Dele Alli’s possibilities

Bambidele ‘Dele’ Alli’s first three England caps were as a substitute and on each occasion he wore 20, which is his number for Tottenham Hotspur.

His first start came against France in November, when he wore 7, and last Friday against Germany he shone in the number 10 shirt as England came from 2-0 down to win 3-2. With the days of your Gerrards and Lampards gone and Jack Wilshere sadly looking like becoming the player who is a bonus when fit and little else, there are spots up for grabs and the former Milton Keynes Dons player is intent on taking one.

All season, he has been instrumental in Tottenham’s title challenge, displaying considerable maturity in midfield, and England manager Roy Hodgson believes that his all-round skill levels are such that he can play in a variety of midfield roles.

Dele Alli could do anything in those midfield positions. He could be box-to-box. He could be a number 10, or a number 6. He could be any of them. He has genuine all-round ability.

He can challenge, run, fight for the ball, see a pass, score a goal. You mention Bryan Robson — that’s the player I’d like to think he could become.

Robson of course wore 7, for West Brom, Manchester United and England, but it’s the other part of Hodgson’s quote which is interesting, when looking at it through an English prism.

While Alli was 10 against Germany, it’s normally a striker’s number for the England team. Geoff Hurst wore it when scoring a hat-trick in the 1966 World Cup final and it was also favoured by Gary Lineker while it’s almost a certainty that Wayne Rooney will wear it at Euro 2016.

We would imagine that Hodgson referring to “a number 6” comes from his time coaching on the continent, where it is used as a shorthand for a half-back-type midfielder. In England, of course, it means only one position, and, while he may carry the national team on his back, we would be very surprised if Alli ever carried the number 6 too.

Players of this type, including one former Tottenham and England hero, often end up as number 8s in England, so this may well be the case.

Sum-thing different from Romania


Well, anything’s better than wearing 17, isn’t it? (That was a joke, btw – but, as Twitter user  points out, the answer could be 3 or 13, depending on whether it’s six multiplied by five and then subtracting four, or taking four from five – one – and then dividing by six).

Edit: See comments for the debunking of that theory.

As this article explains, Romania fares badly in terms of school dropouts, so this initiative – used in the warm-up ahead of the game against Spain on Sunday night – aims to bring awareness to the problem.

It’s not the ‘real’ kind of squad-number subject matter we’re normally interested in, but it’s creative and it’s for the greater good, so it’s alright by us – especially as Romania had seven 1-11 numbers playing during the game itself, when FIFA rules meant they had to go conventional.


Unlucky for some sub goalkeepers

(Thanks to Mark Schueler for asking us the question and prompting this post; Bjorn and Andrew Rockall).

The number of substitutes allowed in top-level English football has grown exponentially in recent times.

They were first permitted in 1965 (Keith Peacock of Charlton Athletic was the first, stats fans) but, while clubs in Europe had the luxury of naming five, it took until 1987 for the Football League to ratify a Tottenham Hotspur suggestion that two subs be permitted in domestic games.

With the advent of the Premier League in 1992, a third sub was allowed but it had to be a goalkeeper and only two could be used. For 95-96, the necessity of including a goalkeeper was removed and all three could come on. A season later, three of five could be used and then, in 2008, Spurs were again the drivers in pushing for an increase to seven being named (three still allowed to play).

Back to 1987. While logic dictated that 12 was given to the substitute when there was just one, superstition reigned with the increase to two and almost every club allocated 14 for usage rather than the ‘unlucky’ 13.

At every World Cup from 1970 onwards (with the exception of 2010, when Fabio Capello stayed true to his Italian roots and handed Robert Green 12), England had given 13 to a back-up goalkeeper and it was also became the number of choice for the country’s reserve netminders in ‘normal’ internationals. Therefore, it made sense that the clubs in the new Premier League would follow suit and the first goalkeeper to wear something other than 1 in a domestic league game was Erik Thorstvedt in Tottenham Hotspur’s second game, at home to Coventry City in August.


Spurs trailed 2-0 when Thorstvedt appeared as a half-time replacement for the injured Ian Walker. While the Norwegian international gave away a penalty soon after his introduction, he saved the spot-kick from Mickey Gynn and would also keep a spot-kick out in the next game as he retained his place, a 2-2 draw with Crystal Palace.

Thorstvedt would also be sprung from the bench for Walker against Wimbledon in October, while a month later Spurs’ rivals Arsenal would use a sub goalkeeper for the first time in a competitive game. The Gunners would be the cup kings in 92-93 as squad numbers manifested themselves but in the league there was little joy as they finished 10th. However, they showed some form in the late autumn, beating Coventry 3-0 to go top before a trip to face champions Leeds United at Elland Road.

Unfortunately for them, goalkeeper David Seaman would pick up an injury in that game, hampering his ability to reach Chris Fairclough’s header for the opening goal. He departed the field before play restarted, with Alan Miller replacing him (fun fact about Miller – we once vandalised his Wikipedia page and it wasn’t changed for ages. Even the official Arsenal site was fooled).

Initially though, Arsenal had followed on from giving 14 to the second sub and so put 15 on the second goalkeeper shirt:


All well and good you’d say, except that day at Leeds, which ended in a 3-0 defeat – the first of four consecutive losses which ended title hopes – one of the outfield subs wore 13. It’s not easy to make out but Ray Parlour is in the bottom left of this shot. We can’t prove it but it may well have been a top-flight first.


Stephen Folan’s tribute

The 2016 League of Ireland season began last Friday, with Galway United taking the early lead in the table as they beat St Patrick’s Athletic 3-1 away from home.

Making his Galway debut was centre-back Stephen Folan. The Galway native spent four years as a trainee with Newcastle United before returning to Ireland, first with Limerick, then Sligo Rovers and Cork City.

In his first season with Limerick, 2013, he wore number 4 before switching to 5 for 2014 and he retained that number when he went to Sligo at the start of 2015. When he signed for Cork City midway through the season, he was given 32. For his new club, he will be number 57, but it’s not a love of Heinz or just a random whim – as he explained to the Irish Daily Mirror’s Paul O’Hehir last Friday, it’s a tribute to his late father, who was born in 1957 and died last September at the age of 57.