Josef Bican – The Greatest Goalscorer

f the question “who has scored the most goals in the history of football” was asked even someone with only a passing interest in the sport could probably reply Pele. Someone with more knowledge would possibly argue that is was the prolific German, Gerd Muller. And it is true that if all goals scored in friendly or benefit matches were included these two occupy the top two places with 1461 goals for Muller and 1389 goals for Pele. But if only goals scored in “official” matches are included then the top goal-scorer of all-time, according to the RSSSF (Rec.Sport.Soccer Statistics Foundation) is the now almost unknown Josef Bican with approximately 805 goals, from 530 matches.

Bican was born in Vienna, at that time the capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, on the 25th September 1913. Both of his parents were of Czech origin and Josef grew up in the Favoriten district of Vienna which was home to many immigrants from the historical Czech regions of Bohemia and Moravia. Football was one way in which the inhabitants of the district could escape from working in the local brickworks. Josef’s father, František, played for Hertha Vienna but in 1921, at the age of 30, died from a kidney injury sustained in a game against SK Rapid after refusing surgery.

František’s death left Ludmilla Bican and her three children without a regular income and the family struggled financially for a number of years. Josef often had to play bare-footed in kick-abouts with the local children but this only helped him to develop the technique which would prove to be so useful later in life. Between the ages of 12 and 14 Josef played for the junior sides of SK Slovan Vienna and Hertha Vienna where he received a schilling for every goal he scored. Between 15 and 18 he worked for local companies Schustek and Farbenlutz and also played for their company football teams. His 71 goals in 43 games for these teams brought him to the attention of Roman Schramseis, star defender for the Austrian national team and Rapid Vienna, probably the best Austrian side at the time.

Schramseis recommended Bican to Rapid’s trainer, Dionysius Schönecker, who decided to draft him into their youth team. His scoring exploits meant he passed quickly through Rapid’s youth, amateur and reserve sides and in September, 1931 – just before his 18th birthday Josef made his Austrian League debut against FK Austria Vienna. He scored a first-half hat-trick and added a fourth just before the final whistle in a game Rapid won 5-3. He finished the 1931-32 season with 10 goals in 8 games as Rapid finished 3rd. He added two more goals in the Austrian Cup in Rapid’s run to the semi-final.

The following season he managed 11 goals in 16 league matches and Rapid finished 2nd behind First Vienna FC 1894. Six more goals come in two Austrian Cup matches. Initially Josef received 150 schillings a week, around six times the average wage for a good worker at that time. In 1933, when he had turned 20, he had become so important to Rapid that they increased his wages to 600 schillings per week to try and prevent him from leaving.

In 1933-34 Rapid again finished as runners-up but Josef was the league top-scorer with 29 goals in only 22 games. His prolific scoring brought him to the attention of the legendary coach of the Austrian national team, Hugo Meisl and Bican made his international debut in November, 1933, against Scotland at Hampden Park. He failed to score but set-up both Austrian goals in the 2-2 draw. His first international goal came in his second game, the 1-0 win away to the Netherlands the following month then he scored twice in successive matches versus Switzerland and Hungary in the spring of 1934.

Austria qualified for the 1934 World Cup in Italy thanks to a 6-1 win over Bulgaria although Bican was surprisingly not on the score-sheet. The Austria Wunderteam was one of the best in the world at that time thanks to stars like Matthias Sindelar, Josef Smistik and Walter Nausch and they were amongst the tournament favourites.

The format for the 1934 World Cup was a straight knockout and Austria were drawn against France in the First Round. Bican’s extra-time goal helped Austria to a 3-2 win. After a 2-1 triumph over Hungary they came up against the hosts Italy in the Semi-finals but lost 1-0. For the 3rd/4th place playoff against Germany Austria were much changed but Bican kept his place although he failed to score and Austria were beaten 3-2. In his four World Cup matches Bican had found the net only once and would never play in another World Cup finals match during his career.

In 1934-35 Rapid Vienna went unbeaten for the whole season and easily won the Austrian championship. But Bican barely participated in their title win playing only 3 games, in which he scored twice. He had fallen out with the club as he felt their playing style just didn’t suit his own. Slavia Prague approached Bican with an offer but he turned them down as they played in a similar style to Rapid Vienna. Rapid tried to entice Bican with an improved contract but it was too late and in 1935 signed for Rapid’s rivals SK Admira Vienna. In total he scored 68 goals in 61 official games during his time at Rapid.

Because of his problems with Rapid Bican missed Austria’s next four internationals after the 1934 World Cup but he returned to the national team’s line-up for the 0-0 home draw with Czechoslovakia in April 1935. He then played in six of Austria’s eight matches in 1935-36. He scored his only international hat-trick in the 4-4 draw with Hungary in the Dr. Gero Cup scored once in each of the following three internationals versus Spain, Portugal and Czechoslavakia and his last two goals for Austria came in the 3-5 defeat to Hungary in April 1936. The following month Austria won their first ever game against England with a 2-1 victory with Bican putting in an excellent performance but failing to find the net. His final Austrian cap came in the 3-1 win over neighbours Switzerland in November 1936. In 19 international matches Bican scored 14 times.

Bican was banned for much of the 1935-36 Austrian league season due to breaching his contract with Rapid Vienna and only played 15 games for Admira. Despite Bican scoring only 8 goals in those games Admira easily won the Austrian title thanks to 23 goals from his strike partners Wilhelm Hahnemann and 15 from Adolf Vogl. Admira retained their title in 1936-37 with Bican scoring 11 times in 10 games.

In the Spring of 1937 Slavia Prague made another approach for him and this time he felt the time was right to leave Austria and move to his ancestral home of Czechoslovakia. Admira were most unhappy at this turn of events and initially threatened to not release his playing registration for four years, later reducing this to two years. After Slavia threatened legal action, and made a lucrative financial offer to the Austrians Admira finally relented.

Whilst his scoring exploits in Austria had been impressive when he moved to Czechoslovakia they quickly became phenomenal. On his home debut for Slavia in the Czech Cup against Bohemians in September 1937 he scored four times in a 7-1 win and repeated the feat in Slavia’s in the 4-1 home win over SK Nachod in the league. He finished as the league top scorer with 22 goals but Slavia could only manage the runners-up spot behind their city rivals Sparta. In 1938 the Czech league separated into one division for clubs from Bohemia and Moravia and another for Slovak clubs. The following year saw the outbreak of World War Two but the league continued throughout the conflict. Over the next six seasons Bican scored an incredible 258 goals in 126 league games and added 30 more from 15 Czech Cup matches.

50 goals came in 20 goals in the 1939-40 season, including seven in the 10-1 win versus Baťa Zlín. He repeated this feat the next season in Slavia’s 12-1 win over the same opponents. His most prolific season was in 1943-44 when his record was 57 goals in 23 games. He was the top scorer not only in the Bohemian and Moravia League but also in the whole world five seasons in a row between 1940 and 1944. Bican’s goals helped Slavia to four consecutive league titles and also the Czech Cup in 1941 and 1942.

Following Austria’s annexation into Germany in 1938 he was approached to play for the German national team. Instead he applied for Czech nationality in the hope he could appear for Czechoslovakia in the 1938 World Cup. Unfortunately there was insufficient time for Bican to become a Czech citizen, a requirement for obtaining a Czech passport, and so he was forced to miss the World Cup. His Czech citizenship was then awarded two days after the tournament had ended and made his debut in Stockholm against Sweden a short time later. He scored a hat-trick and in his third game for Czechoslovakia, at home to Romania, he went one better giving him 8 goals in his first three games for them.

The Second World War and the break up of Czechoslavakia in 1939 prevented him playing another international for them until 1946. However, he played one game for Bohemia in the 5-5 draw against Ostmark (the name given to the former country of Austria after the Anschluss with Nazi Germany) in which he scored a hat-trick. Shortly after the resumption of his international career with Czechoslovakia, at the age of 33, he played against his home country of Austria in Prague. He narrowly failed to score in the 4-3 win. He went on to win another eleven caps but only managed four goals with a brace in successive matches against Yugoslavia and Poland in 1947. His final international game was the 3-1 home defeat by Bulgaria in September 1949.

When the united Czech League returned in 1945 Bican played another four seasons for Slavia, winning another title in 1947 and prolonging his run sequence of league top scorer to eight seasons. He scored seven goals in a game for the third time during Slavia’s 15-1 win over České Budějovice in 1947. Juventus approached him about a move to Turin but Bican refused due to worries about the rise of Communism in Italy.

In 1948 the Communists took power in Prague and as Bican refused to join their party he was forced to leave the city. He moved to Second Division club Vítkovické Zelezarny, a club with working class roots from the steel-making city of Ostrava. He helped them to promotion in his first season and then scored 22 goals in 1950 as they finished fourth in the First Division. These enabled him to finish as the league’s top scorer for the 10th and final time in his career.

In 1953 he spent one season with Hradec Králové before he was once more forced to relocate due to pressure from the local Communist Party. He returned to Prague to become player-coach of Slavia, now remained Dynamo by the Communists. He played on for another two seasons before retiring at the age of 42. In total he scored over 550 goals for Slavia/Dynamo in about 300 official games.

He then coached numerous Czech clubs before a three year spell in Belgium with KSK Tongeren between 1969 and 1972 where he brought about two successive promotions. After one season coaching the Czech Second Division club Benešov in 1977 Bican retired. He died at the age of 88 in a Prague hospital from heart disease in December 2001, 12 years after receiving the freedom of the city.



About Jeff Lawrence

Hi, My name is Jeff Lawrence and I'm a writer, photographer and Boro fan from north-east England who has an interest in football history, in particular that relating to Dutch (thanks to eight years living in the Netherlands) and Peruvian (thanks to a wife from Peru) football. Another interest is how English managers and players played their part in the development of football overseas, particularly in the early part of the 20th century.
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1 Response to Josef Bican – The Greatest Goalscorer

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