James Tavernier and the highest-scoring full-backs in football history

<span>Clockwise from top left: Nelinho, Stuart Pearce, Manfred Kaltz, Roberto Carlos and James Tavernier.</span><span>Composite: Alamy, Getty Images</span>
Clockwise from top left: Nelinho, Stuart Pearce, Manfred Kaltz, Roberto Carlos and James Tavernier.Composite: Alamy, Getty Images

“James Tavernier scored twice in Rangers’ 3-0 win over St Johnstone on 18 February, bringing his tally for the club to 120. In terms of goals scored for one club, not across an entire career, is this a record for a full-back? Or even a defender?” asks Derek Robertson.

Something weird happened at the weekend. Rangers beat Hearts 5-0 and James Tavernier wasn’t on the scoresheet. He’s been their most reliable source of goals in recent years, scoring at least 18 in each of the last four seasons, and has a whopping 120 since joining Rangers from Wigan Athletic in 2015.

After plenty of research, and with thanks to Pete Tomlin in particular for his input, we couldn’t find a full-back with more goals for their club than Tavernier. Some of the figures vary slightly from source to source, so we’ve taken the number we think is most reliable. You’ll get the general drift.


120 James Tavernier (Rangers, 2015-)
105 Nelinho (Cruzeiro, 1973-82)
101 Manny Kaltz (Hamburg, 1971-89)
88 Stuart Pearce (Nottingham Forest, 1985-97)
69 Roberto Carlos (Real Madrid, 1996-2007

If you include all defenders, Tavernier is pipped in men’s football by Real Madrid legend Fernando Hierro. We suspect Hierro scored a number of his 127 goals while playing in midfield. But although we’re quite lonely these days, even we baulk at watching 120-odd Madrid matches in their entirety to determine which position he played when he scored each goal. We can, however, say with a fair bit of confidence that France legend Wendie Renard was playing at centre-back when she scored the majority, if not all, of her goals for Lyon, who credit her with 124 for club and another 36 for country.


129 Fernando Hierro (Real Madrid, 1989-2003)
124 Wendie Renard (Lyon, 2006-)
120 James Tavernier (Rangers, 2015-)
105 Nelinho (Cruzeiro, 1973-82)
102 Edgardo Bauza (Rosario Central, 1977-82, 1986-89)
101 Manny Kaltz (Hamburg, 1971-89), Daniel Passarella (River Plate, 1974-81), Sergio Ramos (Real Madrid, 2005-21)

We’ve excluded Paul Breitner (109 goals for Bayern Munich across two spells) on the grounds that he played the majority of his games in midfield. Don’t make us watch them all.

There is a question that nobody asked, but which we really should answer while we’re here: is Tavernier the highest-scoring full-back in football history? Put simply, no, but he’s in the top few.

Tavernier should soon overtake the current Bradford City manager Graham Alexander, whose penalty expertise helped him score 131 career goals. But Tavernier will need a few more seasons to reach the man at the top of the list: Brazilian right-back Nelinho, who used the outside of his right foot to orgiastic effect in the 1970s and 1980s. If you’re not familiar with his work, this is a decent place to start.

The International Federation of Football Statistics & History credits Nelinho with 141 goals – but they only include top-flight matches, which is where things get murky. Brazilian football in the 20th century is a statto’s nightmare. One source says 180 goals, another 165. A number of outlets concur that he scored 105 times for Cruzeiro; based on that, we’ve estimated his career total at around 170.


  • 170* Nelinho

  • 131 Graham Alexander

  • 128 Roberto Carlos, James Tavernier

  • 110 Manny Kaltz

  • 105 Stuart Pearce

Identical records

“After 25 games of the Scottish Premiership season, Hibs and Aberdeen had the same record: W6 D9 L10 F31 A41 Pts 27. What’s the latest point in a season that two clubs have had identical records?” enquires Matt Guthrie.

“The answer is the end of the season,” wheezes Carl O’Reilly. “After searching through a lot of Wikipedia, frustratingly finding lots of teams with nearly identical records, I finally found one from the top flight of English football. In the 1907-08 season, my beloved Blackburn Rovers finished the Division One campaign with an identical record to Woolwich Arsenal.”

That’s the only end-of-season example any of you could find. But Knowledge regular Dirk Maas sent in a handful of cases of teams finishing with identical goals for, goals against and points – but not the same number of wins, draws and losses.

Bundesliga 1979-80

Belgian Eerste Klasse 1983-84

The other two were the Primeira_Divisão in 1996-97 (Maritimo and Estrela da Amadora) and the Bundesliga of 1999-2000 (Schalke and Eintracht Frankfurt).

Doing the 92

“I believe, in his (and Luton’s) rise up the pyramid, Pelly Ruddock Mpanzu has played at 85 of the 92 grounds in the top four divisions,” notes Andy Pechey. “Is this a record, or has anyone done more, or even all 92? All pedantry around new grounds, teams that were part of the 92 at the time but got relegated is fair enough, but any route to getting a full set works for me.”

Michael Pilcher has a humblebrag to get us going. “When I gloriously completed the 92 myself back in April 2017 and signed up for the Ninety Two Club, I remember there being an honorary members page on the website, which I’ve just checked,” he writes. “I presume the NTC did the maths for this as, and I quote, ‘it was essential that should any honorary memberships be offered then they should only be to those within the game who could be proved to have qualified under the same conditions as existing members.’” There appear two names listed: Alan Durban (with Shrewsbury in 1976) and Duncan Forbes (with Norwich in 1981).”

The former Wales international Trevor Hockey is reported to have done all 92 grounds by the age of 25, which is frankly remarkable. The current Aldershot Town manager Tommy Widdrington, a journeyman midfielder best known for his time at Southampton, also played at 92 league grounds. It’s a great excuse for us to post this clip of his slightly ill-judged tackle in an FA Cup tie at Port Vale.

Other suggestions included Lee Dixon, Steve Finnan, Robbie James and Dave Beasant. We think Dixon was the closest: he played at 91, with Craven Cottage the odd ground out. Glory beckoned when Fulham were promoted to the Premier League in 2001 for what turned out to be the last season of Dixon’s career, but he missed Arsenal’s trip through injury.

What’s in a number?

“Jayden Danns came on as a substitute for Liverpool with shirt No 76,” writes Liam McCormack. “Is that the highest ever shirt number to appear in a cup final? In England? At Wembley? In the world?”

José Mourinho’s Porto would like to stick two fingers up at this question. When they won the Champions League in 2004, both Vitor Baía (No 99) and Benni McCarthy (77) appeared in the final against Monaco. Maybe Vitor Baía’s new-school shirt number is what tipped Roy Keane over the edge in their last-16 tie against Manchester United.

Danns’ number might be a record for a major English cup final though. The best we could find is another Liverpool player, Harvey Elliott (67) against Chelsea in 2022.

Knowledge archive

“Down at the pub the other night, a friend of mine bullishly claimed he’d heard that a match was once postponed on almost 30 separate occasions. Is he having me on?” asked Jonathan Gainter in 2006.

Jonathan’s friend spoke the truth. Back in the icy winter of 1979, the Scottish Cup second-round clash between Inverness Thistle and Falkirk had to be postponed no fewer than 29 times. The original date for the game was 6 January, but the clubs had to wait 47 days until the Kings Mills ground was eventually declared playable, on 22 February. When the match finally took place, four first-half goals helped Falkirk seal their spot in the third round. However, because of the 71-day period between the second-round draw and Falkirk’s win, Billy Little’s side were forced to visit Dundee just three days later in round three, where a late penalty ended their cup journey.

Incredible as these 29 postponements are, the tie is still eclipsed by another Scottish Cup game that took place 16 years earlier, when sub-zero conditions again played havoc with the fixture list – and not just in Scotland but all across Britain. More than 400 English league and cup matches fell victim to the weather and the season had to be extended by a month on both sides of the border. While one FA Cup third-round tie between Coventry and Lincoln eventually took place at the 16th time of asking, the clash between Airdrie and Stranraer was busy setting a British record of 33 postponements. For Airdrie it was 34th time lucky as they ran out 3-0 victors.

Incidentally, the worst day of domestic cancellations didn’t occur in 1962-63. That honour went to 3 February 1940, when only one of 56 wartime league matches beat the weather. Plymouth made the most of their moment in the limelight with a 10-3 thumping of Bristol City.


Can you help?

“With Burnley and Sheffield United on just 13 points each, it’s not impossible their combined points total would fail to keep them up. Has this ever happened?” wonders Crispin Leyser.

“Neil Harris has managed in three separate divisions in the same country this season: Championship (Millwall), League One (Cambridge) and League Two (Gillingham). Has any other manager managed this or managed more in a single season?” asks Tom Aldous.

“The Scottish player Harry Melrose, who died last week aged 88, scored four, five and six goals in separate games, but never three. Has anyone else done this?” wonders David Warriston.

“Gillingham are currently in a League Two playoff position despite scoring 32 goals in 34 games, the fewest of any team in the division. Has the lowest-scoring team ever been promoted?” muses Chris Matterface.

“Scouring the Iranian Pro League, I noticed there were two teams who had scored 15 goals in 32 combined games, but were both outside the relegation zone. Foolad have managed to win four games despite scoring just six in 16 games, and Paykan, with just one win from 16, still have three teams below them. What is the least a side has done without being relegated?” adds Elliot Carr-Barnsley.

“Have two goalkeepers from the same club ever been on opposing sides in a penalty shootout?” wonders Mahon Murphy.

“Which team, crowned champions of Europe, have been quickest to be relegated? And have any players gone from being champions of Europe to being relegated with the same club (without playing for another club between becoming winners and losers)?” wonder the lads at the Star & Dragon Pub, Carbondale.

“In the round of Premier League fixtures from 17-19 February, the combined home v away score was 10-24. Has Team Away ever had a larger victory than this in a top European league?” asks Will Turland.