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The magical feeling of a hat-trick

The bible of the record holders: from McDougall, Bican and Pelé to Lucijanic, Siri and Pontikas

He shoots, he scores! And he does it again, and again! The crowd goes wild after his third goal. He is the hero of the day. And as tradition has it (had it) he takes the ball with him while seeing off the fans. Pride, joy, pure happiness: an indescribable feeling.

Scoring at least 3 goals in a match is not an easy or a usual feat. It does not happen every day, at least not by the same player. But when it does the hat-trick scorer steals the show. Coaches, teammates, and also the press are full of praise for his scoring abilities. Throughout the soccer history since the 19th century there have been plenty of players who scored three or more goals in one game. Countless all over the six continents.

Therefore, no one will remember all of those match heroes. However, many hat-trick scorers have gone down in history for various reasons: how young they were when they first did it (Pelé, Siri, Pontikas), how consistently for a period (Lucijanic) or how many times overall they did it (Pelé, Bican), how important the game was (Hurst), how fast the hat-trick was (Torr), the quality of the competition (Cristiano, Messi) etc.

Origins of the term

The term has its origins back in the 19th century and it originates from another sport: cricket! According to the Oxford English Dictionary, it was first used in 1858 after English cricketer H.H. Stephenson took three wickets in three consecutive deliveries during a game between an all-England team and Hallam. A collection was held afterwards, with money being placed into a hat before being presented to Stephenson. Pretty much like a street performer does after the end of their show. The first time that the term ”hat-trick” was used by the press was in 1865, in the Chelmsford Chronicle. And ever since it has been adopted by soccer, water polo and hockey.

Perfect hat-trick

This is a term that is solely used in soccer and not other sports. The ”perfection” of a hat-trick must include a right-footed goal, a left-footed one and a header. In Germany, Austria and Holland a ”flawless hat-trick” is achieved when a player scores three consecutive goals in just one half. Or when his three goals are not interrupted by a goal scored by another player.

A double hat-trick equals to 6 goals scored by one player in a single game, triple is 9 goals and the rest is maths. But now let’s have a look at several players whose names have been linked (for different reasons) with the term.

John McDougall: the first who scored a hat-trick in an international game (1878)

The first player who achieved a hat-trick in an international game was Scottish forward John McDougall. On 2 March 1878 Scotland hosted England at Glasgow’s Hampden Park in front of 15,000 spectators. That was the 7th international match in England’s history and the ”Three Lions” ended up collecting the ball from their own goal 7 times! Scotland dominated the game and beat their arch rivals easily with 7-2. McDougall wearing the no8 on his jersey scored 3 goals in his third international game.

The Scottish player was 25 years old when he recorded the first ever international hat-trick. He managed to score one more for his country in 1879 again against England (4 in 5 games in total). He was a one-club man playing for the 3-time Scottish Cup winners Vale of Leven and he died in 1925. As about the formation at the Hampden game? Both teams used the typical…2-2-6 (back then), while half of Scotland’s squad were members of the then almighty Glasgow Queen’s Park.

Arthur Friedenreich: the first who scored a hat-trick in an major international tournament (1919)

Brazilian striker Arthur Friedenreich was considered the first soccer star whose fame was spread outside his own country. Also, he was soccer’s first outstanding mixed-race player, when the sport was not open to dark skin players in Brazil. In 1919 Brazil hosted the third Copa America and they thrashed Chile by 6-0 in their opening match on 11 May. Paulistano’s 27 year-old striker Friedenreich scored 3 and became the first to do so in the tournament. Overall, he helped Brazil lift its first trophy. ”The Original Black Pearl” also won the topscorer award with 4 goals alongside his teammate Neco.

The Brazilians finished equal on points with powerful Uruguay who had legendary Angel Romano and Hector Scarone at their disposal. That meant there would be a play-off final to decide the winner. Friedenreich scored the winning goal for Brazil (1-0) during the additional time of the extra time! He retired from soccer at 43 as a Flamengo player and scored a total of 1,329 ”undocumented” goals.

Paulistano’s star Arthur Friedenreich scored Copa America’s first ever hat-trick in 1919.
Bert Patenaude: the first to score a World Cup hat-trick (1930)

Not many would expect the scorer of the first ever World Cup hat-trick to be from the United States! The inaugural FIFA World Cup took place in Uruguay and started on 13 July 1930. Four days later on the 17th, 18.000 fans witnessed the first ever hat-trick scored by Bert Patenaude in the Estadio Gran Parque Central. The American forward scored USA’s all three goals (10′, 15′, 50′) in their comfortable victory against Paraguay (3-0). Patenaude was 21 at the time, playing Fall River Marksmen.

He retired six years later having scored 170 goals in 174 games in domestic leagues in the States. Though he helped team USA win the bronze medal with 6 goals in the 1930 World Cup, he did not appeared again in the national team. Scottish Robert Millar was the coach of the medal winners, Tom Florie the captain and the…New York Giants the club with the most players of the 1930 squad.

Geoff Hurst: the only player to score a hat-trick in a World Cup Final (1966)

Wembley Stadium, 30 July 1966. The UK’s most-watched television event ever ended with the England team winning the FIFA World Cup trophy over West Germany after 120 dramatic minutes of play. 96,924 fans saw their national team score 4 goals into Hans Tilkowski’s net and their main striker Geoff Hurst bagged 3 of them (18′, 101′, 120′). Hurst became the first (and only) to score a hat-trick in a World Cup final. West Ham’s 25 year-old forward was the absolute hero of the match as he scored 2 goals in the extra time. At the end, team captain (and his club teammate) Bobby Moore, Gordon Banks, Bobby and Jacky Charlton would all celebrate England’s only World Cup trophy.

Former Seattle Sounders‘ player Geoff Hurst enjoyed a fruitful career in the British Isles scoring 223 goals in 555 games. He was less impressive playing for the Seattle club with 8 goals in 23 appearances. Nevertheless,  he remained pretty lethal with his national team: he found the net in half of his 48 matches. An interesting fact about Hurst? He also played cricket! Yes, the sport that gave the hat-trick term to the world. Hurst featured in an official game in 1962 for Essex, but his role had nothing to do with scoring. Right the opposite as he played as wicket-keeper.

Pelé : the player with the most recorded hat-tricks in history (1958-1977)

One of most complete players in soccer history and probably the best of all, Pelé, scored almost a century of hat-tricks during his illustrious career. The King of soccer started out as a 15 year old boy scoring in the Santos’ 7-1 victory over lowly Corinthians de Santo André, on 7 September 1956. A debut appearance with a goal. The following year he was a regular player and joined Pepe in Santos’ attack. He won the Paulista top scorer award and also achieved his first career hat-trick in the friendly against Fabril de Lavras (7-2), on 9 June 1957. He was just 16 years and 197 days. But 95 more were to come. And half of them would include more than 3 goals!

He scored four goals on 31 occasions, and five on six occasions. On 21 November 1964, Santos demolished Botafogo from Ribeirao Preto (11-0) with Pelé hitting 8, a feat that remains a record in the Paulista league. Wonder boy Pelé was part of ”Os Santasticos”, one of the strongest teams ever assembled in soccer, scoring over 3,000 goals within 15 seasons.

His performances for Brazil were also spectacular. He scored his first goal on his debut against Argentina (2-1) on 7 July 1957 and a year later his first international hat-trick inevitably came. It was during the 1958 World Cup semifinal against France (5-2). But, he would score 6 more hat-tricks for Brazil. His seventh and last was against Belgium in a 5-0 win on 6 February 1964. The last hat-trick of his career was recorded in June 1977 when he scored all NY Cosmos’ goals in their 3-0 victory over Tampa Rowdies at the Giants Stadium in front of 62,394 spectators.

Pelé is officially the player with the most hat-tricks in history according to the Guinness Book of Records that also included his trebles in friendly matches. There is also a common belief that the Brazilian is the record holder, but is it absolutely true?

“If I had 3 chances in a match I would score 3 goals. If I had 5, I would score 5 goals”.

Josef Bican

Bican (and Helmchen, Tichy, Deak) : the players with most hat-tricks in history (overall)

The greatest goalscorer of the 20th century according to IFFHS was Josef Bican. Undoubtedly, he was one of the most underrated strikers of all time, overshadowed by more popular goalscorers like Pelé, Muller or Eusebio. But was he the player who scored the most hat-tricks in soccer history, even more than King Pelé? The following analysis could be just an estimate.

Bican was born in Vienna, Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1913. He lived in the Favoriten neighborhood, a few blocks from another all-time great Austrian player Matthias Sindelar. They were both of Czech descent. It is said that Bican was able to run 100 metres in 10.8 seconds which would make him one of the fastest players of all time. But, apart from his running skills he showed some serious talent with the ball on the pitch. Giants Rapid Wien offered 600 schillings to Hertha Wien for young Bican, an offer that was reluctantly accepted. Subsequently, Bican joined Rapid’s youth ranks in 1931. It did not take him long to show his tremendous talent. 17 year-old Bican scored 7 goals on his debut with the youth team, and he was immediately promoted to the Amateur side.

The story there was similar. He scored 5 goals in his first match and within three months he was playing for Rapid Reserves. Three months later, on 6 September 1931 he debuted for the senior team of Rapid in the derby against Sindelar’s Austria Wien! By halftime, Bican had scored a hat trick, and he added a fourth in the second half in a 5–3 away win.

Bican played for Rapid for 4 years before signing for Admira Wien in 1935. His 1937 transfer to Slavia Prague was a milestone for the Czechoslovakian soccer. Bican became its greatest legend and retired in 1957 as a Spartak Brno player. He was also voted the 34th best player of the 20th century by IFFHS, while Sindelar was ranked 22nd. The best goalscorer of the century and 1934 World Cup semifinalist undoubtedly deserved a better ranking.

According to the statisticians of RSSSF, Bican scored at least 948 goals in 621 official matches. His total tally reached at least 1812 goals in at least 1089 games overall! Other sources have stated that the Austrian-Czech striker scored around 4.500 goals during his career, an astronomical figure.

Bican’s ratio was between 1.5 to 1.8 goal per game which sounds extremely insane. Therefore we can assume that Bican definitely surpassed Pelé’s hat-trick record. The latter had 1301 goals in total 1390 matches, a much inferior ratio.

However, a similar assumption would include the likes of German goalscorer Erwin Helmchen (+1610 goals in just +936 matches) and Hungarian bomber Lajos Tichy (+1912 goals in +1301 appearances). It is quite sensible to assume that these two players also surpassed Pelé’s record on the ”all matches” basis.

Helmchen was born in 1907 in Cottbus, Kingdom of Prussia and he played soccer in the regional leagues of Germany until the age of 45! Tichy was born in 1935 in Budapest and was a one-club man wearing Honved’s jersey for 18 years. He also struck 51 times in 72 matches for the Hungarian national team. Quite impressive too.

Total matches aside, Hungarian striker Ferenc Deak could also be in this mix. Deak had a staggering 1.56 ratio in official only matches! He scored +794 in at least 510 matches, including 29 in 20 for Hungary! Therefore a +100 hat-trick record sounds like a possible scenario. Note that all this information is based on RSSSF statistics.

Josef Bican was 17 years old when he scored 7 goals on his debut match for Rapid Wien Youth.
Pelé: the youngest to score a hat-trick in a World Cup (1958)

The 1958 World Cup in Sweden featured many legendary players like Just Fontaine, Lajos Tichy, Vavá, Raymond Kopa, Nils Liedholm, Zagallo, Didi, Helmut Rahn, Garrincha and Nilton Santos. Did we forget anyone? Oh yes, Pelé. Back in 1958, he was just a 17 year old kid who surprisingly found his way into Brazil’s star-studded squad. A year earlier he had scored 2 goals in 2 matches for Brazil and before the 1958 World Cup semifinal he had already achieved a world record: that of the youngest player to appear in a World Cup.

France was safely guided to the semifinal thanks to Just Fontaine’s efforts. France’s prolific goalscorer was shining in Sweden with 12 already goals in his tally. However, the teenager from Bauru would interrupt France’s advances towards the final with a ”flawless hat-trick” in the second half (52′, 64′, 75′) on 24 June 1958 at Rasunda Stadium. Brazil would dominate the match beating the French by 5-2. Pelé was 17 years, 8 months and 2 days and also contributed to his team’s winning performance in the final with two more strikes. Being also the youngest ever to do so in a final.

Such a record that has stood for over 60 years and took place in a crucial semifinal will probably never be broken, but who knows?

In 1958, Pele became the youngest player to score a hat-trick in the World Cup. He scored nearly 100 trebles during his career.
Lee Wai Tong: the youngest to score a hat-trick in a international competition (1923)

The Far Eastern Championship Games started in Philippine Islands in 1913 as a biennial sporting event. Barcelona’s legend Paulino Alcántara played in the 1917 tournament and won the top scorer award. In the first five editions of the soccer tournament China and Philippines finished on the top two places. The Osaka 1923 edition in Japan was no different. But a new talent started rising there. It was the greatest ever Chinese player, Lee Wai Tong.

On 24 May 1923 in Osaka, China needed a draw in the last game against Japan to clinch another title. And Lee Wai Tong needed just 5 minutes to score a hat-trick at 17 years, 7 months and 6 days! China who were fully represented by British Hong Kong-based AA South China’s players thrashed Japan with 5-1 thanks to their new wonder boy. Tong helped the Chinese retain the title in the next four tournaments. He was also a player-manager in the 1934 edition, aged just 28.

Two years later he played with China in the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin, losing 2-0 to Great Britain. It was China’s only match. Lee Wai Tong impressed the British captain Bernard Joy who recommended him to Arsenal. The Chinese striker rejected the offer for a trial choosing to stay in his homeland.

According to some sources, the ”King of Asian soccer” scored 1,260 goals during his lengthy career. Some others claim that it may have been 1,860. He mainly played for the South China club in the Hong Kong league winning 8 titles.

Lee Wai Tong retired in 1948, aged 43. He immediately became China’s coach and managed them in the 1948 London Olympics. In 1954 he was elected as the secretary-general of the Asian Federation. Nine years later, in 1965, he became the vice president of FIFA.
His hat-trick record not only predates Pelé’s of 1958 but it surpasses it by almost a month.

Lee Wai Tong was 17 years, 7 months and 6 days when he scored his 5-minute hat-trick in the 1923 Far Eastern Games.
Siri: the youngest to score a hat-trick in the top flight (2021)

On 19 March 2021, Danubio’s teenager Nicolas Siri became the youngest player to achieve the ”magic” feat in a national first division match. Siri netted 3 impressive goals on his debut against Boston River at 16 years, 11 months and 2 days. There’s more to it. His hat-trick was perfect! One goal with the right foot, one with the left and a header in Danubio’s convincing 5-1 victory at Centenario Stadium.

So far, the talented forward has scored 4 goals in 10 games for Danubio Montevideo, Alvaro Recoba’s boyhood club. His ratio was also high when he played for Uruguay U-15 scoring 17 times in 26 games. The future looks more than bright for the now 17 year old forward (born on 17 April 2004). And there are already rumors that Barcelona have been monitoring his progress.

Ntinos Pontikas: the youngest hat-trick scorer in history (1996)

What do we have so far in the conversation of the youngest hat-trick scorer of all time? Pelé: 3 goals for Santos in the friendly against Fabril de Lavras (7-2) in 1957, at 16 years and 197 days. Nicolas Siri: 3 goals on his debut for Danubio against Boston River (5-1) in 2021, at 16 years and 348 days. Also, it is worth mentioning Maradona’s attempt to break Pelé’s record in 1977. On Sunday 22 May 1977, ”El Pibe de Oro” hit the net twice and gave an assist on his debut for Argentinos Juniors in their easy win over Atlanta (5-2) in the Buenos Aires Metropolitano league. Let’s now include lower divisions starting with the third tier.

On 29 January 1955, Ken Chaylor scored Oldham’s all 3 goals against Mansfield Town (3-1) in the north group of the English third division. He became the youngest hat-trick scorer in English soccer at 17 years and 72 days and his record stood for 16 years. Until 20 February 1971. The day that skillful Trevor Francis bagged every one of Birmingham City’s four goals in their 4-0 win over Bolton Wanderers, in England’s second tier. Francis was 16 years and 306 days. In 1996 Francis returned to Birmingham to manage his boyhood club for five years. 1996? That’s a perfect pass for another talented teenager, Ntinos Pontikas.

On 28 September 1996, Pontikas scored his team’s all 3 goals in an away defeat, in the fifth tier of the Greek championship. It was his debut match between Ampelokipoi and Haravgi (4-3). The hat-trick scorer was just 14 years and 198 days!

His record also seems extremely unlikely to ever be broken. The main difference to the other records apart from the lower division and the younger age by 2 years is that the hat-trick was recorded in a defeat, not in a comfortable victory. In a nail-biting match that the teenager’s 3 goals made it a thriller. And he contributed to the 100% of his team’s (away) goals. Oh, and he ”touched” a perfect hat-trick by scoring one with the right, one with the head and a…nutmeg which almost replaces a left-footed goal.

It is a shame that 25 years later we are talking only about his record and not his exploits in the soccer world. Unfortunately, the Greek striker was eventually forced to quit soccer after his 1998 career-ending injury. Being almost as fast as Josef Bican with a record of just less than 11 seconds in 100 metres, Pontikas also experienced an eventful journey in youth soccer. He scored at least 10 goals on two occasions: 13 strikes in 1995 and 10 in 1997. Erling Haaland-like stats.

Athinaikos would have been the club to introduce him to the Greek first division if fate was on his side, but things turned out very differently. For Athinaikos, too. The 1991 Greek Cup finalists were relegated ten years later and have not returned to the top flight ever since.

There is a really long ”what might have been” list of players in the history of soccer. And without a doubt Pontikas sits very high on that list. Alongside Sonny Pike, but that’s another story.

Alex Torr: the fastest to score a hat-trick (2013)

On 16 November 1938, Willie Hall hit three times within three minutes for England against Northen Ireland (7-0) in Manchester. A performance more impressive than Lee Wai Tong’s five minute achievement 15 years earlier. On 28 November 1964, Scottish forward Tommy Ross bettered the 1938 record by scoring 3 for Ross County against Nairn County in just 90 seconds! Could such a record ever be beaten? Alex Torr had answer.

On 3 May 2013, 20 year-old sports science student Alex Torr scored 3 times in 70 seconds in the Sunday league of Sheffield to set a new world record. His first came on 11 minutes, another one followed 30 seconds later and his third came on 12 minutes and 10 seconds into the game. He also added a fourth as his side Rawson Springs went on to beat Winn Gardens by 7-1. Three days earlier Torr had notched another treble in three minutes in a 7-0 win over Penistone Church.

It is worth mentioning here that the Sunday league is extremely amateur and not even part of the 11 levels of the English soccer system. But a record is a record.

Stjepan Lucijanic: the player with the most consecutive hat-tricks (2016)

Hat-tricks are rarely achieved by the same player every single week. Jubilo Iwata’s Masashi Nakayama set a new world record in April 1998 when he scored 4 consecutive hat-tricks in the J League. Masashi would play soccer for 22 more years, retiring in 2020, aged 52!

On 8 November 2016, Croatian forward Stjepan Lucijanic beat Nakayama’s record, achieving one more hat-trick in row than the Japanese. Lucijanic helped his then recently re-established side NK Dracice Dakovo defeat NK Zrinski Drenje 10-0 in the seventh tier of the Croatian championship. That was Dracice Dakovo’s 11th victory in 11 games that season.

Lucijanic netted a total of 20 goals in 5 games, while six goals came in one game at the start of the season. His fastest was scored just 12 seconds after kick-off. By April 2017 the Croatian bomber and worker at the local Osijek Brewery factory had scored his 7th hat-trick for the ”reds” of NK Dracice Dakovo who would eventually win the league undefeated.

For the record Nakayama achieved another astonishing hat-trick feat during his career. It took him just three minutes and 33 seconds to score a treble for Japan against Brunei in the qualifying campaign for the 2000 AFC Asian Cup.

Ronaldinho: the ultimate goalscoring record in youth futsal (1993)

On 1 March 1970, 16 year-old Lucinho scored a hat-trick for the U-17 Minas Gerais selection in their 6-0 win over  Parana in the final tournament of the juvenile Brazilian State championship. A great performance, but not an unusual one in the youth soccer. Exactly 17 years earlier, on 1 March 1953, Luis Carlos had helped Guanabara celebrate the juvenile Brazilian State championship with 5 goals in their away 7-2 victory against Rio de Janeiro. On 30 May 2019, Erling Haaland bagged 9 goals in Norway’s 12-0 thrashing of Honduras in the U-20 FIFA World Cup in Poland. And as previously mentioned, 17 year-old Josef Bican hit the net 7 times on his debut for Rapid Wien’s youth side in 1931.

But none of these youth soccer records could match Ronaldinho’s performance in a futsal match in Porto Allegre in 1993. 13 year-old Ronaldinho scored his team’s all…23 goals in a school game (23-0) and he immediately made the local headlines. Although the opposition was extremely weak, those 23 goals were scored by one of the sport’s all-time greats and that record was the first of the many followed for the 2005 Ballon d’Or winner.

Ronaldinho would go on to enjoy an incredible career on the top level playing for Gremio, PSG, Barcelona and Milan before returning to South America. One can easily say that the skills Ronaldinho introduced to soccer were never seen before. His last team was Fluminense in 2015. He scored 2 hat-tricks for Brazil and he is one of the few players to win both the Copa Libertadores and Champions League.

More details about futsal? It is a 5-a-side game played in indoor arenas and it is very popular in Brazil, Mexico, and Argentina. Futsal is very similar to indoor soccer which is 6-a-side and originally developed in the USA and Canada. Brazilian Falcao (born in 1977) is considered the best player in the history of futsal.

But now let’s have a look at the players who scored the most hat-tricks in various leagues and tournaments all over the world.

Players with most hat-tricks scored: 

European Leagues

  • Serie A: Gunnar Nordahl (17)
  • La Liga: Cristiano Ronaldo (34)
  • Premier League: Alan Shearer (11)
  • Bundesliga: Robert Lewandowski (14)
  • Scottish Premier League: Henrik Larsson (12)
  • Portuguese League: Fernando Peyroteo (44)
  • French League: Thadée Cisowski (22)
  • Norwegian League: Sigurd Rushfeldt (11)
  • Croatian League: Igor Cvitanovic, Goran Vlaovic, Davor Vugrinec and Igor Pamic (6)
Cristiano Ronaldo scored 34 league hat-tricks for Real Madrid.

Other Leagues

  • Brasileirao: Roberto Dinamite (11)
  • MLS: Josef Martinez (6)
  • Japanese League: Ueslei (8)
  • Chinese League: Elkeson and Wu Lei (6)
  • Indian Super League: Iain Hume (3)
  • Indonesian Super League: Boaz Solossa (6)

International competitions

  • UEFA Champions League: Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo (8)
  • UEFA Europa League: Radamel Falcao (3)
  • African Champions League: Mrisho Ngasa (3)
  • World Cup: Sandor Kocsis, Just Fontaine, Gerd Muller and Gabriel Batistuta (2)
  • Copa America: Paolo Guerreo, Ademir, Javier Ambrois, Sylvio Pirillo, Severino Varela, Teodoro Fernandez, Herminio Masantonio, David Arellano and José Sanfilippo (2)
  • European Championship: Michel Platini (2)
  • Oceanian Championship: Kris Trajanovski and Damian Mori (3)