Was Jesse Lingard's debut for Birmingham the most prolific ever?

Plus: the greatest hero and villain; the longest winning run from the start of a season; and palindromic footballers. Send your questions and answers to knowledge@theguardian.com and follow us on Twitter

"On-loan Manchester United midfielder Jesse Lingard has just scored four goals on his debut for Birmingham," says Jon Porter-Hughes. "Has there ever been a more prolific debutant?"

It turns out that high-scoring debuts are not quite so uncommon as you would think: just last month, we reckon there was at least a hat-trick of players who scored hat-tricks on their debuts. Fredy Montero, for instance, on loan from Seattle Sounders, scored three as Sporting Lisbon beat FC Arouca 5-1. In the Bundesliga, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang marked his debut for Borussia Dortmund with three goals in a 4-0 win against Augsburg, and not a scuffer among them. In the Eredivisie, meanwhile, Zakaria Bakkali started life at PSV's Philips Stadion with a trio of goals against NEC Nijmegen (and funnily enough, another PSV player, Jürgen Locadia, scored a hat-trick on his league debut last season).

They add their names to a list that includes the likes of Fabrizio Ravenelli, who put three past Liverpool on his Middlesbrough debut at the start of the 1996-97 season (by the way, John Barnes's goal in that game is delightful); Wayne Rooney, who scored three against Fenerbahce on his Manchester United debut nine years ago, and none of them from closer than 18 yards; and Alan Shearer, who had previously come on as a sub for Southampton but made his full debut against Arsenal and scored three of the four goals that secured Southampton victory in April 1988. It made him the youngest player ever to score a top-flight hat-trick.

These three-goal slackers obviously didn't match Lingard's feat, but there are those who have. Earlier this year, as the German club Energie Cottbus began their pre-season schedule, Charles Takyi made his debut in a 17-1 drubbing of Mullroser and scored four goals before being replaced at half-time. Perhaps it doesn't really count, but for the sake of completeness, you should also know about Patrick Weihrauch, who has yet to play a competitive match for Bayern Munich but scored four when he played in Bayern's sharpener against a Wildenau Weiden Fans XI. And while we're on training matches, we ought to nod to Emmanuel Ake, who stayed in Denmark in February 2012 just about long enough to score five goals on debut for Svebolle, who beat Frederiksberg 7-4 that day.

Flicking back through the archives, we found a few further examples, all of them from bona fide competitive matches to boot. First to St James' Park, where on the first day of the 1989-90 season Micky Quinn, top scorer for relegated Portsmouth the season before, marked his arrival with four goals in Newcastle's 5-2 win over Leeds United. The visitors actually took a 2-1 lead after Quinn had opened the scoring from the penalty spot, but the tide turned in the second half. The crowd were beside themselves by the time Quinn ran through an exposed Leeds defence to slot his fourth past Mervyn Day. "Oh my word, it's that man Quinn again!" This would become a recurring phrase that season, as Quinn scored 34 league goals and 39 in all competitions.

Now to Turf Moor, January 1957, where a 17-year-old Ian Lawson is about to make his debut for Burnley in an FA Cup third-round match against Chesterfield. Within four minutes of kick-off, Lawson has given Burnley the lead and with the last kick of the game he scores his fourth to round off a thumping 7-0 win. In the next round, by the way, Burnley beat New Brighton 9-0, with Lawson scoring another three.

And, finally, all the way back to November 1934, where Arthur Milne celebrated his move from Brechin Vics to Dundee United with four goals in United's 9-6 league win over Edinburgh City. In his three years at the club he scored 85 goals in 81 games.

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"Last week Jonjo Shelvey scored one and created one for Swansea, but then provided Liverpool with two assists too," writes Kath Richardson. "Has there ever been a more pronounced hero/villain performance?"

"This must surely be topped by Michael Duberry's performance for Oxford United against Hereford in January 2012," says Andrew Cherrie. Oxford were winning until Duberry deflected a cross into his own goal, and then in the 86th minute he headed the visitors in front with an attempted clearance. The defender was all sorts of relieved when he scored in the final minute of the match – not that he was going to admit it, mind. "Wow," he tweeted. "Didn't expect an afternoon like that. Scoring the imperfect hat trick – left foot (OG), header (OG) and right foot." The reaction from the Hereford manager was interesting: "You get a little bit disappointed that it came down to just that one chance right at the end," he said, apparently unbothered that his team had had their goals scored for them.

"In response to Kath Richardson's query I, and many other readers, I'm sure, point no further than Chris Nicholl's achievement," says Mark Cooper (and many other readers): "scoring all four goals in a 2-2 draw between Aston Villa and Leicester City in 1976." The game was only 15 minutes old when Nicholl headed the ball into his own net, but he made up for it just before half-time, when he made the most of a header from Brian Little. The break came with the score at 1-1 and Villa the better side. Not long after the restart, however, Nicholl went up for a duel with Bob Lee and headed the ball past his own keeper again. When the ball comes into the six-yard box you have to go for it," he told the Birmingham Post, in 2006. "Best goal I ever scored." Fortunately he managed to turn the ball in from close range at the other end, once again equalising his own goal and levelling the score at 2-2.

"Fortunately it wasn't on Match of the Day, so nobody really knows what the goals look like," said Nicholl, who was most miffed about the referee holding on to the match ball. "If it happened now, it would be replayed on Sky TV over and over again." Oldham's Sam Wynne (thanks for the pointer, Andy Kelly) had an even greater escape, since only the 12,000 people inside Boundary Park saw him score two goals for each team against Manchester United in 1923 – plus, of course, Billy Howson also scored, giving Oldham a 3-2 victory.


"Leyton Orient continue to tear up their history books with a maximum haul from their first eight games in League One," notes Jack Fortescue. "What is the longest 100% run a team has achieved?"

The Orient have got a little way to go yet. The greatest winning streak from the start of the season that we've been able to come up with came in the Hungarian league of 1931-32. Ferencvaros went on an unprecedented 22-match winning streak from the start of the season, a run that was only brought to an end by … the end of the season.


"Following your query in The Knowledge about Ugo Ehiogu, I've noticed that his name is very nearly a palindrome - backwards it reads Ugo Iheogu," noted Matt, whose surname we managed to lose, back in the day. "I was wondering if there were any palindromic footballers, either now or ever?"

Incredibly, there are, Matt. As Pete Allen suggests, Liverpool's 17-year-old youth team player Leon Noel certainly makes the palindrome grade. He might also make the grade on the pitch too. According to Liverpooltv.com, Noel's "a powerful centre forward who can also play in a wide role. One of the quickest players at the club he is very strong and a tremendous hard worker for the team cause," the club's potted biography adds (as only potted biographies can). "His strength makes him difficult to play against and he is progressing well."

Meanwhile, Owen Hudner says that York Region Shooters of the Canadian Professional Soccer league – "they play in the illustrious company of such teams as London City and the Brampton Hitmen!" – currently have a player called Mike Kim.

The Knowledge feels duty-bound to ask: whatever became of Leon Noel?

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