Forget Shearer, Jimmy Greaves is English football’s top scorer

There was more significant news to emerge from the football world this weekend but Harry Kane’s two goals against Everton on Friday night moved him ahead of Robbie Fowler in the list of the Premier League all-time scorers. Kane now sits sixth in the standings on 164, with Thierry Henry (175) and Frank Lampard (177) the next players in his sights.

As every fan knows, Alan Shearer is top of the charts. Ask a follower of the Premier League how many top-flight goals the former England captain scored and most will reply with ‘260’. But that is not correct. Shearer did indeed score 260 times in the Premier League but he also notched 23 goals for Southampton the final five seasons of the First Division. His top-tier tally is therefore 283, not 260.

In many cases, it makes sense to talk of Premier League records. Data since the breakaway in 1992 is more readily available. Going all the way back to foundation of the Football League in the 1880s is often unnecessary.  The game has changed immeasurably since then, and there is little to be learned from strained comparisons between Preston North End’s ‘Invincibles’ to Manchester City’s ‘Centurions’.

However, there is one field in which it feels particularly arbitrary to ignore everything that happened before 1992. Goals have always been football’s currency. They are easy to measure and reliable records of them exist all the way back to the start of the Football League.

Had Shearer been born 10 years earlier, he might have only managed 56 Premier League strikes. He would not have been any less of a player but his goal return would hardly be discussed now. Wayne Rooney would hold the all-important Premier League record, and Shearer would be behind Lee Bowyer, Dean Holdsworth and Alexis Sanchez in the rankings.

With that in mind, spare a thought for Jimmy Greaves. The former Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur and West Ham United striker has scored more goals in England’s top flight than any other player. He found the net in the First Division on 357 occasions at a rate of 0.69 goals per game. That puts him 74 goals ahead of Shearer, who is only fifth on the all-time list. Gordon Hodgson (287), Dixie Dean (310) and Steve Bloomer (314) are also ahead of the Newcastle United legend when pre-1992 tallies are taken into account.

It is a shame that many will be unaware of Greaves’ record. The legendary England striker, who famously missed the 1966 World Cup final as Alf Ramsey chose to stick with Geoff Hurst up front, was one of the most natural finishers the country has ever seen. In his debut top-flight season with Chelsea, Jimmy Greaves notched 22 goals in 35 games. He continued in the same vein for the rest of his career, scoring at least 20 times in all but one First Division season between 1957 and 1969.

Greaves is the only player in English top-flight history to have finished as top scorer in six different campaigns. Bloomer managed it five times either side of the 1900s, while Thierry Henry got closest in the Premier League era having top-scored in 2001/02, 2003/04, 2004/05 and 2005/06. Shearer, like Gary Lineker and John Campbell of Sunderland, did it on three occasions.

Jimmy Greaves must also go down as one of the greatest England players to have never won the title. He joined Tottenham from AC Milan in December 1961, just months after Bill Nicholson’s team had won the double. Spurs came second that season, although Greaves did win two FA Cups and the Cup Winners’ Cup at White Hart Lane. He also has a Serie A winner’s medal from 1961/62, having scored nine goals in 12 games before hot-footing it back to London.

Shearer should be proud to be the Premier League’s leading all-time scorer, as should Kane if he one day overtakes him. When it comes to top-flight goals, however, Jimmy Greaves is the real man to beat.



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