A debut goal is a thing of beauty. It unites fans, teammates and the new player in a common delight rarely experienced elsewhere. After all, there are few walks of life where it’s possible to get off to such a prominent start in your new job.
So when news filtered through (most of us weren’t watching) of Bertrand Traore’s wonder strike at Ashton Gate, there was a particular delight that we might have something special on our hands for season 2020-21.
With his luscious chip (quite obviously not a cross), Traore joined a select bunch of players to have made the ultimate impact in their first foray in a Villa shirt.
Sometimes it leads to true greatness. Our greatest captain is striker Jack Devey. He scored twice on his debut v Blackburn in September 1891, he then lifted 5 Championships and 2 FA Cups in 8 years, including the double in 1896-97.
Statistically our greatest ever goal-getter, Billy Walker scored twice on his debut v QPR in January 1920. He then hit a further 213 goals in 478 appearances for us over 24 years. Devey and Walker are true club legends whose achievements will take some beating.
Walker’s team mate Tom Waring scored a hat trick against Blues on his debut in 1928. Unfortunately that was in the reserve team, but it hardly mattered to the 23,000 who turned up to watch. He then hit a goal on his full debut v Sunderland and went on to score 159 goals in 215 games before being sold to Barnsley amidst widespread protests in 1935.
63 years later, Dion Dublin was another who soared from the get-go. Signed from near neighbours Coventry in Autumn 1998, Dion scored twice on his debut against Spurs, and was only denied a hat trick by a marginal offside decision. He quickly made up for it with 3 goals against Southampton the following weekend and 2 against Liverpool seven days after that. He scored 48 goals in 155 appearances before leaving in 2004.
Another well known Villan scored on his debut in 2006. The club had an injury crisis so manager David O’Leary called on 19 year-old Gabriel Agbonlahor against Everton at Goodison Park. Gabby promptly scored in a 4-1 defeat, going on to bag 75 Goals in 341 appearances over 13 years.
Another strong starter was David Platt. Signed from Crewe a few days earlier, Platt scored on his debut in a 3-2 defeat at Blackburn in February 1988. He then scored twice against Plymouth seven days later and again at Bournemouth the following weekend. Platty scored 50 goals during two more seasons, and 27 times for England during a career spent largely at the very top.
Christian Benteke also scored on his debut against Swansea at Villa Park in September 2012, which might explain Villa fans fondness for him despite his often inconsistent form. His record speaks volumes though, with 42 goals in 89 games.
Sometimes one debut scorer just isn’t enough. Cyrille Regis, Dalian Atkinson and Steve Staunton were the Villa scorers in a 3-2 win over Sheffield Wednesday on opening day 1991. They were all debutants. This was a record at the time and I’m not sure it’s been equalled since.
Before we start thinking Traore is another Waring or Agbonlahor, a debut goal doesn’t necessarily mean a fruitful career is imminent. The last player to score on his debut before Traore was Rudy Gestede, against Bournemouth in August 2015.
He scored only 9 more and was sold in January 2017. Gestede is not alone. Signed from Wimbledon in Summer 1994, striker John Fashanu scored on his debut v Everton but then made just 13 appearances, scoring 3 times before injury forced him to retire in 1995.
Who can forget Antonio Luna’s lovely finish in an opening day win at Arsenal in 2013? He made just 17 appearances before leaving on loan a year later. Villa terminated his contract in 2015.
Possibly the least conspicuous debut scorer is midfielder Nigel Callaghan. Having achieved promotion, an FA Cup final and a top flight runners-up spot with Graham Taylor’s Watford the early 1980’s, he was signed by his former boss in January 1989. Nigel headed home in front of the Holte on his debut v Sheffield Wednesday.
Lambasted by fans for his insipid displays during our subsequent relegation battle, Nigel was frozen out after an on-field row with David Platt during a home defeat to QPR the following September. I observed a disconsolate Callaghan training alone at Bodymoor Heath a few months later. Incredibly, he stayed with Villa until Summer 1992 when he left for Stafford Rangers. His professional career over at just 29.
Another player Traore will not want to emulate is Luc Nillis. In July 2000 the Belgian striker scored on his Villa debut against Czech team Dukla Pribram in the now-defunct Intertoto Cup. He also scored a wonder goal in his home debut against Chelsea before suffering a horrendous double leg fracture at Ipswich six days later. His career ended in an instant.
Darren Bent is a debut scorer who might provoke mixed reactions. Bought for £18m by Gerard Houllier in 2011, Bent scored the winner on his debut v Man City and then hit 19 goals in 38 games over the next 12 months. Darren had bagged 10 goals by February in 2012 and was in contention for England’s Euro squad.
Unfortunately, an ankle ligament injury ended his season and he never recovered. Fall-outs with management and the form of Christian Benteke made Bent a peripheral figure thereafter. He spent loan spells at Fulham, Brighton and Derby before leaving in 2015. Was Bent another big earning underachiever, or a case of what might have been?
The significance of a debut goal is perhaps best highlighted by those Villa legends who didn’t achieve it. These include Joe Bache, Harry Hampton, Eric Houghton, Johnny Dixon, Gerry Hitchens, Peter McParland, Andy Gray, Brian Little, Peter Withe, Gary Shaw, Tony Morley, Dwight Yorke, Juan Pablo Angel, John Carew and Jack Grealish. These guys have a whopping 1317 goals between them, but none scored on their debut.
Perhaps it’s best to see the debut goal for what it is. An exciting but fleeting moment, which might be the beginning of a great chapter, or just another footnote in our illustrious history.
Bertrand Traore, it’s over to you.