Alan Shearer’s 260 Premier League goals see the Geordie striker sit at the very top of a star-studded list as the all-time highest Premier League goalscorer. His closest rival sits a spectacular 73 goals behind and this statistic in itself is why the Newcastle United legend is also a Premier League legend.
An illustrious career started with Shearer ditching his northern roots as Southampton offered him a shot at the big time in 1986. Two years later, and at the tender age of just 17, Shearer made his debut with a late cameo at Chelsea at the back end of the 1987/88 season – an appearance which offered the youngster merely a taster rather than a chance on the big stage. But if his first outing proved small and unspectacular, his second was the stuff of schoolboy dreams. The solid late outing in west London convinced his Manager, Chris Nicholl, he was worthy of a starting spot for the visit of Arsenal the following week and Shearer immediately justified the decision. At just 17 years of age Shearer became the youngest player to score a hat-trick in the top flight as he helped the Saints to a 4-2 win over the Gunners, before netting two more in the final three games of the season – securing him his first professional contract.
Despite a glimpse of the Geordie’s undoubted goal-scoring prowess, the next three campaigns he was used as more of a foil for the likes of Rod Wallace and the irreplaceable Matt Le Tissier. Seven league goals in three seasons were hardly statistics of a devastating striker, but Shearer was the focal point of the Saints’ attack and his adeptness at providing opportunities for the two wide men helped keep the south coast side amongst England’s elite. Regardless of his poor goal-scoring record at Southampton, Shearer was voted the club’s Player of the Year in 1991 as Saints fans grew appreciative of his selfless and hardened efforts on behalf of the team.
It was to prove a memorable and career-defining year for Shearer as he found himself part of the England U-21 squad for a tournament in Toulon, in which he found the net an astonishing seven times in just four outings to prove his prowess in front of goal. After that productive summer of 1991 in England colours, Shearer had a new-found confidence in front of goal and delivered a promising return of 13 goals in 41 appearances the following season. It put the likes of Manchester United and Blackburn Rovers on red alert – both primed to pounce for their man at the end of the 1991/92 campaign.
Shearer’s international career also got underway in 1992 as he netted on his debut in a 2-0 win over France in February after being called up by Graham Taylor. Now 21, Shearer had truly announced himself on the international scene and it wasn’t long until one of the big boys pounced to snatch their man. Jack Walker’s mega-bucks forced Southampton’s hand as they parted with their hitman for a British transfer record of fee £3.3m. Blackburn’s riches obviously matched Shearer’s high ambitions as the Geordie turned his back on a move to title-chasers Man Utd – a move the Newcastle icon would go on to regret.
However, Shearer’s time in Lancashire was far from unsuccessful – four seasons at Ewood Park saw Shearer hit over a hundred goals at an astonishing rate of a goal every 1.2 games. It included three 30-plus goal hauls in the Premier League as Shearer fired Rovers to domestic success – with the club landing the Premier League crown in 1995. The former Southampton striker’s partnership with Chris Sutton made Blackburn an unstoppable force as the striker pair went on to be known as the SAS partnership. Shearer had now truly announced himself as a goal machine and after receiving such individual accolades as Football Writers’ Association Footballer of the Year and PFA Players’ Player of the Year – his worldwide stock had risen to the cream of the footballing world.
With England hosting the upcoming European Championships in 1996, all eyes and hopes were on the Rovers forward as the England fans prayed for more glory on home turf. Shearer’s international form had been poor leading up the Euros with his last goal coming almost two years prior but England Head Coach Terry Venables knew Shearer was the man to fire his side to the crown. And the England front-man duly delivered with a goal in each of the first two group games, including one against arch-rivals Scotland, before he and strike partner Teddy Sheringham ripped the Dutch apart in a memorable 4-1 victory – grabbing a brace each. Shearer was part of another SAS partnership as Sheringham’s vision and Shearer’s excellent hold-up play allowed both players to play off each other superbly and, with Paul Gascoigne pulling the strings in midfield, England looked real contenders for the title.
An international tournament just wouldn’t be the same if there wasn’t some penalty heartache for the Three Lions and, after some rare penalty joy in the quarter-final win over Spain, England found themselves on the wrong end of the lottery of penalties once again as Germany denied the hosts in the last four. Shearer had again found the net in the semi-final and finished the tournament as the leading marksman with five goals.
Shearer had no time to wallow in the heartache of another England near miss, as Sir Alex Ferguson and Kevin Keegan began an almighty battle to sign their man in the summer of 1996. It was King Kev who prevailed as he bought Shearer back to his hometown and boyhood club in a deal worth a world record £15m. Shearer’s devotion to his Geordie roots meant that he turned his back on the Red Devils once more – even though Fergie’s men were dominating the domestic scene at the time. But the lure of his football hero Keegan proved too much and Shearer followed his heart over his head.
His first season at St James’ Park saw him net over 25 league goals and finish as the league’s top goalscorer for the third consecutive time – with his beloved Newcastle securing a second consecutive runner-up spot behind the Red Devils. The Geordie hitman’s time at his hometown club was a mix of joy and adulation with plenty of despair and misfortune. His first few campaigns in the north-east saw two FA Cup final defeats at the hands of Arsenal and Man Utd respectively, both of which would turn out to be the closest he ever got to silverware during his time on the Tyne.
The next few years were to be littered with injuries and poor league finishes as Shearer fell out with new manager Ruud Gullit, but his own goal-scoring exploits were as healthy as ever as he continued to hit the net at an alarming rate. It wasn’t until the 2001/02 season that Newcastle were hitting the heights Shearer had hoped for when he joined, as Bobby Robson guided the side to a fourth place finish and gained entry into the Champions League. It was to spark an excellent spell for Shearer and his club as the former Blackburn forward smashed seven goals in their Champions League campaign, which ended in the second group phase. At 32 years old, the goals were still flowing and with Shearer spearheading the attack, Robson lead the club to third and fifth place respectively over the next two seasons, as Newcastle enjoyed their most consistent spell since Shearer joined.
However, it was downhill from here. Shearer’s own career began to wind down at the ripe old age of