10 Billy Gillespie (1897-1905)
Billy Gillespie enjoyed eight productive years with City, winning two Division Two Championships and the FA Cup.
A great player in his own right, he was fortunate to have the legendary Billy Meredith supplying him pinpoint crosses on a regular basis and for the first game of the 1898–99 season, both Meredith and Gillespie scored hat-tricks in a 7–2 win over Grimsby Town – still City’s best opening result to date.
Gillespie joined the club from Lincoln City in 1897. Good-humoured and skilful on the ball, it was no wonder he was popular with supporters and his best season for City was in 1902–03 when he notched 30 goals in 33 games, including a run of 27 in 22 matches. He added 21 in 30 games the following season and in 1905 he quit football and moved to South Africa. He has occupied a position in the top 10 for some 111 years.
9 Fred Tilson (1928-1938)
Fred Tilson’s decade with City produced a goal ratio close to one every two games and but for injury, could easily have sat atop this prestigious list. Tilson had forged a prolific partnership with winger Eric Brook at Barnsley and City decided that rather than break up the pair, the Club should buy them both and for just £6,000, Tilson and Brook swapped Oakwell for Maine Road. It was an inspired move by the Blues with the pair going on to net more than 300 goals over the next decade from a combined total close on 800 games.
Tilson’s career with City was hampered by a serious injury against Manchester United at the start of his second full season with the Club and it wasn’t until the 1932/33 campaign that he finally won back his full fitness and the goals began to flow reaching double figures for the next six years.
But for injury, Tilson would likely have been at the top of this list.
8 Tommy Browell (1913-1926)
Tommy Browell was one of City’s greatest ever strikers and still sits proudly in the all-time top 10 some 90 years after leaving the Blues. After starting his career with Hull City, it wasn’t long before Everton spotted his talent and signed him for £1,650 and his return of 12 goals from 17 games very nearly won the title for the Merseyside Blues. City then secured his services in 1913 with a bid of £1,780 shortly after and it proved to be an excellent investment for the club.
Browell made a scoring debut in a 2-1 home defeat to Sheffield Wednesday and bagged 13 from 27 starts in the 1913–14 season. Shortly after, Horace Barnes signed for £2,500, though the two strikers hardly played together during 1914–15. Then the war meant another enforced gap before Browell played for City again during the 1919–20 season. At last, the Barnes and Browell partnership exploded with 22 goals each. The following season (1920–21) saw Browell hit 31goals and Barnes 17 as City finished runners-up in Division One. The pair then scored a further 41 goals during the 1921–22 campaign.
Browell scored eight hat-tricks for City, including all four against former club Everton in a 4–4 draw and five of the eight goals that City put past Burnley in an 8–3 home win. He settled in Blackpool after he retired and became a tram driver, passing away on 5 October 1955.
7 Francis Lee (1967-1974)
Francis Lee signed for City in 1967 with the Blues paying Bolton Wanderers £60,000 for the 23-year-old who would go on to become one of the Club’s finest servants.
A lethal finisher with a cannonball shot, Franny was the all-time penalty king of Maine Road, notching a record 15 in one season and winning many of them himself with – some believe – outrageous dives (never!) earning him the nickname ‘Lee One Pen’. He averaged just under a goal every other game for City but was controversially sold to Derby County in 1974. Still angry at City’s decision to sell him – or even to consider selling him after all he had achieved for the club - he inspired Derby to the First Division Championship and scored a blistering goal on his return to Maine Road. Part of the suitably named ‘Holy Trinity’ of Bell, Summerbee and Lee, he remains one of the Club’s greatest players.
6 Billy Meredith (1894-1905 & 1921-1924)
Billy Meredith may have played for City for the first time more than 120 years ago but his legend lives on to this day. Meredith – a somewhat controversial character – is ranked by many alongside the great Sir Stanley Matthews in stature and was a magnet for football fans and the media in his day.
Bandy-legged and invariably chewing a toothpick, Meredith was a fantastic footballer and the scourge of many an Edwardian defender. The immensely talented right winger could pinpoint a cross for a forward or cut inside and lash the ball home himself if the mood took him – and it often did.
With 151 goals for the club, he has held a place in the top 5 for 111 years and bit for a scandal that rocked football, he would have played maybe 200 more games for the Blues and probably added another 100 goals.
Meredith was involved in a bribe and illegal payment scandal that ended with him and several other top City stars joining joined Manchester United, inspiring the Reds to great success. He finally returned to City in 1921, but his best years were well behind him. He was aged just a 120 days short of his 50th birthday when he played his game for the Club – a 2–0 defeat to Newcastle United in an FA Cup semi-final – and remains the oldest player to represent the Blues.
5 Joe Hayes (1953-1965)
Had a serious knee injury prematurely ended his stay with the Club, Joe Hayes would probably have been City’s all-time top goal-scorer. Just 26 short of Eric Brook’s record of 178, Hayes was a poacher supreme and scored one of the goals in the 1956 FA Cup final victory over Birmingham City.
A pocket dynamo, Hayes arrived for a trial game at Maine Road with his boots in a brown-paper parcel and duly scored four goals. Two months later, he made his debut against Tottenham Hotspur aged only 17. Joe had worked in a cotton mill and a colliery before signing for the Blues so it wasn’t difficult for him to keep his feet on the ground at a huge club like City. At 5 feet 8 inches high, he wasn’t the tallest of forwards and he also had poor eyesight, too, but Joe Hayes made the very best of his ability.
He played alongside the likes of Dave Ewing, Bobby Johnstone, Johnny Hart, Don Revie and Joe Fagan – the latter three becoming managers at City, Leeds and Liverpool respectively – but his only international honours were two England Under-23 caps – scant reward for such a prolific striker.
Hayes was badly injured against Bury in 1963 and played just two more games for City in the next 18 months before moving on.
4 Colin Bell (1966 -1979)
Colin Bell remains one of the greatest players to have ever played for City. With his limitless energy, skill and all-round ability, he was the beating heart of one of the most successful Manchester City sides ever.
Bell was signed by Joe Mercer from Bury on 16 March 1966 after the club finally managed to raise the necessary £45,000 asking price. It took Malcolm Allison’s constant criticism in the stands at Gigg Lane to discourage the hordes of scouts watching the youngster, as England’s most respected coach reeled off one made-up deficiency about Bell after another. It gave City long enough to raise the funds needed and he went straight into the side that won the Second Division Championship and, from there on, he made the No. 8 shirt his own from 1966–67 to mid-November 1975.
A testament to his ability during those nine years is that Bell only failed to score less than ten League goals per season on three occasions – a record many strikers would not be able to match. ‘Nijinsky’, as he was also known (after another famous thoroughbred, this time a racehorse), went on to win 48 caps for England.
Bell was in his prime when he suffered a serious knee injury during a Manchester derby causing severe knee ligament damage. He somehow battled back to play a handful of games for the Blues and after his testimonial in December 1978 – a Manchester v Merseyside match – he was forced to retire in August 1979. A Club legend in every sense of the word.
3 Tommy Johnson (1919-1930)
Goals: 166 goals
Tommy Johnson holds the record for League goals scored for City in one season with a grand total of 38, though City had defender Eli Fletcher to thank for his signing. Fletcher insisted the Club sign the promising youngster from Dalton Casuals or else he would leave the Blues – Fletcher might unknowingly have been one of the first football agents of his day!
Fortunately, the Club heeded his advice and Johnson marked his debut in 1919 with a goal, but would take three more years to establish himself fully in the Blues’ starting line-up, forming an impressive partnership with Horace Barnes and also won two international caps for England while at City.
The popular striker finally moved on to Everton in 1930 for £6,000, much to the supporters chagrin and ironically played a large part in the Toffees’ 1933 FA Cup final win over the Blues
2 Eric Brook (1928 -1940)
Eric Brook was an unorthodox outside-left who often popped up in the centre-forward position if the occasion demanded.
Standing just five feet and six inches tall, the England international also possessed a thunderous shot and was the natural penalty-taker for the team. He rarely missed a game and, with 178 goals for the Blues, he has remained at the top of the goal-scoring chart for 76 years – an incredible record for a winger.
The key to his success was consistency and he scored double-figures for an incredible 11 consecutive seasons and deserves to be remembered as perhaps the best winger City have ever had.
Eric retired in 1940 following a motor accident and sadly passed away in March 1965.
1 Sergio Aguero
The greatest striker City have ever had? Without doubt.
Sergio began life in Argentina with Independiente before earning a move to Atletico Madrid where he hit 101 goals in 234 games between 2006 and 2011.
He was still only 23 when the Blues smashed the Club record transfer fee to bring him to Manchester and he announced his arrival with two goals from the bench against Swansea and has been breaking Club records ever since.
He wrote his name into City folklore with his title-winning goal against QPR in his debut season and now, in his sixth season with the Blues, just imagine where he might be had he not missed 46 Premier League games through either injury or suspension…