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.