Readers of this site need little reminding that football did not begin with the birth of the Premier League in 1992. The focus on the EPL, perhaps pushed by the tv broadcasters to venerate their product, means much stats-driven content gets lost. That’s the reason we need sites like BTLM.
Indeed, when considering the talent of the 80s footballers, in contrast to those of the EPL in the 90s, many who excelled in front of goal are no longer household names. Would the typical football fan today know Adrian Heath, John Wark or Mick Harford? That striking trio stand just outside the top 10 Division 1 scorers during the 80s.
Below we look at the ones who were even more prolific, the top 10 marksmen in England’s top flight across the decade. For clarity, we are talking about First Division goals scored from the 1980/81 to the 1989/90 seasons.
2. Tony Cottee – 118 (Everton & West Ham)
Cottee is exactly the kind of striker from the past that modern fans tend to forget about, perhaps due to the fact he spent the less fruitful twilight years of his career under the glare of the Premier League cameras. 118 goals across the decade might not seem like a huge total, but Cottee’s goal haul only really got going in the second half of the decade.
What would Scotland do for a striker of Sharp’s calibre today? It’s strange to think the forward, who helped Everton win two league titles and an FA Cup, only earned a dozen caps for his country. Then again, the Scots had a deeper talent pool back then. As for Sharp, well you know the story – Everton legend, and a man perhaps unappreciated in his time and in ours.
Like several of the players on this list, the passing of time might have caused many to forget just how good Alan Smith was in his heyday. He notched up plenty of goals for Leicester City in the middle of the decade, then become the main man for Arsenal towards the end of it. He seems a nice bloke, too.
6. Gary Lineker – 102 (Leicester, Everton, Spurs)
The face of Match of the Day, BT Sport, political spats on Twitter and, er, crisps, Gary Lineker is arguably better known today for those things than his considerable past footballing talents. That’s a shame because Lineker was excellent and his 102 goals were delivered in just over four seasons in the top flight.
The first name on this list that football fans under the age of 40 are unlikely to recognise, with the probable exception of Tottenham fans. Falco was pretty handy for Spurs in the early-80s, and not too shabby for QPR towards the end of his career. Today, he is the proud operator of an asbestos-clearing business with fellow ex-pro, John Pratt.
Surely one of England’s most misunderstood players ever? Yes, Barnes gets plenty of respect from those who watched him in his pomp, but he really was special. His pace, power and trickery made him a delight to watch, and a haul of 97 goals isn’t bad at all for a player who never really played as an out and out striker. As an aside, the John Barnes of 2020 is one of the more lucid and insightful voices on race issues in the modern game; he’s worth listening to on the subject.
9. Cyrille Regis – 94 (West Brom & Coventry)
Regis was a dependable goal-getter for West Brom and Coventry City and the player was held in high esteem by fans of both clubs. His career spanned almost two decades, but he will be forever associated with the Baggies. While he is often cited as being a trailblazer for black footballers in England, his actual prowess on the pitch shouldn’t be overshadowed by his cultural significance.
Finishing with another less-remembered forward, Clive Allen was unerringly consistent for QPR and Spurs over a large period of the 1980s. While his career petered out in the mid-90s, he virtually guaranteed goals wherever he played up until his latter years. Like Cyrillic Regis, Allen managed to notch up five caps for England. Allen’s sports career finished with a stint for London Monarchs in NFL Europe.