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Not Just A Number

At the end of the recent football season, my son issued me with a transfer request to move to an under 8’s team at another local club. Having trained with his new club for a couple of weeks, he received his kit at last week’s training session just in time for the forthcoming gala on the Sunday. More important, for him, than the style or fit of the kit was the number printed on the back. He happened to have received the number 23 jersey. “Great” we thought. “Just like David Beckham” we said. “But I really wanted 14 like Chicharito” he replied. His dad didn’t help by saying “I always wanted number to be 7, & I was!” Cries of “not fair” could be heard but started me wondering about the importance of the numbered jersey to the player.

Numbered shirts were first introduced to professional football in August 1928 for a match between Arsenal & Sheffield United. This allowed the fans &, more importantly, the referee to easily distinguish players on the pitch. The numbers were originally assigned based on the player position but is not an FA requirement & teams are free to allocate numbers to players as they wish.During the 1982 World Cup, England numbered the team alphabetically by surname with the exception of the goalkeepers & the number 7 of the captain, Kevin Keegan.

The number 7 jersey is particularly popular at Manchester United, being worn by the likes of George Best, Bryan Robson, Eric Cantona, David Beckham & Cristiano Ronaldo.

The number 9 is often reserved for the ‘pure strikers’ of the team. Bobby Charlton, Alan Shearer, Gabriel Batistuta & Marco van Basten among those thought worthy to wear a number 9 jersey.

Mythically, it is thought the number 10 shirt belongs to the most skilful player in the squad. Pelé, Diego Maradona, Zinedine Zidane, Michel Platini, Jimmy Greaves, Gary Lineker & Lionel Messi all members of the prestigious number 10 club. It is believed that Pelé only wore the number 10 during the 1958 World Cup due to an admin error. The Brazilian Football Confederation forgot to send the player number list to FIFA, leaving FIFA to distribute numbers. Obviously, Pelé was assigned number 10. Having scored 6 goals in 4 matches, & receiving the young player of the tournament award, he never wore any other number but the 10 from then on. Interestingly, Carlos Tevez has just moved to Juventus where fans were angry that he had been given the special number 10 shirt previously worn by Zinedine Zidane, Michelle Platini and club legend Alessandro Del Piero:


Occasionally, jersey numbers are retired to honour a particular player. For example, the number 6 at West Ham in honour of England great Bobby Moore, & Manchester City retired the 23 after the death of Marc-Vivien Foe whilst playing for his country, Cameroon.

Whilst Chicharito may not be seen as a legend quite yet, the number 14 certainly is. Worn by Johan Cruyff, a three times winner of the Ballon d’Or, bettered only last year by Lionel Messi. Ajax retired the number on Cruyff’s 60th birthday in 2007.

For now though, the number 23 has proven lucky for my son. He scored his first goal for his club last Sunday but I think the quest is still on for the 14!

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