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Tom Hancock

The leading top-flight goalscorers before the Premier League era

Jimmy Greaves.

League football in England had been going on for well over a century when the Premier League came along in 1992.

Needless to say, during that era, some players – many of whom you'll be very familiar with – racked up an awful lot of goals.

These are the most prolific of the bunch...

32. Tommy Thompson (187)

Villa Park in 1951 (Image credit: Getty Images)

Born in the North East, Tommy Thompson never quite got going at Newcastle – but his career began to take off after he followed manager George Martin (no, not the Game of Thrones guy) to Aston Villa in 1950.

The two-time England international scored 67 First Division goals in five seasons with Villa – before smashing in 116 in six seasons at Preston North End.

31. Ray Charnley (190)

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Blackpool legend Ray Charnley bagged all 190 of his top-flight goals for the Seasiders, peaking with a career best 30 during the 1961/62 campaign.

Capped once by England, Charnley won plenty of admirers throughout the game – teammates and opponents alike, with the great Jack Charlton admitting he hated playing against him.

30. Dennis Viollet (190)

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One of a handful of English players to finish as top scorer in the European Cup, Dennis Viollet banged in the goals for fun for Manchester United in the late 50s and early 60s, netting 159 times in the First Division.

A two-time English champion with United, Viollet took his career top-flight goals tally to 190 in a subsequent spell with Stoke City.

29. Peter Harris (192)

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One of Portsmouth's very best players of all time, Peter Harris hit the 20-goal mark in four consecutive First Division campaigns from 1952/53 to 1955/56.

Capped twice by England, the outside right spent his entire career with Pompey, his hometown club – who he helped to back-to-back top-flight titles in 1948/49 and 1949/50.

28. Stan Mortensen (197)

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Iconic Blackpool centre-forward Stan Mortensen was one of the finest footballers England has ever produced – and, while he’s best remembered for his hat-trick in the 1953 FA Cup final, he notched just shy of 200 goals in the First Division.

Mortensen’s best campaign was 1950/51, when he notched 30 league goals in 35 appearances, registering in a record 15 consecutive games.

He netted 23 times in 25 England caps.

27. George Elliott (198)

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Leading top-flight marksman with 31 goals in the final completed season before the outbreak of World War 1, George Elliott found the net almost 200 times in the First Division for Middlesbrough.

Capped three times by England, Elliott notched 213 goals in all competitions during a 16-year stay with Boro.

26. Sir Bobby Charlton (199)

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England’s greatest player of all time and one of Manchester United’s, the late Sir Bobby Charlton certainly knew where the net was, finding it 199 times in the top flight.

Ballon d’Or winner in 1966 – after starring in his country’s famous World Cup triumph – Charlton’s goals helped United to three straight First Division titles between 1954 and 1956.

25. Bobby Smith (199)

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A 1960/61 double winner with Tottenham – where he ranks right up there among the club’s all-time top scorers – Bobby Smith racked up 199 top-flight goals in total (23 for Chelsea then 176 for Spurs).

The Enfield-born frontman was even more prolific at international level, banging in 13 goals in 15 England caps.

24. Andrew Wilson (199)

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The first member of this mini ‘199 goals club', Andrew Wilson spearheaded Sheffield Wednesday’s 1902/03 and 1903/04 First Division title-winning teams.

A six-time Scotland international, Wilson (pictured front row, third from left) spent the vast majority of his career at Wednesday, also lifting the 1906/07 FA Cup with the Owls – for whom he remains record appearance maker and goalscorer by some distance.

23. Denis Law (201)

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Undoubtedly one of the finest players in Manchester United's history, Denis Law racked up 171 First Division goals over the course of a decade-long spell at Old Trafford, winning the title in 1964/65 and 1966/67.

Recipient of the 1964 Ballon d'Or, 'The Lawman' – who netted 30 times in 55 Scotland caps – also bagged 30 top-flight goals for Manchester City.

22. Harry Johnson (201)

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Sheffield United’s record scorer, Harry Johnson bagged 201 goals in 313 First Division games for his hometown during the interwar years.

A 1924/25 FA Cup winner, Johnson left the Steel City to join Third Division North Mansfield Town in 1932 – and, impressively, went on to become their all-time leading goalscorer too.

21. Vic Watson (203)

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West Ham’s record goalscorer by a mile, Vic Watson struck 326 times for the Hammers – 203 in the First Division.

Promoted to the top flight in 1923, the five-cap England international went ballistic in a home game against Leeds in February 1929, notching six of West Ham’s goals in an 8-2 demolition job.

20. Arthur Chandler (203)

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Having started out at QPR, Arthur Chandler spent the best years of his career with Leicester City, amassing 273 goals to become the Foxes’ record scorer.

The striker bagged 203 of those in the First Division, including 34 in each of the 1927/28 and 1928/29 campaigns. Leicester finished as runners-up in the latter, one point behind champions Sheffield Wednesday.

19. Bobby Gurney (205)

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Sunderland have been crowned champions of England on six occasions, the last of them in 1935/36 – when legendary striker Bobby Gurney was at the peak of his powers.

The Black Cats’ second-highest scorer of all time, Gurney (depicted above on a mural in his birthplace of Silksworth, County Durham) averaged better than a goal every other game across his First Division career.

18. Ronnie Allen (208)

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Second on West Brom’s all-time top goalscorers list, Ronnie Allen found the net 208 times over the course of 12 First Division campaigns for the Baggies.

Capped by England on five occasions – scoring two goals – Allen bagged a brace as West Brom beat Preston North End in the 1954 FA Cup final.

17. Sir Geoff Hurst (210)

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The first – and, until Kylian Mbappe emulated him in 2022, only – player to score a hat-trick in the World Cup final, securing victory for England in 1966, Sir Geoff Hurst racked up plenty of goals at club level, too.

Of his 212 English league goals, 210 came in the top flight – including a career-best 29 during the 1966/67 campaign, despite West Ham finishing 16th.

16. Dave Halliday (211)

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Having made a name for himself in his native Scotland with Dundee, Dave Halliday moved south of the border to join Sunderland in 1925 – and proceeded to smash in 156 goals in 166 First Division outings.

On two occasions, Halliday – who later played for Arsenal and Manchester City – averaged better than a goal a game, peaking with 43 in 42 in 1928/29.

15. Billy Walker (214)

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Aston Villa’s record goalscorer for almost a century and one of their best ever players, Billy Walker (pictured shaking hands with Prince Henry at the 1920 FA Cup final, which he won) helped his only club to two second-placed top-flight finishes in the early 1930s.

Walker – who went on to manage Sheffield Wednesday and Nottingham Forest – won 18 caps for England, scoring nine goals.

14. Harry Hampton (219)

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Another Aston Villa icon from way back when, Harry Hampton’s (pictured fourth from right above) 215 First Division goals makes him the club’s all-time leading marksman in the league.

In 1909/10, four-cap England international Hampton – who also scored four First Division goals for arch-rivals Birmingham City – fired Villa to the title, before finishing as joint top scorer in the top flight two years later.

13. David Herd (222)

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Signed from Third Division North Stockport County in 1954, David Herd racked up 97 top-flight goals for Arsenal – then another 114 for Manchester United, who he joined in 1961.

A two-time First Division champion, and an FA Cup and European Cup winner with United, Herd also registered three times in five games for Scotland.

12. George Camsell (233)

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Holder of the record for the most goals in an English second-tier campaign (59 in 1926/27), Middlesbrough and England great George Camsell found the net 233 times in the top flight at an average of 0.69 goals per game.

Boro’s leading marksman in each of his first 10 full seasons at the club – who he joined from Durham City for £500 in 1925 – Camsell also helped himself to 18 goals in just nine international appearances.

11. George Brown (240)

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Talisman of Herbert Chapman’s history-making Huddersfield Town team of the 1920s – the first side to win three English top-flight titles on the bounce – George Brown remains the Yorkshire outfit’s all-time leading scorer.

Capped nine times by England, Brown (pictured front row, third from left) notched 142 First Division goals for Huddersfield, 79 for Aston Villa and 19 for Leeds. In 1938, he retired to run a pub – the dream.

10. Joe Smith (243)

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Joe Smith averaged better than a goal every other game over the course of his 416 top-flight appearances for Bolton Wanderers – where he won the FA Cup in 1923 and 1926.

First Division top scorer with 38 goals in 1920/21 – a joint record for the top-flight at the time – Smith earned five England caps, finding the net once.

9. Hughie Gallacher (246)

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A legend in the history of Scotland and Newcastle alike, Hughie Gallacher fired the Magpies to the 1926/27 First Division title with a prolific 36 goals in 38 appearances.

Veritably diminutive at five-foot-five, Gallacher’s top-flight goals total comprised 133 for Newcastle, 72 for Chelsea, 38 for Derby County and three for Grimsby Town.

8. Joe Bradford (248)

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Joe Bradford (pictured above right) never played for Bradford City – disappointing – but he certainly played for Birmingham City, finding the net 267 times to rank as the club’s record scorer by well over 100 goals.

Birmingham’s leading league marksman in all but one season between 1921/22 and 1932/33, Bradford also bagged seven goals in 12 England caps.

7. Nat Lofthouse (255)

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No player is more synonymous with Bolton Wanderers than local hero Nat Lofthouse, who chalked up a total of 255 goals during a 14-year career spent exclusively with the Trotters – who he captained to 1957/58 FA Cup glory.

On target 33 times to finish as 1955/56 First Division top scorer, the ‘Lion of Vienna’ – so nicknamed for his astonishingly combative winner for England against Austria in 1952 – notched 30 goals in 33 international caps, making him one of the most prolific Three Lions players ever.

6. David Jack (257)

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Signed by Arsenal at a knockdown price after manager Herbert Chapman sneakily got Bolton Wanderers’ representative drunk during negotiations, David Jack (pictured above middle) took his First Division goals tally past 250 with the Gunners – having struck 144 times in the top flight for Bolton.

A three-time champion of England in North London, Jack bagged three goals in nine caps for England.

5. Charlie Buchan (258)

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Born in London, Charlie Buchan didn’t make the grade at Arsenal as a youngster, instead breaking through at Sunderland – for whom he racked up 209 First Division goals either side of World War 1.

In 1925, though, the 1912/13 First Division champion and 1922/23 top scorer finally got his chance with the Gunners – where he went on to score a further 49 times in the top flight.

4. Gordon Hodgson (288)

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One of Liverpool’s all-time leading goalscorers, Gordon Hodgson was born to English parents in Transvaal Colony (part of modern-day South Africa) in 1904.

Capped three times by England and twice by South Africa, Hodgson registered 233 First Division goals for the Reds, 51 for Leeds and four for Aston Villa.

3. Dixie Dean (310)

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It’s almost impossible to see Dixie Dean’s record of 60 league goals in a single season – which he managed during Everton’s title-winning campaign of 1926/27 – ever being broken.

First Division top scorer for a second time (with a comparatively paltry 44 goals) as Everton were crowned champions again in 1932/33, Dean also plundered 18 goals in 16 outings for England.

2. Steve Bloomer (314)

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So revered is the immortal Steve Bloomer by fans of Derby County that the club named their anthem in his honour: 'Steve Bloomer's Watchin''.

Apparently born to score goals, Bloomer – who made the net ripple 28 times in 23 caps for England – was renowned for his viciously powerful and accurate low shots.

1. Jimmy Greaves (357)

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The late, greater than great Jimmy Greaves was one of the most iconic goalscorers the game has ever seen, making the net burst the best part of 500 times throughout his career.

A member of England’s 1966 World Cup-winning squad, Greaves bagged 220 of his First Division goals for Tottenham – where he won two FA Cups – 124 for Chelsea and 13 for West Ham.

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