In this protracted vacuum of idle nothingness, it’s amused me to once again notice the proliferation of bonkers transfer-only phrases. You know, those ones that you never hear for the rest of the year, but suddenly become common currency. Tim Stillman spotted it too, all that pouncing and swooping, (‘Pouncing on the tabling swoops‘) as did Rory Smith (‘Cracking the transfer code‘) too.

All of which reminded me of my absolute favourite off-season-only phrase, namely Joe Bloggs has issued a come-and-get-me-plea. In my mind this takes some beating. But what you probably aren’t aware of is its provenance, so I thought I’d share it with you. And the key is in the word ‘issuing’.

You see, back at the tail end of the Victorian era they were very keen indeed not only on inventing sports but also on codifying the hell out of them. So it’s perhaps no surprise that as soon as players realised that they could move between clubs for financial gain, the good men of sport wanted to make a rule for this. By the mid 1890s the summer air rang with the sound of itchy-footed footballers pleading for other clubs to come and get them. It quickly became a cacophony. It got out of hand – men walking down the streets, ringing bells, shouting at the top of their voices, agitating for transfers on every street corner. It was mentioned in parliament.

So before long, football’s guardians had decreed that you were no longer simply allowed to yodel all summer about being come and got. If you wanted to do it you needed a licence. And to get a licence, you needed to head to the FA to get it issued. Hence issuing a come-and-get-me-plea.

Footballers would queue up along Lancaster Gate and would be allowed entry to the Plea Issuing Chamber one at a time. A form would be filled in, rubber-stamped, then a messenger would scurry deep into the bowels of the organisation to issue it. And here’s the amazing thing – in a world before the internet and telephones, the FA had, in order to expedite such pleas, built a subterranean narrow-gauge railway with branches heading to London’s newspaper powerhouses on Fleet Street. The messenger would attach the come-and-get-me-plea to a special vehicle, which would then zip off to its destination in record time. Now that the plea had been issued and delivered, it could be published in the press.

I hope you found this interesting. I may even extend the series*

*I won’t.

Anything happening out there?

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A come-and-get-me plea train. Image courtesy of Transport Trust