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20,000 goals and all that: random trivia on top-flight English scoring


By Nick Harris

SJA Internet Sports Writer of the Year

23 December 2011

The occasion of the Premier League’s 20,000th goal, scored on Wednesday evening by Marc Albrighton and marked with a tongue-in-cheek live blog on this website, was celebrated and castigated in fairly even measure.

The critics picked up on the obvious point that football didn’t begin in 1992. Good spot, that.

We immediately sent our crack team of football statisticians into the anorak cupboard to work on a set of data going back to the first Football League season in 1888 to produce some numbers that reflected the whole history of top-flight football.

These are the key findings so far (correct, we hope, up to and including today, Friday 23/12/11):

  • There have been 137,394 goals in England’s top division (Football League and Premier League) in 45,832 games since 1888, at a rate of 2.998 goals per game.
  • In the Premier League era, which is in its 20th season, there have been 20,013 goals in 7,635 games, or 2.621 goals per game on average.
  • The last time that scoring in England’s top division was as high as the current rate in the 2011-12 season was 1967-68 (when 3.03 goals per game were scored), and the title was won by … Manchester City.
  • The highest scoring season in history (top division, goals per game) was 1889-90, when 611 goals were scored in 132 matches in the 12-team First Division (which in fact was the only division and hence the whole league). This gave an average of 4.63 goals per game. Preston won the title (again), scoring 71 goals in their 22 games, although Blackburn scored more: 78 goals, and an amazing 59 of them in 11 home games. Blackburn scored seven or more in five home games.
  • The lowest scoring season in history (top division, goals per game) was 1970-71, when 2.36 goals per game were scored. Arsenal won the title, scoring 71 goals in 42 games. They beat Leeds by a point; Leeds scored one more goal.
  • The total number of goals in the Football League (all divisions combined) since 1888, we reckon, is somewhere in the region of 520,000, and probably more. When the statisticians are allowed out of the cupboard in Spring, they’ll confirm it. But we do know that the 500,000th Football League goal was scored on 8 August 2006 by Huddersfield’s Gareth Taylor-Fletcher.
  • This piece linked here from The Independent on the morning of that game details how the 100,000th, 200,000th, 300,000th and 400,000th League goals could not be credited to any individual because when they were netted nobody was aware – or had the resources at their disposal – to be able to say unequivocally who hit the specific goals to reach those tallies.
  • The first Football League goal was scored by Aston Villa’s Gershom Cox (an own goal, for Wolves, in the 30th minute) on 8 September 1888. This was not the quickest goal in a match that day, but Fred Dewhurst’s second-minute goal for Preston against Burnley came in a game that kicked off later that day.


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