When a player endures a lengthy wait for a first goal, there is always an expectation or an assumption that they will eventually find the back of net in the near future. For some, however, that fateful day never comes, with far, far too many players having spent lengthy careers in the top-flight without ever actually scoring.
Current top-flight players, Neil Taylor and Martin Kelly, have each made over 100 Premier League appearances without getting off the mark, while free-agent and title winner Danny Simpson made 213 PL appearances without scoring.
Despite that though, Simpson’s record only places him sixth onthe all-time list of most games without scoring.
Here’s a look then at who made it into the top five – and it won’t come as a surprise that they’re all defenders:
Stephane Henchoz – 243 PL appearances
The former Swiss international had enjoyed a ‘prolific’ first five years of his career, netting as many as four league goals in total during his time at Neuchatel Xamax and Hamburg, before opting to move to England where the goals simply dried up, and for good.
The defender joined Blackburn Rovers in June 1997, before joining Liverpool two years later where he would spend the most successful time of his career, playing a key role in the treble-winning season of 2000/01 in which he featured 53 times under the late, great Gerard Houllier.
That season saw arguably two of his most memorable moments in a Reds shirt, as he inadvertently played a key role in both their domestic cup final wins that season. Firstly, in the League Cup final against Birmingham, Henchoz gave away a 90th minute penalty that forced the game into extra-time. Fortunately for Liverpool and Henchoz, the Anfield side won 5-4 on penalties, with the defender not having to take a spot-kick.
Then, in the FA Cup final, a dominant Arsenal side had endless chances to put the game to bed, yet one key moment saw a Thierry Henry effort strike the hand of Henchoz and deflect wide, with the handball unseen by officials and Houllier’s men going on to lift the trophy courtesy of Michael Owen.
After leaving Anfield in 2005 for spells at Celtic, Wigan and a return to Blackburn, he ended his career in 2008 having never scored for a British side in any competition.
Richard Shaw – 252 PL appearances
In fairness to this man, he did score one top-flight goal, albeit it came in the 1990/91 season, two years before the start of the rebranded Premier League.
The former Crystal Palace defender had emerged as a key part of Steve Coppell’s exciting team in the early 90’s after having come through the club’s youth system.
The versatile defender started in the 1990 FA Cup final against Manchester United, the original game ending 3-3 after extra-time, with United going on to win the replay 1-0, courtesy of a goal by Lee Martin, the only goal he would score for the Red Devils.
A few years later, the Englishman was once again involved in a memorable moment against United, Shaw this time on the receiving end of a kick from Eric Cantona at Selhurst Park in 1995, the Frenchman ultimately sent off for the incident before going on to carry out his infamous ‘kung-fu’ kick on a Palace fan that saw him banned for eight months.
As for Shaw, he left the club midway through the 1995/96 season, going on to enjoy an 11-year spell with Coventry. That time with the Sky Blues saw him spend six consecutive season’s in the top-flight, although it wasn’t enough time for him to finally get that elusive goal.
Des Walker – 264 PL appearances
By far the best player on this list, Walker enjoyed an excellent career in the top tier of English football, while also representing the Three Lions on 59 occasions, including starting all seven games of their run to the semi-final at the 1990 World Cup.
An established and top-class defender, yet when it came to scoring goals, it wasn’t exactly his forte, with just a solitary goal throughout his whole career, that coming in the 1991-92 season for Nottingham Forest, a year prior to the inception of the Premier League.
In his defence, that one goal he did score in 1992 against Luton Town was an absolute scorcher and showed no signs of a man who had never found the back of the net before or after. Picking the ball up in an unconventional left-wing position, Walker glided into the box before rifling a left-footed strike into the roof of the net to snatch an equaliser in the dying seconds.
Any excuse to post this classic Des Walker moment ⚽️🎂
A goal 315 games in the making 👏 #NFFC pic.twitter.com/cT6Toy2Z5m
— Nottingham Forest FC 💙 (@NFFC) November 26, 2019
The irony is that a large chunk of the Forest supporters had left the ground, while manager Brian Clough had marched down into the tunnel to likely give his players an absolute rollicking and missed the goal. As Old Big ‘ead himself stated, as only he could: “I watched 89 minutes of garbage and missed the one jewel to come out of the whole match”.
Perhaps the only major blot in an otherwise stellar career was another time he steered the ball into the net, only this time it was his own, the centre-back netting what proved to be a costly own goal in the 1991 FA Cup final against Tottenham.
Tony Hibbert – 265 PL appearances
When you think of certified Premier League stalwarts, the former Everton defender is probably right at the top of that list, after spending his entire career with the Toffees in the top-flight and – almost unbelievably – never managing to score a goal. Ever.
In 328 appearances in all competitions across an 18-year career, the one-club man never enjoyed the sweet delight of finding the back of the net.
A dependable and reliable presence at right-back, the local, boyhood Everton fan was neither flashy nor a man for flair and despite struggling with injuries throughout his career, he developed a cult status at the club.
That was shown to great effect when he did finally ‘score’ during his testimonial match against AEK Athens in 2012, Hibbert scoring a free-kick in a 4-1 win, the goal sparking a full-on pitch invasion from the Goodison Park crowd. “If Hibbert scores, we riot”.
🙌 | You wait 308 games for a Tony Hibbert goal – and he saves it for his own testimonial! 😄#onthisday in 2012… 🔵 pic.twitter.com/fwNNUp09S0
— Everton (@Everton) August 8, 2020
That love affair came to end in 2016 when the Evertonian retired, after barely featuring for the final few years of his career. He did come to public attention a year later, however, after missing a penalty for a Sunday League side in his first game for the club, ending their unbeaten run in the process. Did they not know he couldn’t score?
Kenny Cunningham – 335 PL appearances
And finally, the winner (?), former Republic of Ireland defender Kenny Cunningham who is way ahead of the rest in first-place on this list.
After spending his early career largely in the second-tier with Millwall, he then joined Wimbledon in 1994, enjoying six successive seasons in the Premier League, before suffering relegation in 2000, with the Dons dissolving not long after.
After captaining a Roy Keane-less Ireland at the 2002 World Cup, Cunningham was then plucked by Birmingham City in 2002 to join the newly-promoted side back in the top-flight, slotting in at centre-back and swiftly emerging as a fans’ favourite at St Andrew’s.
‘King Kenny’ had four years with the Blues to try and end his Premier League duck, yet it was ultimately in vain, before he finished his career with a solitary season with Sunderland in the Championship in 2006/07.
In the end, after 615 games in his club career and 75 caps for his country, he retired having scored just once, that goal having come back in the 1993/94 season for Millwall in the second tier.
Couldn’t someone have just let him take a penalty?
Read – Cheats or just street-wise? – Five of football’s masters of the Dark Arts
See also – Video: The five biggest statement wins in Premier League history