What does Bobby Gurney have in common with Tony Adams, Jimmy Armfield, Billy Liddell, Matt Le Tissier, Sam Bartram, Packie Bonner, Jamie Carragher and Jack Charlton? All were one-club players, each clocking up hundreds of games without ever leaving for bigger, better, richer or more fashionable teams.
Silksworth-born and starting at Bishop Auckland, Gurney scored 228 goals in league and cup, the highest tally in Sunderland’s history, in 390 games for what was his only professional club in a career stretching from 1926 to 1944. See Stat Cat site for all the fascinating detail.
Will we ever see his like, their likes, again in an age when players and managers seem to regard clubs as mere stepping stones and football owners, in common with most employers, give the impression they would struggle to spell loyalty let alone demonstrate it?
New research by https://www.ticketgum.com/ raises similar issues and provides interesting detail from around Europe, without actually answering the basic question.
Among the findings:
* The Premier League has Europe’s best record after its Austria equivalent for the attachment of footballers to their clubs, players staying on average 2.41 years (not quite up to the Jimmy Armfield standard: 569 games in 17 years at Blackpool; asked once by Salut! Sunderland if he’d ever thought of playing for us, he replied that Blackpool was quite cold enough – it was a great interview by the way, worth checking out at this link)
* New signings in European squads increasing sharply from 36.7 per cent in 2009 to 44.8 per cent in 2017
* The loyalty of Arsenal players has decreased in recent year [it does feel as if not many many players go there intending to stay more than a season or two – Ed] , and Man United held onto their players longer than any other Premier League team
The researchers say: “As their bargaining power and influence grows, football players of today wield more and more power over the beautiful game. The footballers’ player market has seen an increase in the mobility of footballers … this begs the question of how loyal football players are to their teams, and are one-club men a dying breed?”
Ticketgum.com analysed figures from the Football Observatory (October 2017), tracking the average number of years footballer spend in a club’s first team squad. Player loyalty is said to give clubs a competitive advantage “on a sporting level [better medium and long-term results] or an economic one [a greater capacity to launch careers of club-trained players and generating revenues through their transfer]”.
At Manchester United, footballers played for an average of 3.45 years, an average “undoubtedly lengthened by Ryan Giggs’s 24-year stint”. By contrast, players only stuck with Watford for an average of 1.36 years.
Gone are the Arsenal days as exemplifed by Tony Adams. Loyalty is in short supply at the Emirates, the average of 3.44 years at the club 2015 already down to down to 3.14 two years on.
“However, the English Premier League was placed among the most stable leagues in Europe, with newly signed players representing 33.3 per cent of the league,” says ticketgum.co.uk. “[In] the Portuguese Primeira Liga, 57.6 per cent of players were signed over the course of the year, as of October 2017.”
To find the least loyal players in Europe, the researchers studied the Romanian experience. There, footballers only stayed for just over a year (1.14). Also close to the bottom were Serbia (1.20 year average), Cyprus (1.21) and Greece (1.26).
“The club where players stay the shortest amount of time in European Leagues was Israel’s Hapoel Acre, where players stayed no longer than a mere 0.22 years. Compare this to Russia’s CSKA Moskva, where the loyal club members averaged 6.98 years with the team.”