Goals – they’re the currency of football, and they’re worth their weight in gold. They bring moments of elation and deflation in equal measure, especially on the international stage. Many footballers who’ve been fortunate (and skilled) enough to score one for their country say that it’s one of the single greatest moments an athlete can experience. But there are those who go beyond one, beyond a handful, beyond dozens even – it is these players who are the true elite. For England, there are just eight players who’ve netted 30 or more times. Here we take a look at their achievements in a little more detail.
9. (Joint) Frank Lampard – 29 goals
Now manager with the club for which he carved out a legendary status, Frank Lampard spent his career with both Chelsea and England sharpening his attacking blade to such an extent that he became as dangerous in the box as any number 10 in world football. He is the only player in this top ten to have scored his goals from midfield.
And, in all honesty, he should be higher up the list. The wrongly-disallowed goal against Germany at the 2010 World Cup would have moved Lamps up into joint sixth place, but he also held the unfortunate record of being the England player with the most amounts of shots at a World Cup not to score a goal.
9. (Joint) Vivian Woodward – 29 goals
The only player on this list from the pre-war period, Vivian Woodward was born in 1879 and played for England between 1903 and 1911. With an astonishing record of 29 goals in 23 games Woodward has by far the greatest international goals-to-games ratio of any player, not only in the top ten but in the history of English football.
During his club career, Woodhouse played predominantly for Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea for whom he was also prolific. Football might have come a long way since the early 1900s, but Nat Woodhouse still stands tall in this list of all-time greats.
6. (Joint) Sir Tom Finney – 30 goals
One of three players to have scored 30 goals for the Three Lions, Sir Tom Finney is widely said to be one of the most technically gifted and mesmeric players to grace an England pitch. A one-club man, Finney played for his hometown Preston for the entirety of his career. His first England goal came in a 7-2 victory over Ireland in 1946 and his second two days later as he scored the winner against the Republic of Ireland. He would go on to score 28 more. Arguably the four most memorable came in 1950 as England beat Portugal 5-3, with Finney scoring all but one of their goals.
As an old-fashioned winger, the fact that Finney managed to score 30 goals in just 76 England appearances is truly remarkable.
6. (Joint) Alan Shearer – 30 goals
Another player with 30 goals, Alan Shearer probably would have scored many more had injuries not limited his international career to just 60 caps. At one point arguably the best striker in the world, Shearer represented England between 1992 and 2000. He narrowly missed out on playing at Italia ’90 but was a leading light in England’s excellent tournament run on home soil at Euro 98.
Shearer hung up his boots with an international goals-to-games ratio of nearly one in two, one of the best in the modern era. Not only a lethal forward but a powerful force in the dressing room, Shearer is certainly amongst the best strikers the English game has seen.
6. (Joint) Nat Lofthouse – 30 goals
Another one-club man, Jimmy Greaves’ record for Bolton Wanderers was truly special – 255 goals in 452 games. His England record through was, proportionally, even better. The striker scored 30 goals in just 33 international appearances between 1950 and 1958 making his goals-to-games ration only slightly worse than Vivian Woodward’s.
His first came in a 2-2 draw with Yugoslavia at Highbury Stadium in November 1950. He would, though, have to wait until 1954 to score his first goal at a major tournament, an equaliser in England’s defeat to Uruguay in the quarter-finals.
5. Michael Owen – 40 goals
On his own in 5th position is Michael Owen. While Owen’s career fizzled towards the end as he consistently struggled with injuries, in his prime the striker was one of the top talents in European football. Indeed, in 2001 Owen was awarded the Ballon d’Or for his footballing achievements that year.
For England, he was superb. His most memorable moment came in his debut tournament the 1998 World Cup, in the last-16 clash with Argentina. Owen raced past two defenders before striking the ball beyond the onrushing goalkeeper. It is often said to be one of the best goals any England player has scored.
He would go on to appear in four more tournaments, scoring in three.
4. Jimmy Greaves – 44 goals
Jimmy Greaves appeared for England 57 times between 1959 and 1967 making him one of two players in this list with a World Cup winners medal. In the 1966 tournament itself, Jimmy Greaves didn’t score but appeared three times in games against Uruguay, Mexico and France. He would play only a handful more games before calling time on his England career having notched a hugely impressive 44 goals giving him the best goals-to-games ratio of any player in England’s top five scorers.
He scored on his debut in a 4-1 victory over Peru in a friendly. Not long after he would embark on one of the best scoring streaks in international footballing history, scoring 11 goals in just five games between October and November of 1960.
3. Gary Lineker – 48 goals
Before he graced our TV screens every Saturday evening as Match of the Day presenter, Gary Lineker was one of the most potent forces England’s forward line had ever possessed. In 80 appearances, Lineker scored 48 goals. In his eight-year international career, the striker played in four major tournaments. In his first, Mexico ’86, Lineker finished as the competition’s top-scorer with six goals. Until Harry Kane’s exploits at the 2018 World Cup, Lineker was the last Englishman to achieve this feat.
As part of a great era for England in which they reached the World Cup semi-finals on two different occasions, Lineker has firmly established himself in the upper echelons of the Three Lions’ history books.
2. Bobby Charlton – 49 goals
Easily the most iconic goalscorer in English history, Bobby Charlton’s goal record stood for 38-years. In fact, for a long time, it seemed unbeatable – the kind of longevity achieved by Charlton is a rare bird in modern football. And, although he was ultimately surpassed, Charlton’s record is still an incredibly high bar for English footballers everywhere. In a 12-year career between 1958 and 1970, Charlton scored nearly half a century of international goals, giving him a goals-to-games ratio of nearly one in two.
Charlton’s exploits in front of goal were made all the more impressive by the fact that, for large parts of his career, he was not a traditional, out-and-out striker. Instead, he played as a number 10 or an inside forward.
Charlton’s legacy is incredible. Not only one of the greatest players in England’s history, but it’s second-best goalscorer too.
1. Wayne Rooney – 53 goals
At top spot is the player who became, not only England’s greatest goalscorer but the most-capped outfield player as well. Wayne Rooney scored 53 goals for his country between 2003 and 2018. He burst on to the scene when he became the youngest player to score a goal for England, aged just 17 years and 317 days. However, his first major breakthrough came at the European Championships in 2004 when Rooney scored four goals and was named in the UEFA Team of the Tournament.
However, from that moment on, Rooney’s record at tournaments was largely disappointing. It took him three attempts to score at a World Cup, his first coming in a 2-1 defeat to Uruguay in the 2014 World Cup Group Stages. Detractors will point to the number of goals he scored in qualifying and say that Rooney’s name does not command the same level of adulation as Charlton or Lineker. However, the empirical stats show Rooney four goals clear of his closest competitor and that, above all else, will be what matters to him.
These are the top ten greatest marksmen in the history of English international football. Will Rooney’s tally eventually be surpassed? Of the players active at the moment, Harry Kane is the most likely candidate to do so. The Spurs forward has scored 28 goals in 43 appearances for the Three Lions and is sure to break into the top ten soon. But, of course, only time will tell whether he will be able to achieve the same level of consistency as the players that came before him.