Darlington born inside forward Alf Common played junior football for South Hylton in 1898 and Jarrow in 1899 before joining Sunderland in 1900, making his Football League debut at Wolverhampton Wanderers that September. Sunderland finished First Division runners-up in 1900-01, after which Common transferred to Sheffield United in November 1901 for £325 after 6 goals in 18 appearances. Sunderland finished as League Champions in 1901-02 with Common having contributed 2 goals in his 4 appearances during their campaign, and Common scored twice in the FA Cup run that led to United’s April 1902 FA Cup Final win over Southampton, Common also scored the first goal in the initial 1-1 draw in front of 77,000 spectators at The Crystal Palace before Sheffield United won the replay 2-1 a week later.
Common became a regular member of Sheffield United teams, and won the first of his three international caps in February 1904 against Wales at The Racecourse Ground, Wrexham in a 2-2 draw, winning a second cap and scoring twice the following month as England beat Ireland 3-1 at Cliftonville Gardens, Belfast. But in May of that year he refused to re-sign for United because he wished to return to Sunderland where he was reported to have ‘business interests’. United failed to persuade Common to change his mind and in the summer of 1904, he returned to Sunderland. The deal also took United’s reserve goalkeeper Albert Lewis in return for a new record fee of around £520, the first £500 transfer fee.
In February 1905, little more than six months after this move, he broke the transfer record again by moving to Middlesbrough for a world record £1,000 after 7 goals in 22 further appearances for The Black Cats. A month later he won his final cap for England, playing against Wales at the Cardiff Arms Park in a 1-0 England victory. He also made one appearance for The Football League. Middlesbrough had purchased Common in an attempt to avoid relegation to the Second Division. His first game for Middlesbrough was on 25th February 1905, Common was awarded the captaincy away to his former club Sheffield United. Middlesbrough won 1-0, with Common scoring from a penalty after 50 minutes, it was their first away win for nearly two years. Consequently, the team, who had so far been battling against relegation that season, survived the drop. He played 178 games for ‘Boro and scored 65 goals.
At the age of 30, Common moved to Woolwich Arsenal in July 1910 for £250, making his debut on 1st September 1910 against Manchester United. In total, he played 80 times and scored 23 goals for Arsenal; after starting out at inside forward, he took on a more attacking role in his second season and was the club’s top goalscorer (with 17) in 1911-12, missing just two league games. However, he didn’t score a single goal in the first half of the Gunners’ 1912-13 relegation season, before being sold to Preston North End in December 1912 for £250. At Preston, he helped the club to win the Second Division Championship that season, although they were relegated the following season (1913-14). Common retired from football in 1914 after 9 goals in 36 appearances for the Deepdale club.