On April 8, 1988, a relatively unknown and somewhat scrawny teenager by the name of Alan Shearer, opened his senior goal-scoring account in style before going on to become one of the greatest strikers of his generation.
At the age of just 17-years and 240 days, Shearer announced himself to the world with a stunning hat-trick on his full first-team debut against Arsenal at The Dell and, in doing so, became the youngest player ever to score three goals in the top flight of English football.
It took Shearer, who was earning £35-a-week as a second-year apprentice, just five minutes to get off the mark, heading home the first of his 283 career league goals before running away, arm aloft, in what would become his trademark celebration.
He got his second with another header after 33 minutes and put the hosts 3-1 up when he completed his hat-trick five minutes after half-time, the first to react to the rebound after his initial effort had hit the crossbar.
All the more impressive seeing that the youngster had no idea that he would be playing in the first team when he arrived at the ground that morning. “I got to the team hotel and the manager said, ‘Danny Wallace has failed a fitness test, so you are starting,’” Shearer later revealed. “There wasn’t time for my parents or anyone to get down and watch.”
Even more incredible that he would achieve such a feat having scoffed a pre-match meal of fillet steak and chips just hours before kick-off. “I saw all the big hitters were having it and I remember asking for it just because they did,” he revealed.
Having made his professional bow as a substitute against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge that March, Shearer would go on to score 43 goals in 158 appearances for Southampton, before joining Blackburn Rovers and then boyhood team Newcastle United, where he remains the most prolific marksman in the club’s history.
One of the all-time greats when it comes to finding the net, it’s maybe unfortunate that Alan Shearer will be remembered by many for a lack of major honours in an otherwise glorious time in the game, though rather than silverware, Shearer’s illustrious career was punctuated with spectacular individual achievements
Without doubt, his biggest success came in 1995 when he lifted the Premier League trophy with Blackburn Rovers as they pipped Manchester United to the title on the final day of an exhilarating season to achieve the lifelong ambition of the club’s owner Jack Walker.
A team who were languishing in the Second Division just a few years before, Kenny Dalglish assembled a side who would bring the top flight’s biggest prize to Ewood Park for the first time in the club’s history and Shearer can take a huge amount of credit for that.
The partnership he forged with Chris Sutton at Blackburn Rovers, which became known as the “SAS,” didn’t just provide the foundation for that title win, it also proved that, as well as being more than capable of going-it-alone, he was also versatile enough to form a formidable double act; adjusting his style to fulfil whatever role was asked of him.
During his time with Rovers he scored the most goals in a 42-game season with 34 in 1994/95, a record he holds jointly with Andy Cole, and the most goals in a 38-match campaign, firing-in 31 in 1995/96.
Having apparently seen-off interest from Manchester United, Shearer signed for the club he supported as a boy in 1996 when he joined Kevin Keegan’s Newcastle United for a then eye-watering fee of £15 million where he remains the highest goal scorer in the club’s history with 206 goals.
Shearer raised the bar for the modern-day striker. Whereas before forwards often relied upon scraps in and around the box, his ability to find the net from pretty much anywhere on the field, not to mention his awesome presence in the air, set the standard for the modern-day marksman who often plays as a lone-striker and has to make his own opportunities.
He didn’t back down when it came to the physical aspect of the game either, and despite not being the tallest of strikers his remarkable leap and ability to hang in the air often gave him a huge advantage over defenders who would stop at nothing to repel his threat.
By no means squeaky-clean, his physical style often saw him fall foul of referees and officials; but, even so, his disciplinary record wasn’t that bad – with 59 bookings and two red cards in a career that stretched the best part of two decades.
His incredible goals-per-game ratio means that he found the net every 1.7 games and ensures that he will go down in the history books for future generations to marvel over, while his record for England wasn’t too shabby either – scoring 30 times in 63 appearances for his country, making his one of the best international goal ratios of modern times.
Shearer remains the Premier League’s most prolific goal scorer – netting 260 goals in 441 games – a tally that puts him well clear of the likes of Wayne Rooney (208), Andy Cole (187) and Sergio Aguero (180) in the all-time charts.
Rumour has it that he twice evaded the attention of Manchester United and we can only imagine what his record would have been had he gone to Old Trafford at a time when Alex Ferguson’s team were about to embark on almost two decades of domination in the English game.
Even so, Shearer can at least take some consolation in the fact that he not only won the biggest prize in domestic football, but also played for his country, as well as the team he went to watch as a boy, and will always be regarded as one of the greatest goal scorers that ever played the game.
So how did Shearer celebrate becoming the youngest hat trick hero the game had ever seen celebrate his sensational introduction to the top flight over 30 years ago following that game with the Gunners?
“I went out for a few drinks that night with friends in Southampton,” he explained in an interview some years later, though the newfound striking sensation couldn’t stay out too late despite his histrionics.
“The manager [Chris Nicholl] came up to me straight after the game and said, ‘I’ll see you tomorrow — you are back in to clean all the kit and the boots in the morning,’ that was his way of bringing me back down to earth!”