FAMOUS FIVE: Notorious free transfers

With the trip to Brighton this weekend, we have a reunion with Liam Rosenior, whose release by City in the summer upset an awful lot of supporters. Sometimes free transfers are controversial because of the club’s impetuosity, or they become infamous because they are prompted by the player’s actions – or inactions. Five examples of City players placing their boot-filled bindle on their shoulder and trudging down North Road for the last time, either cursing or celebrating, are recalled below…

1: Wayne Jacobs

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There was an awful lot to admire about Wayne Jacobs without there being, conversely, an awful lot to say. He was a left back, a damned fine one, whose consistency was a regular talking point and whose mistakes in three years with the club could be counted on no fingers at all. It both described him perfectly and yet did him a disservice to call him ‘steady’. A teenager upon arrival from Sheffield Wednesday in 1988, he made the left back position effortlessly his own instantly and remained in place as no fewer than five managers oversaw the prolonging of City’s late 80s and early 90s mediocrity.

Then, in January 1992, he injured his cruciate ligament. Jacobs had endured a few injuries during his time, minor ones, while also achieving the rare distinction of playing every minute of every game in 1989/90. But this one was, obviously, highly serious. It is only in the last 15 years or so that professionals have been able to overcome cruciate ligaments enough to resume their playing careers, and so there was forlorn hope for Jacobs. So forlorn did the wicked City regime of Martin Fish and Terry Dolan (with others, it has to be said) see Jacobs’ chances that just before Christmas the same year, almost 12 months since he first jarred the knee, they fired him.

Officially, he was given a free transfer. But essentially it was a sacking, and no supporter nor sympathetic media commentator saw fit to label it as anything else. More room was allocated to the letters page of the Sports Mail as infuriated correspondence dropped through the letterbox day after day on Blundells Corner. A fine player, a brilliant servant, a player whose facility to cause trouble of any description was non-existent, just ditched at the drop of a Santa hat. The timing made it worse, but the decision itself would have been bad enough had it been made at Whitsun. City owed far more to Jacobs and his recovery than its paymasters seemed prepared to give, convinced as they were that he would not play the professional game again.

Jacobs, stoic and dignified through it all, duly recovered, got a contract at Rotherham, who were then foolish enough to release him themselves. Bradford came calling and he ended up playing with them through three divisions, including two in the Premier League, even ending up as their assistant manager after nine years as a player. Somehow, his achievements after City squalidly let him go act as a far greater two fingers to those who made such a cretinous decision than anything the Tiger Nation could do or say, though typically, Jacobs would never seek to apportion blame. Such was the character that accompanied the ability.

2: Billy Bremner

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Arrived from Leeds, scored on debut against Nottingham Forest while attracting a huge crowd to the game, didn’t take the manager’s job apparently “out of loyalty” to the sacked John Kaye, then left without a whimper when, after two seasons, City were relegated to the Third Division. Went from adored over 16 years at Elland Road to scorned in two at Boothferry Park. Sinking ships, rats, and all that.

If the City fans had been nonplussed by his contribution on the pitch, they were deeply cynical about the ease with which he departed following relegation, and despite his considerable ability as player and leader, those who watched him play in black and amber never believed in him. This meant a curious, paradoxical mixture of anger and relief heralded his exit.

3: Mike Edwards

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Still the last East Riding boy to join City from leaving school and work his way all the way up to senior level, Edwards was a very good defender of composure and versatility who was quickly marked out for good things by Mark Hateley when he was placed into the defence as a 17 year old in 1997 and pretty much stayed there through the many downs and further downs to follow. He was key to the Great Escape under Warren Joyce the next season (and made into a man by Jon Whitney and Justin Whittle’s arrival beside him), fantastic when Brian Little’s side got into the play-offs as administrative hell broke loose, and looked the part under Jan Molby too. Then, in a familiar tale, he damaged his cruciate ligament.

During his recuperation, City replaced Molby with Peter Taylor, and as he neared completion of his recovery and began training again, Taylor gave him the horrible option of leaving the club because of what had been built in his absence (John Anderson, Richard Hinds, Damien Delaney and Carl Regan had all arrived, with the likes of Andy Dawson and Alton Thelwell to come). Edwards took this as an indication that Taylor wasn’t interested in seeing him actually play and accepted a contract from Colchester (who were a division higher) to see out the 2003/04 season before joining Grimsby (also a division higher).

There weren’t any effigies of Taylor burning in Hessle when the news of Edwards’ exit was confirmed, but it was still a rotten and unjust way to end the truly local boy’s career.

4: Roger deVries
In May 1980, deVries was three months short of ten years’ service as a first team regular with City, and still not 30 years old, when he was given a free transfer by Mike Smith. He wasn’t alone in going, but there was genuine shock among City fans that an unfussy, capable and consistent servant, who also happened to be Hull through and through, had been given the elbow.

It was hindsight, however, that hauled Smith over the coals eventually. Releasing deVries was one thing, but the players with whom he was replaced were another entirely. In 1980-81, there wasn’t a single specialist left back played in the position, despite it being one most managers of gumption would make sure wasn’t just covered properly, but plentifully. Micky Horswill, a combative midfielder but not a left back, started there, then teenager Bobby McNeil, a right back but not a left back, had a go, then Paul Haigh, England under 21 centre back, but not a left back, had a spell (prior to being sold), the inadequate Brian Ferguson, not a left back, stopgapped there for three festive games (by which time City were already certs for the drop) and lastly, Dennis Booth, not a left back, stepped in and at least used his nous as a long-serving pro to take on a position that he still didn’t find wholly comfortable. He ended up staying there for the foreseeable future, even seeing out Smith’s own time at the club after the threat of liquidation overcame the club in the early spring of 1982.

All of this came back to the decision to free deVries who, despite being a long-serving player, wasn’t exactly holding the shareholders upside down to extract loose change from their pockets. His release on the proviso that the wage bill needed reducing seemed disingenuous at the time – the prospect of having to fund a testimonial season for him was probably more of a factor – and for a player who had seen all the big days and nights of the 1970s, starting with the Watney Cup adventure against Manchester United and the FA Cup run of 1970/71, it simply looked sly, as well as premature. He was good, fit, untroublesome and experienced and, as it turned out, fatally impossible to replace.

5: Michael Keane

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The cubic midfielder made 20 appearances in the 2004/05 promotion season and his late winning goal on debut at Barnsley was one of the most memorable moments of a memorable campaign.

But when he headbutted a teenager in a reserve game the following season, he had to go. Peter Taylor made no secret of his distaste for the incident (and, indeed, the player, whose attitude had been questionable from the moment he joined) and sent him to Rotherham, where he had been on loan briefly the previous season. And they couldn’t stand him either.

3 replies
  1. Bunkers Bill
    Bunkers Bill says:

    It was one of the worst days of my City supporting life when we signed Bremner from the vermin. To see the niggling, cheating con man pulling on a black and amber shirt turned my stomach, akin to seeing Jimmy Saville loitering outside the schoolgates.

    His goal v Forest aside, I can’t remember any useful or positive contributions in his time here.

    A dark period for our club.

  2. James Winfield
    James Winfield says:

    As a kid, I was obviously a massive Andy Payton fan, but Wayne Jacobs was arguably my second favourite, which shows something when a left-back can have such a large appeal to a youngster.

  3. gjhdurham
    gjhdurham says:

    Thought Jacobs and Edwards were leg breaks… Had a lot of time for these two, and their treatment was shoddy. Very pleased they went on to good careers in football.
    Bremner was clearly past his best when he arrived. Might have been a better signing with better players around him. As it was he looked fairly average for City…
    Remember deVries as a steady performer, but don’t remember the ins and outs of his departure, so thanks for that. Don’t remember Keane at all.

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