The Premier League “Records” Fallacy

We football fans love our records and landmarks.  As Jamie Vardy netted for the eleventh game in a row last season, breaking the corresponding record, even though the goal came against my own Manchester United, a part of me couldn’t help but feel happy for the guy.  His was an unusual path to football stardom.

Rejected in his youth by Sheffield Wednesday, resigned to playing non-league, semi-professional footy, his unexpected rise to the top flight made for a heartwarming side-plot to the already grand fairy tale that was Leicester’s title-winning season.

I didn’t even mind that the record he had broken had previously belonged to ex-Man United player, Ruud Van Nistelrooy.

Imagine my disappointment when I came to discover that neither Vardy or Van Nistelrooy had ever actually held the record for “Most Consecutive Top Flight Games Scored In”.  Just the “Premier League” record.

The honour belongs to Jimmy Dunne and has stood since 1931, when he set the record by scoring in 12 consecutive games with Sheffield United.

This particular blog entry was actually prompted by the tweet linked below (I do not endorse the link, its content or owners, nor do they endorse me… or in fact, even know that I exist):

Apparently Wayne Rooney has scored in 150 separate league games.  That’s the second highest in Premier League history.  Second to Alan Shearer.  Who is the highest goalscorer in Premier League history.

Here’s the thing: I don’t really give a flying toss about “Premier League” records or history – and I shall tell you for why.

While the Premiership has via TV money, become the richest and most-watched football league on the planet, I don’t actually believe that it is so far removed from the old Football League Division One, to merit such a separation.

English football has a lot of history.  Its professional league structure is the oldest in the world, while the FA Cup is the oldest national football competition, full stop.

It boasts players like George Best, Duncan Edwards, “Sir Bobbies” Moore and Charlton, Gordon Banks, Nat Lofthouse, Jimmy Greaves, Kenny Dalglish, John Robertson, Gary Lineker, Alan Hansen, Tony Adams, David Rocastle… the list goes on.

Likewise, legendary managers like Sir Alf Ramsey, Sir Matt Busby, Bill Shankly, Brian Clough and Don Revie all plied their trade in England long before the thought of the Premiership was conceived.

From the late seventies right up to the Heysel tragedy, English football dominated the European Cup.  Between 1977 and 1984, English clubs won the trophy seven times in eight years, with Liverpool winning four, Nottingham Forest winning two and Aston Villa one.

While English football stagnated during the five year Heysel ban, becoming even more insular than they already were, life prior to the Premiership was not some wasteland of mediocrity.  The league in which Alan Shearer emerged as top goalscorer, wasn’t appreciably superior to the one in which Jimmy Greaves set the genuine all-time record.

In fact, in the case of Shearer, his rise to prominence occurred in the era between returning to Europe and the EPL becoming the global force in popular culture we see today.  Serie A and La Liga enthusiasts dismissed English football as thuggish “kick and rush”.  Their top teams expected to beat ours whenever we met, and in truth, we didn’t expect much different.  In short; English football was arguably the worst it had been since the inaugural European Cup.

While it would be inaccurate to call the Premier League a mere re-branding of the old Division One, in terms of league structure and general level of play, it had about the same initial effect and impact as one.

Consider that the season immediately prior to the inaugural Premier League, the two highest scorers in the league were Ian Wright and Gary Lineker.  Wright would be a star in the early Premier League era, while Lineker had already won the Italia ’90 Golden Boot and with Barcelona, had become the most successful British goalscorer in La Liga history.

Linker also has the record for top scorer for highest number of top flight teams (3 – Leicester, Everton and Spurs).

Those are not players who deserve to have goals cut out of commentary on records.

The truth is, no English top flight league-wide scoring record, has been broken or set since the advent of the Premier League.  The closest we’ve come is the record for consecutive seasons as top scorer.  Both Alan Shearer and Thierry Henry matched Jimmy Greaves’ current record of three seasons.

While I’m mentioning Shearer a lot, it isn’t to tear down his legacy.  While the Premiership was born early in a low ebb for England’s domestic game, his production didn’t wane as the league grew and improved around him.  He was a legitimate great in goal-scoring terms.  He currently sits at fifth place in the actual rankings of highest goalscorers in English top flight history.

He’s one of only two players in the top 25, to have played in the 21st century.  The other is Tony Cottee, whose last EPL goals came in 2000.  Along with Ian Rush, they’re the only three on the list that played past 1980.

However, doesn’t this actually put Shearer in better company?  Doesn’t it outline that he was the most prolific league goalscorer of his generation?  Indeed of the modern era?

Not that Wayne Rooney, Thierry Henry and Frank Lampard are bad company, but not one has broken 200 league goals.  Everybody in the top 25 of the historic list has done that.  Shearer’s record while not “number one” puts him shoulder-to-shoulder with some of the best in history.

The player who beats Jimmy Greaves’ goalscoring record should be heralded for it, as should the player who scores for 13 consecutive games, overhauling Jimmy Dunne’s streak.

The way it’s going, we’ll likely see wild fanfare for the guy that gets more goals than Shearer, with a more muted footnote should they also one day overtake Greaves.

As for Dunne’s record?  How many people realise that it isn’t now held by Jamie Vardy?



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