Last on MOTD: It’s 19,988, not 1988

AS Aston Villa midfielder Marc Albrighton raced away to score the Premier League’s 20,000th goal against Arsenal last night, my friend and colleague Ian Baker started grumbling on Twitter.

“Sky are now hyping up the 20,000th Premier League goal,” he tweeted. “Of course, football didn’t exist before 1992. Surely it’ll be the 2,000,000 and something top-flight goal. Come on Sky, pull your finger out and work it out!”

He’s a bright, talented and enthusiastic young journalist is Ian, and generous too; whenever we’re on a shift together at the newspaper we both work for, he always brings in a tonne of biscuits (and the odd piece of fruit too). By working with him, I’d say my food bill has dropped by half over the last couple of years.

However, he does like to speak his mind. A few years ago, he wrote some forthright programme notes about his beloved Wycombe Wanderers when they played at Blackpool. The notes caused such consternation in the away dressing room that manager Lawrie Sanchez ended up blaming Ian for Wycombe’s defeat.

Ian is a man capable of taking umbrage at a remarkably wide range of things. A couple of weeks ago, in the office, I witnessed him fly into a grumble over the fact that he was supposed to give his microwave lasagne nearly 10 minutes to heat up. It really is something to see a man arguing with a piece of ready meal packaging. (Mind you, I spend enough time shouting at my computer, so I’m hardly in a position to mock.)

So it shouldn’t really have come as a surprise to me that Ian – a passionate advocate of lower-league and non-league football – should get into a bit of lather about a football landmark that, if you think about it, is arbitrary. Albrighton’s goal, after all, was really only the 20,000th goal since the top flight changed its name in 1992. It was marking a rebranding exercise – albeit one that has had a significant impact on the make-up of the English professional game.

Anyway, I’d made a couple of references to the landmark goal on Twitter too. And so Ian soon set me a test.

“Here’s a mission, if you choose to accept it,” he tweeted to me. “Find out how many goals have been scored in English top-flight history.”

So I did.

There were two ways I could have tackled this challenge. The first option was to go through every top-flight table for every season from the very first, 1888/89, and to add up all of the league goals scored by each team. But this would have taken me about a day, and I couldn’t be bothered.

(I should point out, though, that I’m not averse to labour-intensive research, despite a traumatic episode on a work experience placement at the Westmorland Gazette 13 years ago. At the time, the Gazette was putting together its annually-published local agricultural directory, and someone needed to proofread it. As a result, I had to spend three days painstakingly going through the previous year’s directory and phoning the hundreds and hundreds of listed numbers to check that they were all still accurate. By the Wednesday, I was ready to cry. A kindly reporter called Gillian Cowburn took pity and pestered her seniors to give me something more fulfilling to do. In fairness, the news editor subsequently gave me a brilliant reference – a far better one than I deserved – so things worked out OK in the end. But, you know, if want me to do that kind of thing now, the least you can do is pay me.)

Luckily, there was a far simpler method of finding out the total number of top-flight league goals scored since 1888 – and it came, funnily enough, courtesy of Sky Sports. The Sky Sports (formerly Rothmans) Football Yearbook has the figures listed in its records section.

And so I can tell you that, between 1888 and 1992, there were 117,060 goals scored in the First Division. Add the 20,011 goals that have been scored in the Premier League, and you have a grand total of 137,071 top-flight goals. And so strictly speaking, Albrighton’s goal wasn’t the 20,000th, but the 137,060th. Nothing to get excited about.

Last on MOTD: Wolves 2 Norwich 2
Reporter: Damian Johnson

I do love a quirky football stat, though. And as the 20,000th Premier League goal began to draw closer on Tuesday night, BBC Sport Online came up with a corker regarding Norwich’s trip to Wolves.

It was this: The last time Norwich won a top-flight match on a Tuesday, Cliff Richard was at No.1 in the charts with Mistletoe and Wine. (A song, by the way, co-written by Keith Strachan, who also composed the theme tune and incidental music for the ITV quiz show Who Wants To Be A Millionaire – a piece of work which, appropriately enough, made him a millionaire.)

I’ve checked the stat out, and it’s true. Norwich’s last top-flight victory on a Tuesday came when they defeated West Ham 2-1 at Carrow Road on December 27, 1988. Admittedly, it’s a fact that is a little misleading. For one thing, this season is only Norwich’s second in the Premier League since 1995. For another, when they were taking on all-comers in the late 80s and early 90s, they played virtually all of their midweek games on Wednesdays.

All the same, Tuesday’s trip to Molineux offered a chance to put that stat right. (Cliff wasn’t in the stand, as far as I’m aware.) It also gave them a fair chance of being last on Match of the Day which, when it goes out on a Wednesday night, always puts the Tuesday games on at the end.

For a while, it looked as if Norwich might claim an historic win – they led early through Andrew Surman’s superb diving header and then, after Sylvan Ebanks-Blake scuffed in an equaliser, regained their advantage through Simeon Jackson.

Alas, Norwich’s hopes of turning the clock back to 1988 were foiled by goal 19,988. Eight minutes from the end, Ronald Zubar scored for Wolves to leave the Premier League 12 goals short of 20,000. (Almost immediately, Yakubu found the net for Blackburn against Bolton at Ewood Park to reduce that gap to 11.) Albrighton’s moment of glory had just moved a step closer.

Fate might have been different had a late Steven Fletcher strike for Wolves not been correctly ruled out for offside. As Match of the Day’s Damian Johnson cutely put it: “Wolves manager Mick McCarthy had the look of a child excitedly opening a present on Christmas morning, only to discover another dodgy jumper from grandma.”

McCarthy’s Wolves remain in relegation trouble. Norwich remain unable to win in the Premier League on a Tuesday. A few miles away from Molineux, Albrighton has joined Brian Deane (1st), Eric Cantona (100th), Mike Newell (1,000th), Andy Townsend (5,000th), Les Ferdinand (10,000th) and Moritz Voltz (15,000th) on the list of landmark Premier League scorers. But some people are never going to be impressed by that. Eh, Ian?

Gubbometer 2011/12

1. Fulham: 4 (2L: 1, 3L: 1)
2. QPR: 4 (2L: 0, 3L: 1)
3. West Brom: 3 (2L: 4, 3L: 2)
4. Swansea: 3 (2L: 3, 3L: 3)
5. Aston Villa: 3 (2L: 3, 3L: 2)
6: Wolves: 3 (2L: 1, 3L: 4)
7. Sunderland: 3 (2L: 1, 3L: 0)
8. Wigan: 2 (2L: 5, 3L: 3)
9. Norwich: 2 (2L: 2, 3L: 1)
10: Liverpool: 2 (2L: 1, 3L: 2)
11. Newcastle: 2 (2L: 0, 3L: 0)
12. Bolton: 1 (2L: 2, 3L: 4)
13. Blackburn: 1 (2L: 2, 3L: 3)
14. Tottenham: 1 (2L: 1, 3L: 0)
15. Everton: 0 (2L: 3, 3L: 4)
16. Arsenal: 0 (2L: 2, 3L: 1)
17. Stoke: 0 (2L: 1, 3L: 2)
18. Manchester United: 0 (2L: 1, 3L: 0)
19. Chelsea: 0 (2L: 0, 3L: 2)
20. Manchester City: 0 (2L: 0, 3L: 0)

2L = On second last (Blackburn 1 Bolton 2)
3L = On third last (Everton 1 Swansea 0)

(Teams receive one point every time they are last on MOTD. Teams level are separated by the number of times they are on second last, then by the number of times they are on third last. MOTD2 not included.)

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