What number should a back-up goalkeeper wear?

Well, we say ‘back-up goalkeeper’ because we still cling to the vain, naive hope that every club gives number 1 to its number 1, but sadly that’s not the case. Assuming that that is still worn by a netminder though (and Edgar Davids and Derek Riordan have done their bit to erode its sanctity in recent times), what are people’s preferences for the others in the squad?

Obviously, this wasn’t really an issue before squad numbers came in at club level. For international tournaments, countries tended to assign 12 or 22 if carrying two and both of those if taking three, though in some instances it was 12 and 13 or 21 and 22. Another oft-used GK shirt was 16, presumably because this was a popular choice for ‘normal’ internationals, where five subs were allowed.

Premier League clubs were allowed a substitute goalkeeper in 1992-93, the season before squad numbers. Many used 16 along with the 12 and 14 which had been in use since a second sub was allowed in the late 1980s. However, at the start of 1993-94, the hitherto-unused 13 was the second goalkeeper shirt of choice, with no club assigning it to an outfielder (off the top of our heads, Brian McClair in 1996-97 was the first to break this trend). It’s still popular for goalkeepers, with 12 rarely used by them in England. Most other numbers up as far as 30 have been seen at one stage or another.

In a lot of Europe and the rest of the world, 12 remains the top choice, though in Spain, league rules mandate that 13 and 25 must be used, while in France it’s 16 and 30. Both of those countries, incidentally, have fairly strict rules on numbering, unlike Italy, where anything goes.

What are your preferences? If playing Football Manager with an English club, we’d tend to go with 1, 13 and 22. In Ireland, 16 is seen as the traditional number and so, in our current game with Cork City, which has reached the early 2040s, it’s 1, 16 and 25, with 30 and 35 reserved for goalkeepers if needed. In our view, something just doesn’t sit right unless exactly one of the numbers between 12 and 21 is used by a goalkeeper.

3 thoughts on “What number should a back-up goalkeeper wear?

  1. Interesting point about France and Spain. Their international goalkeepers have often worn 16 and 13 (Barthez, Canizares), though I had no idea there was a rule attached to this trend. Let’s not forget Nery Pumpido’s preference for 18. I always prefer 12 and 22 — the English 13 never made much sense to me.

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