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, just 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 Dewhurst'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 3.45pm and Derby won 6-3), at Everton (who beat Accrington 2-1) and at Stoke (where West Bromwich Albion won 2-0).
Contemporary news reports do not throw sufficient light on the minutiae of timings to be any more definitive. The Preston Evening Post's Football Special carried a long report that began: "The North End played their first League match at Deepdale this afternoon, their opponents being the Burnley eleven. The weather was beautifully fine, and fully 6,000 spectators lined the enclosure. Dewhurst lost the toss and Preston played against the wind, but with the sun at their backs." Yet there is nothing to suggest Dewhurst scored earlier than Cox, nor to contradict other sources on the 3.45pm kick-off time.
National newspapers dealt with the new League even more sparingly, with The Times on Monday 10 September carrying mere one-sentence reports from each game, mixed together in a section titled "Football" with several reports about games played "under Rugby Union rules".
Indeed, the opening - and longest - report in that section, stretching to a whole three sentences, did not feature a League match at all, but rather news of a Canadian international touring side which had drawn 1-1 in Glasgow against Rangers on the Saturday.
Some milestones and record breakers are more clear cut, as is the case in identifying English League football's most prolific scorer of all time. That honour is held by Arthur Rowley, who scored 433 League goals in 619 games between 1946 and 1965 for West Bromwich (four goals in 24 games), Fulham (26 in 56), Leicester City (251 in 303) and Shrewsbury Town (152 in 236). Some sources claim 434 goals for him but, according to Joyce, it seems one was credited to him in error for Fulham during the 1948-49 season.
Rowley, the younger brother of Jack - a Manchester United hero in the late 1940s and early 1950s, who scored 182 League goals for United - started his career as an amateur with Wolves, and had his most profitable spell during eight years with Leicester, mostly in the Second Division, from 1950 onwards. Arthur later became the player-manager at Shrewsbury, and then managed Sheffield United and Southend.
Dixie Dean is second in the all-time scorers list, with 379 League goals, most of them in the top division with Everton, for whom he scored a record 60 League goals in one season, in 1927-28. Third in the list is Jimmy Greaves, who scored 357 League goals for Chelsea, Tottenham and West Ham between 1957 and 1971. Greaves' record of finishing as the top goalscorer in six seasons has never been matched.
Supporters of Wolves can claim a piece of history because their club have scored more League goals than any other. Their goal on Saturday at Plymouth (yet another own goal) was their 7,022nd League goal since their opening game in 1888.
Wolves have also conceded the third highest total of goals in history, 6,404. Together, those tallies mean Wolves fans down the years have seen 13,426 League goals in Wolves' games, more than at any other club.
Manchester United lie second in the all-time club scoring charts, on 7,013 League goals to date, with Liverpool in third place on 6,939. Notts County have conceded the most goals (6,481), followed by Burnley (6,425).
The highest-scoring match in English League history involved 17 goals as Tranmere beat Oldham 13-4 on Boxing Day 1935. Though this pales by comparison to the British record in a senior game - Arbroath's 36-0 drubbing of Bon Accord in a Scottish Cup match in 1885 - the English leagues have seen umpteen double-digit score lines. Fourteen goals have been registered three times, and 13-goal thrillers have happened 14 times, none more dramatic than Charlton's comeback from 5-1 down at half-time at home to Huddersfield in 1957 to win 7-6.
The most goals scored by one player in one game in England is 10, by Luton's Joe Payne against Bristol Rovers in 1936. It is safe to say that nobody will score 10 tonight, but less safe to presume that the 500,000th goal will be scored for the scorer's own side. There have been 9,226 acknowledged own goals in the League, at a rate of just under one in every 50 goals. The first League goal was an own goal, in Wolves' favour.
What odds that Wolves, who host Ipswich tonight, will benefit from another own goal for No 500,000 in League history?
'Football League & Premiership Results & Dates 1888-89 to 2005-06', edited by Tony Brown, is available from leading sports booksellers, or direct from Soccerdata Publications, priced £16.
The road to 500,000: Major landmarks from Joe Payne's 10 in a game to James Hayter's two-minute hat-trick
* FIRST LEAGUE GOAL
Was scored by Aston Villa's Gershom Cox (own goal, for Wolves, in the 30th minute) on 8 September 1888. This was not the quickest goal in a match that day, but Fred Dewhurst's second-minute goal for Preston against Burnley came in a game that kicked off later that day.
* 100,000th GOAL The 65th goal scored on 5 October 1929.
* 200,000th GOAL The 49th goal scored on 8 February 1952.
* 300,000th GOAL The 99th scored on 24 August 1968.
* 400,000th GOAL The 30th scored on 29 August 1987.
(An absence of exact goal timings makes it impossible to identify the individual scorers of the landmark goals so far)
* MOST LEAGUE GOALS IN A CAREER
1 Arthur Rowley (433 goals)
2 Dixie Dean (379)
3 Jimmy Greaves (357)
* MOST GOALS BY ONE PLAYER IN A SINGLE LEAGUE SEASON
60, by Dixie Dean, for Everton in 1927-28.
* MOST GOALS BY ONE PLAYER IN A LEAGUE GAME
10, by Joe Payne for Luton Town v Bristol Rovers on 13 April 1936.
* MOST LEAGUE GOALS SCORED BY A CLUB
1 Wolverhampton Wanderers (7,022 goals)
2 Manchester United (7,013 goals)
3 Liverpool (6,939)
* MOST LEAGUE GOALS CONCEDED BY A CLUB
1 Notts County (6,481 goals)
3 Wolves (6,404)
* MOST GOALS SCORED BY A CLUB IN A LEAGUE SEASON
134, by Peterborough, Fourth Division, 1960-61.
* MOST GOALS CONCEDED BY A CLUB IN A LEAGUE SEASON
141, by Darwen, Second Division, 1899.
* MOST GOALS IN A GAME
17, when Tranmere beat Oldham 13-4 on 26 December 1935, in the Third Division North.
The next-best tally in England was 14 goals, three times - most recently when Tottenham beat Everton 10-4, in October 1958.
* OWN GOALS 9,226
although the real figure may be higher. The scorers of 124 goals in the League's early years are unknown as scorers weren't always recorded.
* FASTEST LEAGUE GOAL
Four seconds, by Jim Fryatt for Bradford Park Avenue v Tranmere on 25 April 1964.
* FASTEST LEAGUE HAT-TRICK
2 min, 20 sec, by James Hayter, for Bournemouth v Wrexham on 24 February 2004.
Sources: Tony Brown at SoccerData, and Michael Joyce