The opening goal of a Premier League season is one of those rare events that somehow becomes harder to remember the more recent it is. Everyone with even a passing interest in modern football knows what happened at Bramall Lane on 15 August 1992, but with modern seasons distributed into more time-slots than even the most passionate scheduling fan could have imagined back in the early 1990s, the achievement has perhaps lost some of its shine. Still, there have been 30 of them, and such a round number demands some consideration of how good they were, and how important they turned out to be. Here, then, is our official ranking of Premier League opening goals.
30: Grant Hanley (og), Norwich City (vs. Liverpool, 2019)
The first of two own season-opening goals, this one finishes bottom because Norwich knew all summer that they were going to face their arch-nemesis Liverpool on the opening weekend, and still managed to serve up a reverse clipped own goal via Grant Hanley. Liverpool went on to win the league by 19 points, only two fewer than Norwich got in total while finishing bottom, but you may have suspected such an outcome even before Hanley’s early intervention ended in the back of his own net.
29: Kyle Walker (og), Tottenham Hotspur (vs. Manchester United, 2015)
This was Louis van Gaal’s first Premier League game in charge of Manchester United and Tottenham’s Kyle Walker gave him a lovely welcoming present, guiding the ball into his own net while Wayne Rooney was weighing up whether or not to have a shot at goal. Walker has since built better memories in the city of Manchester but this will remain the first time a Premier League campaign was ever initiated with an own goal.
28: Alexandre Lacazette, Arsenal (vs. Fulham, 2020)
You could argue that this goal should be higher as it marks the precise moment when Alexandre Lacazette became the only player to score the first Premier League goal of the season on more than one occasion. But the (correct) counter-argument is that the goal was scored scruffily from only inches out, and it was the strange, bleak, September start to the pandemic-stymied 2020-21 season, so this is the only season-opener scored in front of a stadium devoid of fans. Still better than an own goal, though.
27: Michael Ricketts (pen), Bolton Wanderers (vs. Fulham, 2002)
For the second season in a row Bolton scored the Premier League’s opening goal, but Michael Ricketts’ strike came from the penalty spot in a 4-1 defeat to a Fulham side playing home games at QPR’s stadium so, overall, it has little to recommend it.
26: David Dunn (pen), Birmingham City (vs. Tottenham Hotspur, 2003)
A penalty scored by David Dunn on his Birmingham debut certainly got 2003-04 underway, but this Premier League season would of course be remembered for much more significant statistical achievements, such as Muzzy Izzet finishing the campaign with the most assists.
25: Alan Shearer (pen), Blackburn Rovers (vs. QPR, 1995)
Alan Shearer kickstarting the season that culminated with Euro 96 seems on point, and he did so with a reasonable power-penalty after only five minutes. Rovers would end the game with 10 men after goalkeeper Tim Flowers was red carded in the second half, but Blackburn called on Bobby Mimms from the bench, as was the style at the time.
24: Paul Pogba (pen), Manchester United (vs. Leicester City, 2018)
The last of the penalty opening goals, and the best hit; Paul Pogba deploying his rarely praised slow run-up beforehand. A few months later Pogba would take almost 10 seconds in a run-up against Everton and see Jordan Pickford save it (albeit with Pogba scoring the rebound) which saw the technique jump the shark. But, on opening day 2018 it merely slayed the Foxes, who had now conceded the first Premier League goal for three successive seasons.
23: Kevin Campbell, Arsenal (vs. Manchester City, 1994)
It’s summer 2022 and Arsenal and Manchester City operate their own private bespoke transfer market, but 28 years ago neither side was anywhere close to signing one of Brazil’s main forwards for £45m. Instead they battled like energetic yeomen, typified by the first goal of the season, scored from close range by Kevin Campbell after a mistake from Terry Phelan. Arsenal would end the season just six points from the relegation zone, City only four clear. Doubtful we’ll see a repeat in 2022-23.
22: Adama Diomande, Hull CIty (vs. Leicester City, 2016)
What if we simply don’t know who scored the first Premier League goal of 2016-17? Well, perhaps we don’t, because it remains one of the strangest connections in the league’s history, as simultaneous bicycle kicks from Adama Diomande and Abel Hernandez saw the latter man initially credited with a goal, before Diomande was given the honour. Look, an overhead kick would usually rank higher than 22nd place, but not if it is shared between two players.
21: Nikola Kalinic, Blackburn Rovers (vs. Everton, 2010)
August 2010, a world in which Phil Jones was a coveted defensive midfielder and Tim Howard was capable of dropping a cross right at the feet of Nikola Kalinic, who wasted no time in getting the new season up and running.
20: Stig Inge Bjørnebye, Liverpool (vs. Middlesbrough, 1996)
Actually a neat finish from the left-sided Liverpool player after a defensive mix-up by Middlesbrough (better cut that out Boro, those fancy new attackers won’t be much use if you can’t defend!) but it is rightly overshadowed by the fact that Fabrizio Ravanelli went on to score a hat-trick on his debut, still the only Premier League player to achieve this. A joyous 3-3 draw on the opening day of the season, by the end of 1996-97 Liverpool had wasted a good chance of winning the league and Boro had been relegated. File Under: Marathon; not a sprint.
19: Carl Cort, Wimbledon (vs. Watford, 1999)
It’s the late 1990s and there’s cloying fear that The Year 2000 will bring with it technological collapse. This is Watford’s first top-flight game since the 1980s and they face Gen-X villains Wimbledon, seemingly a permanent member of the Premier League. When Carl Cort drills the Dons into an early lead it seems as impossible as ever to imagine the division without Wimbledon in it, but nine months later they are relegated alongside Watford, a location they will later pass through on the train to Milton Keynes.
18: Rob Hulse, Sheffield United (vs. Liverpool, 2006)
Sheffield United’s mid-2000s return to the Premier League got them a TV game against Liverpool and they scored with their first attack of the… second half, Rob Hulse heading home a whipped David Unsworth free-kick. An archetypal “return to the Premiership [sic]” goal. Dutch readers may remember this game as Jan Kromkamp’s final appearance in the Premier League.
17: Djibril Cissé, Liverpool (vs. Tottenham Hotspur, 2004)
Rafael Benitez’s first game as a Premier League manager saw Liverpool line up with Djibril Cissé and Milan Baros up front, the latter the newly crowned Golden Boot winner at Euro 2004, the former making his Reds debut. And it was Cissé who scored the opening goal of the Premier League season, a tidy finish from a corner routine that is always an exciting moment under a new manager because it hints at the holy grail that is “hard work on the training pitch.”
16: Ruud van Nistelrooy, Manchester United (vs. Everton, 2005)
Manchester United in 2005 were not in a particularly happy place. About to begin a Champions League campaign that would see them finish bottom of their group scoring only three goals in six games, United at least registered the first Premier League goal of the season via Ruud van Nistelroooy. The Dutchman started the season by scoring in each of United’s first four games but ended it being eased out of a club preparing to enjoy three seasons of sustained brilliance from his workplace rival Cristiano Ronaldo.
15: Mark Venus, Ipswich Town (vs. Tottenham Hotspur, 2000)
Some say that Mark Venus scoring the opening goal of the 2000-01 season with a deflected shot from a free-kick is a major curiosity, but those in the know realise that Venus’s total of nine assists the following campaign – one more than David Beckham – is truly out of this world.
14: Peter Beagrie, Everton (vs. Southampton, 1993)
1993 would end with Mr Blobby at No. 1 in the UK charts, but the 1993-94 Premier League season would commence with a goal from Mr. Beagrie, a long-range strike that stretched the liminal margins of the famously shallow goal nets at The Dell.
13: Kevin Nolan, Bolton Wanderers (vs. Leicester City, 2001)
It’s arguable that the three promoted teams in the 2001-02 Premier League season are the strongest trio the league has seen, with Fulham, Blackburn and Bolton all settling in for long spells in the division from then on. Wanderers started as they meant to go on, with a 5-0 win away at soon-to-be-abandoned Filbert Street. Kevin Nolan scored the first goal of the season (an incredibly looping header), before adding another, the first pair of a total of 69 in his Premier League career.
12: Alexandre Lacazette, Arsenal (vs. Leicester City, 2017)
Lacazette’s second entry in this list and this is the better goal by far. A smart header expertly put past Kasper Schmeichel on the Arsenal’s player’s debut in a game that ended 4-3 with a late winner from Olivier Giroud? Sounds delightful, sign me up.
11: Luis Suarez, Liverpool (vs Sunderland, 2011)
Liverpool had attempted a rebuild in the summer of 2011, bringing in Jordan Henderson, Stewart Downing and Charlie Adam as a form of domestic midfield glow-up. Of the three, Adam undoubtedly made the least impact in his time at Anfield yet it was the Scot who assisted Luis Suarez against Sunderland on the opening day, bending in a Blackpool-style free-kick for Suarez to nod home.
10. Emile Heskey, Leicester City (vs. Manchester United, 1998)
One of the most influential managers of the 1990s, Martin O’Neill, took his Leicester City side to Old Trafford in August 1998 and saw Emile Heskey score after only seven minutes, a cute finish from inside the six-yard box after craftsmanship on the left flank by Steve Guppy and a wriggling assist from Muzzy Izzet. Leicester would go on to finish as League Cup runners-up in 1998-99, while Manchester United also enjoyed success, with a league, FA Cup and Champions League treble.
9: Faustino Asprilla, Newcastle United (vs. Sheffield Wednesday, 1997)
Faustino Asprilla was a much more effective Premier League performer than people give him credit for. The most creative player in the division in the second half of 1995-96, he could do little about his team-mates’ defending as they were slowly hunted down by Manchester United. Two seasons on the scars had barely healed at St James’ Park but it took Asprilla just two minutes to craft a superb – but spurned – chance for Jon Dahl Tomasson before the Colombian scored the first goal of 1997-98. Asprilla would score again in this win, and then register a hat-trick against Barcelona in the Champions League a few weeks later but then that was it; back to Parma with an incorrectly curated legacy in English football.
8: Stephen Hunt, Hull City (vs. Chelsea, 2009)
Football is divided into seasons but really it is a vast quilt of stitched together campaigns, with threads running between them, connecting memories and maintaining feuds. Take the opening Premier League goal of 2009-10, scored by Hull’s Stephen Hunt at Stamford Bridge. Due to his part in the serious head injury Petr Cech suffered in Reading in 2006, Hunt was very much not the person Chelsea wanted to see open the scoring, something visibly demonstrated by the fact that Hunt starts to run towards the home fans after his goal, before wisely changing his mind.
7: Ki Sung-yeung, Swansea City (vs. Manchester United, 2014)
A Dutch manager taking charge of Manchester United to try and bring back the glory days? The story is old but it goes on. Back in 2014 it was Louis van Gaal stepping out at an Old Trafford ready to bring back the glory days, only to lose at home to Swansea City, who took the lead with a delightful edge-of-the-box strike from Ki Sung-yeung. Back to the drawing board.
6: Daniel Sturridge, Liverpool (vs. Stoke City, 2013)
2013-14 would be a memorable season for Liverpool and Daniel Sturridge. Twenty-one of the 79 Premier League goals he would finish his career with came in this one campaign, and this season-opener was a classic of the genré, Sturridge collecting the ball on the edge of the box and lashing it into the corner with his left foot. Liverpool would go on to score 101 Premier League goals in this campaign, but only a select few were better than the first.
5: Sergi Canós, Brentford (vs. Arsenal, 2021)
You don’t quite know what you have until it’s gone. The 2021-22 season saw the return of supporters to stadiums after two Covid-19 hit Premier League seasons and the Brentford fans created quite the atmosphere, especially when Sergi Canós opened the scoring with a rasping shot from the left hand side of the penalty area. The joyous sight of players and fans celebrating together means this goal deserves a top-five slot at the very least.
4: Michael Chopra, Sunderland (vs. Tottenham Hotspur, 2007)
There’s something imperfect about the opening goal of the season being scored in second-half injury time, but that’s the way it goes in the early kick-off era and this late winner from Sunderland’s Michael Chopra ticks a lot of early-season boxes. Formerly-hated new signing coming up with the goods; the sheer overwhelming presence of replica shirts and arms in the crowd because no-one needs to wear a coat in August; Tottenham starting a season in which they would win a trophy. Well, ok.
3: Samir Nasri, Arsenal (vs. West Bromwich Albion, 2008)
Possibly the finest team goal in this list, Samir Nasri’s debut strike against West Brom was the culmination of a lovely passing sequence that kicked off an Arsenal season in which they came fourth in the league and reached the Champions League semi-finals, an achievement that perhaps seems more impressive now than it did at the time.
2: Michu, Swansea City (vs. Queens Park Rangers, 2012)
Opening-day goals rarely set the vibe for an entire season, but in 2012 that is precisely what happened. Swansea had paid Rayo Vallecano £2m (remember that fee) for attacking midfielder Michu, probably not expecting him to score the opening goal of the Premier League season, and certainly not expecting him to score 18 in total, making him the fifth highest scorer in the division and temporarily the most used comparative device in the English language. You’ve bought a disappointing player for £10m? That’s five Michus! You’ve developed a 500-strong clone army of Michus on a distant planet? That’s a billion pounds worth of Michu you’ve got on your hands; trade wisely! It was a great goal, too, Michu slotting home from the edge of the box with his left foot, a manoeuvre which would soon become known as ‘classic Michu.’
1: Brian Deane, Sheffield United (vs. Manchester United, 1992)
There’s something spiritually fundamental about Bramall Lane. We saw it this summer when England defeated Sweden 4-0 in the UEFA Women’s Championship semi-finals. Alessia Russo’s backheeled goal deserves its exalted place in the nation’s history, just as Brian Deane’s – at the other end of the old ground – stands tall above all other Premier League openers, and most other goals in the competition too. Even now we wonder why Deane is in long sleeves at the height of summer and marvel at the Premier League’s first ever goal coming from a badly defended long throw. It also remains one of only three opening goals of the season scored against that campaign’s eventual champions (along with Heskey in 1998 and Hunt in 2009) but at the time Deane’s goal seemed an inevitable comic continuation of Manchester United’s relentless inability to end their long wait for a league title. The new era would soon be much kinder to United, but a goal against a fairly inconsequential side (and there are plenty of those above) would not have been a satisfying way to kick off the new competition. We needed Brian Deane, and he needed us.
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