Football is all about scoring goals and much as a brilliant save, a perfectly timed tackle or a deliciously weighted pass are all beautiful and noteworthy in their own ways, it is, invariably, goalscorers who take most of the acclaim. Scoring one goal is often enough to win a game, whilst if a player can manage two, a brace, that really is something special. But there is no doubt that every striker dreams of scoring a hat trick in a big game.
In this article, we take a look at what a hat trick is (we’re sure this is not a spoiler, but it simply means a player scoring three times in a game), where the name comes from and a few hat-trick facts and stats. We’ll also look at the concept of a “perfect hat trick”, “flawless hat trick” and the even rarer “perfect flawless hat trick”.
What Is a Hat Trick?
As we have said, a hat trick (which can also be written as hat-trick or hattrick) is when a single player scores three goals in a game. That seems straightforward enough but for complete clarity, note that own goals are not included in this. So if a player was to score an own goal but then make amends by notching two at the correct end of the pitch, that player would not be said to have scored a hat trick.
Another thing to note is that whilst injury time (or the extra quarter of the game if the 2022 World Cup is anything to go by) always counts with regards to a hat trick, goals in penalty shootouts do not. As for extra time, in statistical and conversational terms this will almost always count.
This is why, for example, we talk about Geoff Hurst as being the only player to score a hat trick in a World Cup final, even though his goals came in the 18th minute, the 98th minute and the final minute of extra time. In betting terms, such a performance might or might not be classed as a hat trick. What we mean by this is that if you make a bet on a player to score a hat trick in any cup game, you should check whether it relates to 90 minutes only, or if goals in extra time will be included. With most bookies, such bets are only based on the 90 minutes (plus stoppage time) of a game.
Where Does the Name Come From?
Now we know what a hat trick is, how about considering why the feat of bagging three goals is so called? Well, the term hat trick is certainly not unique to football and is used in pretty much any sport where a player might score three of anything. Three tries in rugby is a hat trick, as is three goals in hockey, whilst should a side, player or even a horse win three leagues, tournaments or races in a row, or the same one three years running, this too is called a hat trick. Quite simply, the term hat trick is now used very widely to describe various achievements that involve triple success.
That leaves us none the wiser as to why a football hat trick is a hat trick though. For that, we have to look to the sport where the phrase originates – cricket. Back in the 1800s, a bowler by the name of H.H. Stephenson took three wickets in three balls. This is known as a hat trick in cricket and that is because the good folk of Stephenson’s club decided to honour and reward his feat by buying him a hat!
Does the Player Keep the Ball?
A modern player bagging a treble does not typically get a hat, but it is true that they get to keep the ball (and quite probably a substantial bonus as per the terms of their contract)! Usually their teammates will sign the ball, adding some standard football banter, or perhaps even a heartfelt message if they are feeling kind.
Players usually cherish such mementoes and keep them along with other memorabilia gathered during their careers. They may display these at home, donate them to museums or keep them safely locked away, whilst some players will donate them to charities and other groups to help them raise funds.
In 2022, a rampant Manchester City hammered rivals United 6-3 and both Erling Haaland and Phil Foden bagged a triple. After the game, Ilkay Gundogan bravely grabbed the match ball from his side’s giant Norwegian goal machine and threw it to Foden. This made many people wonder what exactly happens when more than one player scores a hat trick in the same match.
The issue was simply resolved though when many people realised that, especially in the modern game, there is no single match ball. Instead, with the multi-ball system employed in most professional leagues, there are, well, many balls. More than enough for Little Phil and Big Erling to have one each.
What Is a Perfect Hat Trick?
For any player, even the record-smasher, Haaland, all hat tricks are magical and perfect in their own way. However, you may hear the term “perfect hat trick” being used in football and wonder what exactly it means. Is this just hyperbole? Is it a term reserved for an especially spectacular hat trick, or one that wins the match? Or something else?
The answer is something else. A perfect hat trick is not one that consists of three “worldies”, nor is it one that wins the game 3-2. It is not the commentator getting carried away and it isn’t a triple where they are the only goals of the game. Instead, a perfect hat trick is one where a player scores one goal with their left foot, one with their right and one with their head. It is debatable whether such a feat is especially noteworthy or impressive, or whether it requires its own special description.
Nonetheless, a perfect hat trick is still quite rare and does demonstrate that a forward, for hat tricks are overwhelmingly scored by such players, possesses all the finishing tools of their trade. That said, a perfect hat trick could be the term used when one goal is scored from within the six-yard box, one from the penalty area and one from outside the box. That too, arguably to a greater extent, would show that a striker had all the finishing tools.
However, it is – like all things are – what it is, and that is, right foot, left foot, header (though not necessarily in that order). Countless perfect hat tricks have been scored over the years in the English top flight and around the world. When it comes to the relatively short history of the Premier League though, only two players have scored more than one, Robbie Fowler and Yakubu.
It is interesting, and we would say no coincidence, that only one man has scored three and that that player is Robbie Fowler. In some respects the Liverpool legend underachieved but nobody can match his PL tally of three perfect hat tricks, all for the Reds. Fowler was one of the greatest natural finishers the game has seen. Brilliant with both feet and a clinical header of the ball who timed his runs and jumps superbly, his aerial prowess belied his diminutive stature. You can see one of the three here.
Flawless Hat Trick
Whilst most football fans who have watched the game long enough will be familiar with a perfect hat trick, or at the very least have heard the term used, fewer will know what a flawless hat trick is. It is not really something we say in English football but instead comes from Germany.
In the land of engineering, efficiency and litre steins of beer, a hat trick is actually only used to describe the situation where the same player scores three consecutive goals in a match. This event is self-evidently rarer than a standard English hat trick but when all three goals are scored in the same half, it is known as a lupenreiner hat trick, which translates as flawless.
So, to clarify, a flawless hat trick is when the same player scores three consecutive goals in a single half. This has happened several times in the Premier League, perhaps most notably when Man United hammered Nottingham Forest 8-1 in 1999. This was just a few months before the Red Devils would complete their incredible treble and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was already proving just how efficient he could be from the bench.
Against Forest, the Norwegian was sent on with less than 20 minutes to go, his side ahead 4-1. Reportedly his instructions were “We’re winning 4–1 so there’s no need to do anything stupid – just keep the ball.”. He did rather more than that, scoring not just a hat trick from the bench, not just a flawless treble as a sub, but bagging four consecutive goals in the last 10 minutes plus stoppage time!
What Is a Perfect Flawless Hat Trick?
A perfect flawless hat trick is, as you might have been able to deduce, a hat trick that meets both criteria already detailed. It is “perfect”, in as much as one goal is scored with each of the player’s feet, the other with their head, whilst it is flawless in that all three goals come in the same half of the game and consecutively, without goals from any other player(s) in between.
This is a very rare feat indeed and there are no stats concerning this achievement, in part because the concept of the flawless hat trick is not particularly big beyond German football. That said, Cristiano Ronaldo has a perfect flawless hat trick to his name, bagging his special treble against Getafe for Real Madrid in 2013.
In the Premier League, one player to achieve this was the aforementioned Yakubu. As noted, the Nigerian bagged two perfect trebles and one of those, scored for Everton against Fulham, was also flawless! Feed the Yak indeed. Rare as this accomplishment is in the Premier League (and in general), one man to have his name on the perfect-flawless list is, of course, Erling Haaland.
He scored the first three in City’s 6-0 win over Nottingham Forrest, doing so in “perfect” fashion. The Norwegian will surely break so many PL records in his career but to have bagged a perfect flawless treble already may well be his most impressive feat and also a great illustration that as a striker he has it all.
Hat Trick Trivia
Whilst data on the above, rather niche, achievement, is relatively thin on the ground, there are stats and facts aplenty about hat tricks in general. Here are some of our favourites (correct as of December 2022):
- Most in Premier League History – Sergio Aguero has 12 trebles (Alan Shearer is next with 11).
- Haaland Part 1 – After just eight games, Haaland matched the career PL hat trick tallies of: Didier Drogba, Robbie Keane, Frank Lampard, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Theo Walcott.
- Haaland Part 2 – Aged just 22, the Leeds-born striker had 15 career hat tricks. For reference, Sergio Aguero managed 17 in his whole career and Robert Lewandowski currently has 22. Can the Norwegian catch Ronaldo, who may not add to his current tally of 60?
- First World Cup Hat Trick – This was scored by an American, Bert Patenaude, in 1930, against Paraguay.
- 1954 World Cup: Hat Trick Heaven – There were a record eight hat tricks at the tournament in Switzerland, Hungarian Sandor Kocsis registering two with seven goals against South Korea and West Germany.
- Pele – Pele is the youngest scorer of a World Cup hat trick (he was just 17 in 1958) and has, depending on what source you believe, 92 career trebles!
- League of Nations – Players from 46 nations have scored a Premier League hat trick, with Jamaica, Gabon, Costa Rica, Finland, Australia, Togo, Bulgaria and Chile among the many nations represented.
- First Perfect Hat Trick – Eric Cantona bagged the first Premier League hat trick in August 1992 but a few months later Norwich’s Mark Robins recorded the first perfect hat trick as his side beat Oldham 3-2.
- Rapid – Sadio Mane scored the fastest PL triple, needing just two minutes and 56 seconds to score three for Southampton against Villa. Five other players have achieved the feat in fewer than 10 minutes.
- Headed Hat Tricks – Duncan Ferguson for Everton, and Salomon Rondon now of the Toffees but playing for West Brom at the time, are the only players to score a headed hat trick in the PL.