer fee. “We lost a good player,” a club spokesman said, “and we lost our team’s food for a whole week”. Cioara, for his part, moved to Spain to become a farmer. Whether his agricultural work involved pork farming is, sadly, not reported.
1. Hugh McLenahan – Three Freezers full of Ice Cream
Valued at over $3 billion, Manchester United are described by Forbes Magazine as by far the most valuable sports team in the world. The extent of their financial clout is such that a summer in which they spent £28 million is deemed to be so disappointing that they are likely to have a budget of over £50 million come the January transfer window. Things were not always that way, however, and nowhere is the discrepancy between modern transfer fees and pre-war ones more apparent than in United’s 1927 signing of Stockport County wing-half Hugh McLenahan.
With Stockport struggling financially and United Assistant Manager Louis Rocca the owner of an ice cream business, it seemed obvious in the logic of 1920s transfers that the appropriate thing would be for United to donate some of Rocca’s ice cream to a Stockport fundraiser. Three full freezers later and McLenahan was a Man United player. To put that in context, paying in ice cream for Fellaini would have set the Red Devils back 55 million Cornettos, while their £80 million sale of Cristiano Ronaldo would have made them 96 million Magnums.
How did he do?
McLenahan joined during an era that was not the most glittering of Man United’s illustrious history. He stayed at the club for a decade, during which time they finished last in the First Division in 1931 and dropped to their lowest ever league position in the Second Division in 1934. A decent utility player, McLenahan never really established himself as a regular in the first team and, after playing 116 games for the club, was sold on to Notts County after United were promoted back to the top flight in 1936. Unfortunately United didn’t throw in a couple of Viennettas to sweeten the deal.