The wheeling and dealing side of being a football manager was something that certainly appealed a lot to Alan Mullery. Luckily for him, he had far more cash to play with than, say, Pat Saward, at the start of the 1970s. It’s often commented that Mullery had a massive transfer budget. Trying to get beyond the opinion, I wanted to see to what extent this was true and have (to the best of my ability) tried to collate all the incomings and outcomings from 1976/77 to the end of 1978/79:
To my eyes, despite the over-inflated price for Teddy Maybank, a deficit of £553,000 at late 1970s prices seems a reasonable price to pay for a club going from the Third Division into the top flight. Still, it wasn’t me writing the cheques! Undoubtedly, the Albion boss’ best capture of the time was Preston defender Mark Lawrenson. In this article from Shoot! magazine, the Brighton manager explains how he tried to balance the budget in the summer of 1977 after a big outlay:
Brighton caused a bit of a stir in the close-season when they splashed out a club record £112,000 to buy unknown defender Mark Lawrenson from Preston. It was a bold move from a progressive club who are determined to make a big success of life now they have been promoted to the Second Division.
And manager Alan Mullery is the first to admit they had no intention of spending that sort of cash when they first decided to go into the market. Mullery – who capped his first season as a manager by steering Brighton to the Third Division top two – explains:
“At first all we were going was a standby for Graham Cross – someone to play in the reserves and come into the first team when necessary. “But clubs were asking a ridiculous amount for this type of player. They were demanding £40,000 or £50,000 – and there was no way we were going to pay that for reserves. So then we decided to change our tactics and go in and spend big on a player who could come straight into the first team. I called all the staff together to discuss names of likely prospects. And they all came up with the same one – Mark Lawrenson.
“My chairman, Mike Bamber, and my coaching staff had all seen the lad play and were all impressed. And I thought he was tremendous on the three occasions I had seen him last season – twice against us, once at Crystal Palace. With so many people raving about him, it was obvious he was the man we wanted – so we moved in and did the deal. I know a lot of people have not heard to much about him yet. But they all will – believe me, they will.
“He is only 20, is big and strong and will make his mark in a big way. he settled down as soon as he joined us for pre-season training and seemed to be enjoying life on the South Coast. The thought of spending that sort of money on an unknown does not frighten me. A football manager has got to be prepared to back his judgement and I’m sure Mark will turn out to be a huge success.”
Mullery’s only regret is the enforced change of deal brought Cross’s time at the Goldstone Ground to an end. Soon after Lawrenson arrived, Cross and full-back Harry Wilson moved to Preston as part of a deal that brought another defender, Gary Williams, to Brighton from Deepdale. “Graham had an absolutely tremendous 1976-77 season for us and I can’t speak too highly of him,” said Mullery. “When I started planning for the new term I reckoned on having him in the side for our step up into the Second Division. Then events overtook us as I have explained, and things worked out differently. I wish him well at Preston and can assure their supporters they are getting one of the most honest lads in the game in Graham.”