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City DNA #50: Steve Daley: Transfer record breaker

City DNA #50: Steve Daley: Transfer record breaker
If ever there was a case of right player, right club but wrong time it was surely personified in Steve Daley’s record-breaking move to City in September 1979.

The former midfielder will forever be woven into City’s rich fabric for carrying the distinction of being our first million-pound signing.

But Daley's City career is remembered more for the size of fee required to acquire his services rather than his subsequent deeds on the pitch.

By September 1979, Daley had become an established – and highly valued - player with Wolverhampton Wanderers. A skilful, all-action goal-scoring wide midfielder, Daley had played 244 games in eight years at Molineux, most of them in the top-flight, scoring an impressive 43 goals.

It was boom time transfer wise in English football and just seven months earlier Trevor Francis – ironically later to join City himself – had become the country's first million-pound footballer when moving from Birmingham City to Nottingham Forest.

By the autumn of that year and with ambition awash in the old First Division, City – under the chairmanship of Peter Swales – decided to make a bold statement of our own with an audacious and headline-grabbing capture of Daley.

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As Daley recalled, an early morning phone call first alerted him to what would be a day of drama.

“I got a phone call on the Wednesday morning telling me that City were interested in me and that I had to get up to Manchester straight away,” Daley recalled in 2009.

“I had a Ford Cortina and needed some petrol so Phil Shaw, the Wolves secretary, gave me a tenner and I filled up the car and off I went up the M6.

“I met the chairman and Malcolm Allison and signed for the Club.”

The fee agreed by City with Wolves was to create seismic shock waves throughout the game.

Daley was signed for £1,437,500, a jaw-dropping amount which smashed the previous record amount paid for Francis to smithereens.

Indeed, such was the eye-watering size of the fee, the British transfer record was to be broken again only twice in the following six years; firstly when Wolves immediately reinvested their profits from the Daley transfer in acquiring Andy Gray from Aston Villa, and then in 1981 when Bryan Robson moved from West Bromwich Albion to Manchester United for £1.5m.

"It was history being made, and every man and his dog had an opinion about it,” Daley added.

"Some people said it was worth it – most people said it wasn't.

"Going on previous transfers, it just seemed outrageous. You start to think: 'Hold on a minute, what's going on?' It was a vast sum of money at the time but as a player you can’t do much about it."

However, the City side that Daley agreed to join was one somewhat in a state of flux.

Allison was back at the Club where he had enjoyed such stellar success as coach – this time calling all the shots as manager.

But the City of 1979 was a very different beast to the Club Allison, along with the late, great Joe Mercer, had piloted to so much success a decade earlier.

GOLDEN BOOT : Daley receives the Wolves player of the Year award in 1977
GOLDEN BOOT : Daley receives the Wolves player of the Year award in 1977

A host of experienced players had either left or were in the midst of moving on.

In their place came a blend of promising youngsters, supplemented by several big money signings of whom Daley was the most conspicuous.

Human nature being what it is, with the gargantuan size of Daley’s transfer fee came giant-sized - and unrealistic - expectations.

it was hardly the easiest of environments in which to seamlessly blend in, not least for a player weighed down by the tagline of being Britain’s most expensive footballer.

To make matters worse, Daley’s City career got off to the most inauspicious of starts as we went down to a 1-0 home defeat to Southampton on his debut which was followed by a 4-0 loss away to West Brom.

A stop-start season subsequently saw more lows than highs – notably an FA Cup third round exit at the hands of Fourth Division Halifax Town – much to Daley’s and the fans’ frustration.

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With results conspiring against City, confidence - not surprisingly - nose-dived with Daley often the lightning rod for criticism.

“The harder I tried the more it wouldn’t work. I was in and out of the team and it was difficult,” Daley added.

By the end of that 1979/80 campaign, he had made 36 appearances in total, scoring two goals with City finishing down amongst the first division doldrums in 17th place.

Though City’s luck was to eventually change the following season, by the time that upturn in the Club’s fortunes had arrived, it was too late to resuscitate Daley's own Maine Road career.

After another poor start to the 1980/81 season, Allison had been removed to be replaced in October 1980 by John Bond, who subsequently guided City to both the 1981 FA Cup final as well as that season’s League Cup semi-finals.

By the time City stepped out at Wembley to face Spurs in the centenary FA Cup final though Daley’s Maine Road career was already over.

After a further 17 appearances for the Club in the 1980/81 campaign, Bond decided to move the midfielder on to North American Soccer League outfit the Seattle Sounders in late February for a bargain basement fee of just £300,000 – leaving City was a loss of more than £1m on our lavish purchase.

In total, Daley figured 53 times for City, scoring four goals in total.

He was to subsequently enjoy a successful spell playing on the West Coast of the States, where he was tagged with the nickname the 'Six Million Dollar Man'. in homage to the successful American TV series of the 1970s.

Daley also went on to feature for the San Diego Sockers in between a brief spell back in England with Burnley, before finally ending his career at Walsall in 1986.

Reflecting back on his time at City, Daley admits to both regrets and frustration about the way his Maine Road career failed to ignite.

"When I am on my own and I think about football, and I think about what happened in my career, I look back and think I wish I could have that time at Manchester City again," Daley reflected.

“I know how I would have approached it – and I know I would have been a success.

“I was proud to be transferred for that amount of money but not proud that it didn’t work out.”

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