The birth of squad numbers, part 1

It was perhaps fitting that, having played each other in 1928 in one of the games where numbers were first used experimentally, Arsenal and Sheffield Wednesday should meet in both of England’s domestic cup finals in 1993, when squad numbers were seen for the first time at club level.

Whether this would have been tried if the finalists in the Coca-Cola and FA Cup finals had been different, we’ll never know. That they were the same allows us to indulge a bit of geekery as we compare the two sides’ line-ups, beginning with Wednesday.

We’re not sure how far in advance of the final the managers had to submit their numbers, but clearly Trevor Francis had a good idea of who he’d play in the Coca-Cola Cup final. The only starting player with a number above 11 in this game – and indeed both the drawn and replayed cup final – was Wednesday’s goalscorer in their 2-1 defeat, John Harkes, whose 15 was close enough to the 5 which was missing.


By the time the FA Cup final came around in May, Wednesday’s number 5 was fully fit after injury, and able to start. Up front.

Star striker David Hirst had been injured for much of the season, prompting Francis to switch Paul Warhurst from defence to attack, with some exceptional results. He had been given 9 for the finals, with Hurst allocated 5, and played as a striker in the Coca-Cola decider, but was in defence alongside Viv Anderson this time, with number 4 Carlton Palmer moving to midfield as Danny Wilson (7) missed out. A 1-1 draw resulted in what would be the last-ever FA Cup final replay.


The only change to the side saw Wilson return instead of Anderson, with Palmer dropping back into defence.


The Wednesday squad list in full read:

  1. Chris Woods
  2. Roland Nilsson
  3. Nigel Worthington
  4. Carlton Palmer
  5. David Hirst
  6. Viv Anderson
  7. Danny Wilson
  8. Chris Waddle
  9. Paul Warhurst
  10. Mark Bright
  11. John Sheridan
  12. Peter Shirtliff
  13. Chris Bart-Williams
  14. John Harkes
  15. Phil King
  16. Graham Hyde
  17. Nigel Jemson
  18. Ryan Jones
  19. Kevin Pressman
  20. Nigel Pearson
  21. Simon Stewart
  22. Gordon Watson
  23. Julian Watts (he didn’t have a brainwave and look for number 40 until he joined Luton Town in 1999)

It’s interesting (for us, anyway) to then compare that list with that submitted to the Premier League when squad numbers became permanent at the start of 1993-94. Numbers 1-4 remained the same, as did Waddle, Bright and Sheridan in the first 11. Captain Nigel Pearson, injured for the latter part of 92-93, moved from 21 to 5 as Hirst was in his more familiar 9.

With Danny Wilson having joined Barnsley to join Viv Anderson (see below), Warhurst was shunted to 7 but joined Blackburn Rovers soon after the start of the season. Australian Adem Poric took over 7 when he joined in October but didn’t make much of an impact in five years in Sheffield. Some of the lower-order numbers differed slightly, with the most notable move being reserve goalkeeper Kevin Pressman, who switched from 20 to 13, which most clubs designated for the back-up keeper.

The strangest occurrence of all, however, was the number 6 being given to Brian Linighan after Viv Anderson became player-manager at Barnsley. Linighan, the younger brother of Andy – who scored Arsenal’s winner in the FA Cup final replay – and David, who captained Ipswich Town, was only 19 at the start of the season but he would make just one league appearance for Wednesday, in January 1994. He remained at the club until 1998 but by that stage had been demoted to number 24. He then made three appearances for Bury before playing for a succession of non-league sides.

One thought on “The birth of squad numbers, part 1

  1. This was only possible at the League Cup Final was played (on what is now FA Cup Semi Final weekend)
    18 April, in recent years the League Cup final is played at the end of Feb or the first weekend in March. Which would have preceeded the FA Cup Semis, by 5 or 6 weeks.

    In the replay, Alan Smith picked up the only caution of his career and saw David O’ Leary’s final competitve appearance for Arsenel.


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