289 Goals in One Season:
The Paul Moulden Story
By David Clayton
One of our most-read features of all time gets another airing as we rediscover the remarkable story of a record-breaking finisher…
It was a record that left people scratching their head.
How was it even possible?
In one unforgettable season, Paul Moulden bagged 289 goals in 40 games – 7.2 goals every match on average – the kind of record that today would have top scouts around Europe scrambling to sign the slightly-built teenage striker.
In fact, that was just league games – he ended up with 340 in all competitions!
His achievement came in the colours of the all-conquering Bolton Lads Club when he was just 14 as a group of talented teens swept all before them.
Paul’s uncle believed his nephew’s goal-scoring feats may merit more than just honourable mentions here and there in the local press and wrote to the Guinness Book of Records who, after a process of verification, agreed it was worthy of inclusion as the most prolific schoolboy in world football.
It’s a record even Lionel Messi can’t top...
City were aware of Moulden and kept a watchful eye on the Bolton-born talent and after being invited to train with City at junior level, two years later, Moulden signed his first YTS (Youth Training Scheme) contract for the Blues aged 17 - despite a queue of clubs that included Manchester United, Leeds United, Arsenal and Everton all wanting to sign him up.
But City were his team and as a lifelong Blue, he was realising a boyhood dream signing for City.
And he was soon doing what he did best, scoring goals at youth and reserve (now EDS) level, but this time for City.
Moulden went straight into the 1984/85 City youth team and scored in each of the first three FA Youth Cup rounds for City who were eventually knocked out by Newcastle United.
The following season he scored six in the first four rounds, and it was his double strike that overturned a 1-0 FA Youth Cup semi-final first leg loss against Arsenal into a 2-1 aggregate win for the Blues.
McNeill pitched the teenager in for his debut on New Year’s Day 1986 and City won 1-0 thanks to a Mark Lillis winner - he was off and running and there was plenty of hype in the press about this stellar youth prospect.
The 1986 FA Youth Cup final was against Manchester United and after drawing 1-1 in front of 7,602 fans at Old Trafford, a crowd of 18,164 turned out at Maine Road for the return leg that saw Moulden score a gem to set the young Blues on the way to a 2-0 win and a maiden FA Youth Cup triumph.
He’d scored nine goals along that FA Youth Cup run and been integral in the Blues winning the trophy for the first time in its 35-year history.
He also scored in the 5-1 Lancashire Youth Cup final win over Wigan Athletic that season. He couldn’t stop scoring, in fact.
Moulden was a natural, instinctive goal poacher who was quick, intelligent, and able to score tap-ins and 30-yard screamers with equal ease.
He had everything in his locker to become one of the game's greatest goal-scorers.
To the City fans, he was the long-term solution to a City senior team that contained several ageing journeymen strikers and free transfer signings.
He was very much ‘one of our own’ as the terrace chant goes.
Under Billy McNeill, City had won promotion from the second tier the previous season but would struggle during the 1985/86 campaign.
Turing to older heads, Moulden played just once more senior game that season, coming on as a sub in a 1-0 loss to Watford.
The supporters were desperate to see Moulden– top scorer for the reserves - given his chance, especially as the Blues had managed just 41 goals in 42 games.
McNeill quit City at the start of the 1986/87 campaign and was replaced by his No.2, Jimmy Frizzell, who blooded several members of the FA Youth Cup-winning side including Paul Lake, David White and Ian Brightwell and when Moulden’s chance came for a run in the side, he didn’t disappoint, scoring four goals in four games before picking up an injury that hampered his progress and an inexperienced City were relegated.
It was the start of a catalogue of minor and then serious setbacks for the Bolton-born youngster.
He had finished the campaign with five goals from 16 starts before sustaining a broken leg in training that would keep him out of almost the entire 1987/88 season. It was a hammer blow at exactly the wrong time.
With new signings Paul Stewart and Imre Varadi the chosen front pairing - and both scoring regularly, chances are Moulden would have had to wait for further opportunities anyway, but with the Blues forced to sell Stewart and Varadi moving on, in 1988/89, manager Mel Machin gave the supporters what they wanted, and Moulden was first choice striker throughout the campaign.
Again, Moulden didn’t disappoint, scoring 17 goals from 35 starts in all competitions as City were promoted back to the top flight.
Surely now the 22-year-old had done enough and could look forward to leading the line as a first choice striker? It seemed he hadn't..
Machin was indifferent to Moulden's talent and allowed his contract to run down with a series of derisory extension offers that left the youngster with no options.
When Machin returned to his former club Bournemouth to buy classy midfielder Ian Bishop, the cash-strapped Blues had to let Moulden go as part of the deal.
His 26 goals from 58 starts (he also came off the bench a further 21 times) had not been enough to convince his manager and his value helped City pay for Bishop.
Despite Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson and Nottingham Forest legend Brian Clough both indicating they were keen to take him on, his availability went under the radar and with no agent, he headed south to play for Harry Redknapp's side.
Moulden enjoyed a solid first campaign with the Cherries, scoring 13 goals in 38 games, before a spat with a team-mate led to him joining Oldham Athletic a year later, then under Joe Royle’s tutelage.
Another broken leg sustained shortly after his move meant his time with the Latics was severely hampered by injury and he started just 19 games in three years.
Further spells at Brighton, Birmingham, Huddersfield, and Rochdale followed before he was forced to retire aged 28 with his numerous bone injuries finally taking their toll.
In total, he’d suffered four broken legs during his playing days and had numerous other niggling injury issues that made continuing his career impossible.
He remained involved with football, coaching at City’s Academy for a while and he even turned out for Accrington Stanley during their non-League days.
He also followed in his parents’ footsteps when he opened a fish and chip shop in Bolton, just a stone’s throw from the Bolton Lads Club where his footballing adventure first began, and 'Paul's Chippy' still thrived up until a couple of years ago.
Paul's youngest son, Louie - played for City’s Under-18s for a while and is now with Wolves, while older brother Joe is coaching at university in the US. Ted Moulden is the kitman at Bolton Wanderers as the football family traditions continue.
Paul Moulden was one of the Club’s most naturally gifted homegrown strikers, and but for a wretched run of injuries, we can only guess how bright his star might have shone.
But 289 league goals in one season?