They have come in all forms, from 30-yard screamers to goalmouth tap-ins, from own goals to penalties, from audacious halfway-line lobs to last-gasp relegation-saving strikes by goalkeepers. Scoring is the lifeblood of football, the very point of a game that England gave to the world in the 19th century and first organised in a League format in 1888. And tonight, almost certainly, some time after 9pm, somebody somewhere will hit the 500,000th goal in the 118- year history of the English leagues.
The half-millionth strike will be honoured by the Football League with the presentation of a specially commissioned trophy. The League hopes to present the trophy at the scorer's training ground tomorrow morning.
By the end of the 2005-06 season, the total League goals tally in England stood at 499,855 goals from 171,599 fixtures, including in the revamped Premier League since 1992.
With 75 goals scored in the Championship and Leagues One and Two on Saturday, and another seven on Sunday, only 63 more are required to reach 500,000. An almost full League programme is scheduled for this evening and statisticians predict that the landmark strike should arrive in the second half of one of today's 32 games.
"The scoring of half a million goals is a genuine milestone for League football in this country, one that has taken more than 170,000 matches and 107 full seasons," John Nagle, the League's head of communications, said yesterday. Eleven years of League football were lost to the two world wars. "We will be recognising this achievement by making a special award to the scorer of the goal, which is likely to be scored towards the end of Tuesday night's fixture programme," Nagle said.
"This will give every player in the Football League an opportunity to earn himself a permanent place in the game's history books," he added.
In this high-tech, internet age, it seems incredible that the 500,000th goal will become the first major landmark to be synonymous with a specific person. The 100,000th, 200,000th, 300,000th and 400,000th League goals cannot be ascribed to any individual because when they were netted nobody was aware - or had the resources at their disposal - to be able to say unequivocally who hit the specific goal to reach those tallies. The closest we get is a date in each case. The 400,000th goal was scored on 29 August 1987.
Amazing though it sounds, the Football League itself never kept a formal record of scorers until three years ago, when it realised the information could have a commercial value as intellectual property. Instead, the task of collating information fell to individual archivists such as Tony Brown, now the League's official statistician, and Michael Joyce, a fellow statto whose website (www.since1888.co.uk) carries details of every player ever to have featured in a League game.
Even the first goal in League history is a subject of debate, although it is virtually certain that the landmark effort was tucked away by Aston Villa's Gershom Cox on 8 September 1888 - into his own net. Villa were playing at their Midlands rivals Wolverhampton Wanderers that day, on the first weekend of the Football League, and drew 1-1 after Cox scored his own goal and then his team-mate Tom Green equalised for Villa.
The factor that queers the pitch in identifying the first League goal is that whereas Cox's own goal was scored after half an hour, Preston's opening League goal, on the same day, was scored in the third minute of their 5-2 win over Burnley. It was netted by Fred Dewhurst, the captain of that "Invincible" side which went on to win the inaugural title unbeaten.
But the Preston game did not kick off until 3.50pm, while the Wolves-Villa game began closer to 3pm. So Cox's strike, at around 3.30pm, arrived before Dew-hurst's, at around 3.52pm. Similarly, Cox's own goal beat the goals in the day's other League fixtures at Bolton (where kick-off was at 3. …