When was the term ‘striker’ first used to describe a football forward?

When was the term ‘striker’ first used to describe a football forward?

“Growing up as a boy football supporter in the 1960s, I cannot remember coming across the term striker. Can anyone identify when or where this description of a goalscorer was first used?” asks Simon Warner.

It’s a good time for the question, with Erling Haaland and Darwin Núñez joining the Premier League this summer. Let’s start with the relevant part of the definition in the Collins online dictionary

The position has been around since football began, but it seems – both anecdotally and through trawling the newspaper archives – that it didn’t really become commonplace until the 1970s.

“The term ‘striker’ was certainly in use by 1972,” writes David Warriston. “Jimmy Bone, a man of many clubs including spells at Norwich and Sheffield United, was then plying his trade at Partick Thistle whilst also working as a coalminer in his local pit. A news article at the time of the 1972 miners’ strike called him: ‘The striker on strike.’”

Sam Gee has another example from a similar period, involving a man who was the epitome of a striker. “In my dog-eared copy of Matt Busby’s memoir Soccer at the Top, published 1973, he writes of Denis Law, and his hesitation before signing him: ‘We did not seem in urgent need of a ‘striker’ (to use the with-it expression) …’ The quotes around ‘striker’ are in the text. The use of ‘with-it’ also suggests it was a relatively new usage.”

Sam, Gus Cooper and Justin Hopkins all remembered a different type of Striker: the slightly naff alternative to Subbuteo. This tribute to Striker suggests the first set was produced in the early 1970s, though Justin Hopkins thinks he was playing it in 1970.

Either way it ties in with the feeling that the term was popularised during that decade. Popularised, but not invented. The first relevant reference we can find anywhere is in the Times report of England 2-3 Sweden from October 1959, which includes the observation that Bobby Charlton’s “real forte is as a striker in the forward areas”.

Most of the early usage of “striker” is ambiguous – it can be read as a reference to a goalscorer or a forward player who put his laces through the ball; who literally struck it. A couple of weeks after the Sweden game, Charlton was described in the Times as a “striker and taker of goals in the forward areas”.

The first example in the Guardian archive comes from Eric Todd’s match report of Leyton Orient v Leeds in November 1961. “Goals just would not come. For this the splendid Leyton defence was responsible as much as the Leeds’ forwards’ pathetic overeagerness. [Don] Revie himself distributed the ball as carefully as he did when he was the kingpin of Manchester City’s attack a few years back, but he is not the answer to the major problem. The side needs a striker not a stroker of the ball, and until one is obtained, the tremendous potential of such as Bremner and Hawksby will languish.”

The meaning evolved quickly, and by 1963 Todd was drawing a clear distinction between a forward and a striker. He described Manchester United’s Law as “most effective as a striker, more dangerous as a destroyer than a creator”.

The term was used occasionally throughout the 1960s before becoming an established part of the lexicon during the following decade. In 1970, David Lacey praised the Leeds striker Mick Jones, saying he had “become perfectly cast in the mould of the modern striker, operating skilfully in the tightest of spaces and a lethal finisher given the slightest opportunity near goal”.

Scoring at the old and new Wembley
“Have any players scored at the old and new Wembley stadium? If so, who was the first?” asks Masai Graham.

Let’s start with a Love Island legend. “A certain Michael Owen scored in the third-last international match at the old Wembley (a 1-1 draw with Brazil in 2000) and again in the second international game at the new Wembley (a 3-0 win against Israel in the Euro 2008 qualifiers),” writes Alec Cochrane.

Owen’s goal against Israel came on 8 September 2007, but there are at least two players who can beat that. “Ryan Giggs scored for Manchester United against Chelsea in the 2007 Community Shield at the new Wembley stadium,” writes Paul Weir. “I don’t think he scored for United at the old Wembley, but he did score a penalty for England Schoolboys against Belgium in 1989.”

That goal, on 5 August 2007, still doesn’t make Giggs the first. “Mark Bright scored the winner for Sheffield Wednesday in the Steel City derby FA Cup semi-final in 1993,” writes Jamie Woods. “He then scored the opening goal in the first match with fans at the new stadium, playing for a Geoff Thomas Foundation Charity XI against the Wembley Sponsors Allstars to raise money for leukaemia research.”

That match was on 17 March, which means he beats Giggs by 141 days.

Last week looked we looked at the biggest margins between top and bottom, with the 95-point gap between Barry Town and Cemaes Ynys Mon in the 1997-98 League of Wales our best effort.

This week, the gaps are getting bigger. “Darlington won the Northern League in 2013 with the triple ton – 100+ goals (145), 100+ GD (+110), and 100+ points (122 points),” writes Michael St John-McAlister. “Norton and Stockton Ancients finished bottom with 25 points, a difference of 97 points.”

Several of you wrote in to point to the 2018-19 Scottish Highland League, where the hapless Fort William managed to finish with -7 points, 100 behind the champions Cove Rangers on 93.

But James Bolton tops the lot with his suggestion, the 2003-04 Combined Counties League: “Having formed in 2002 but failing to get promotion on 2002-03, AFC Wimbledon took no chances in 2003/04, winning 42 and drawing four to win the league comfortably. Cove finished 104 points behind.”

Knowledge archive
“Noticing Stephen Shepherd’s story last week about half of Gillingham’s side not making the Orient game due to traffic, are there any other infamous cases of a side not arriving on time for the game?” asked Kevin Meadowcroft in October 2011.

One answer here from Rob Davies: “This story does not concern a team but rather an individual, Ishmael Demontagnac, who during the festive programme of 2005-06 stayed in bed for Walsall’s trip to Bristol City on 2 January 2006, instead of getting the team bus. Apparently he thought there was no game that day and that it was his day off. Walsall lost 3- 0.”

Can you help?
“Is Sarina Wiegman the first manager to win consecutive major tournaments with different international teams,” asks George Jones.

“I noticed that the England Women’s team’s starting lineup wore a near-perfect set of 1-11 shirt numbers, with only Fran Kirby wearing 14 as the player out of sequence. When was the last time a team played a major final wearing 1 to 11?” asks Ben.

“I am curious whether the England starting XI in the Euro 2022 final together combine for the fewest number of syllables accrued by a team in a major international final. There seem to be an unusually high number of one syllable surnames and I wonder if their surnames combine for the lowest syllable total ever,” muses Daniel Craig.

“Bodø/Glimt beat Linfield 8-0 in the second leg of their Champions League qualifier last week, having lost 1-0 in Belfast. Is this the biggest ever win in European competition by a team who lost one of the legs,” asks Karl Reilly.