Mark Flatts’ many numbers at Arsenal

From time to time, we run squad number quizzes on Twitter, asking followers to guess the player by the digits he carried:

The answer to the above is Robbie Fowler over two spells at Liverpool, by the way. One player who would be perfect for such a quiz, were it not for the fact that he would be far too difficult to guess, is Mark Flatts, once of Arsenal.

We’ve already looked at how squad numbers were introduced for the Coca-Cola and FA Cup finals of 1993, when Arsenal faced Sheffield Wednesday. At just 20, Flatts was down the Gunners’ pecking order and so was given 23 for the two deciders.

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Having won the two cup finals, Arsenal’s big signing of the summer was Eddie McGoldrick from Crystal Palace. He was allocated number 11 as the Premier League adopted squad numbers, and Ray Parlour, 11 for the cup finals, was moved to 23, though he would still play 27 league games in 93-94. As a result, Flatts was bumped one numbter upwards:

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Young Scottish striker Paul Dickov was Arsenal’s number 27 in 93-94, but perhaps as an indication that he might get more game-time, George Graham moved him to 24 for 94-95. That meant another switch for Flatts, taking the 25 vacated by Neil Heaney.

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If the pattern was to continue, Flatts should have been given 26 for 1995-96, but instead he moved downwards as part of a number of small changes effected by new manager Bruce Rioch – David Hillier moved from 18 to 17, Steve Morrow 18 to 21, John Jensen 17 to 19 (though technically it was 17-30-19 as he looked set to depart before a change of heart).

A bigger move, though, was the catalyst for this change. Parlour swapped 23 for 15, allowing Dickov to move from 24 to 23 and Flatts to regain 24. It would prove to be his final season at the club, however.

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The guillotine for de Guzman; bravo Balotelli

It was a day of contrasts for those of us cursed with the affliction of thinking too much about shirt numbers. We’ll start with the bad news.

By and large, loan signings being given 1-11 numbers doesn’t sit hugely well with us, given the by-definition transient nature of it. When it’s a midfielder wearing 1, though, the levels of seething are quite high:

Jonathan de Guzman wears 15 for his parent club, Napoli. That’s free at Chievo Verona, along with 6, 7, 10 and 11, but he has decided that he should wear the number 1 – in a horrific font, we must add.

Oddly, it’s the opposite of a ruse pulled by the Italian club 14 years ago.

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De Guzman is not the first to commit the most egregious of crimes. Argentina’s Norberto Alonso and Osvaldo Ardiles, as well as the Netherlands’ Ruud Geels, have done it at World Cups in alphabetical numbering systems. We don’t have as big a problem with that, as it’s part of a holistic approach.

In British domestic football, the only club that we’re aware of to go full alphabetical  was Charlton Athletic in 1993-94, when Stuart Balmer wore 1 outfield (incidentally, a goalkeeper – Bob Bolder – was number 2, similar to Sheffield Wednesday’s batshit mental numbering this season):

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When Brian Clough was manager of Nottingham Forest, he began to wear an emerald green jumper on the sideline. The origins of this were as a result of him ensuring that his authority wasn’t usurped.

Having signed Peter Shilton for a record fee, he felt that the goalkeeper (and everyone else) needed reminding of who the boss was. At training one day, he donned a top in the colour traditionally worn by the keepers and said to Shilton:

There’s only one number 1 round here, and it’s not you.

Which was fine – Clough was unique, and generally backed up his bluster with results. As player-manager of Barnet in 2013, Edgar Davids wanted to make a similar statement, and felt that that was best achieved by actually wearing number 1 on the field.

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In the interests of fairness, we should point out that the inhabitant of 1 in 2013, Liam O’Brien, had left the club and so nobody was displaced by this decision. Unfortunately for Davids, it didn’t really have any inspirational effect as Davids was sent off three times before the end of December and resigned on January 18, 2014.

Scottish striker Derek Riordan left Hibernian to join Celtic in 2006, but returned to Edinburgh in 2008. In his first spell with Hibs, he had been number 10, but that was occupied by Colin Nish on his return, and so he went for a solution of sorts.

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For 2009-10, he was back in 10 and number 1 was taken by the new goalkeeper – Graham Stack, who would go on to be Davids’ first-choice at Barnet, albeit wearing 29.

A more interesting example – to our biased eyes – comes from the 2010 Gaelic football season. For Monaghan’s first game in the Ulster championship, goalkeeper Shane Duffy failed to heal from injury in time and, in a brave/unusual move, manager Séamus McEnaney decided to play full-back (the defender directly in front of goal – similar to how the term was used in football in the 2-3-5 days) Darren Hughes in goal. He wore the number 1 jersey left vacant by Duffy crying off, with a substitute wearing the full-back’s number 3.

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Monaghan won, and Hughes was retained in goal for the next game against Fermanagh, which they won as well. Meanwhile, Seán Gorman, who had been regarded as Duffy’s deputy, decided to withdraw from the panel. For the Ulster final against Tyrone, when the team was named three days beforehand, Hughes was listed at number 1 but, come game-day, he lined up outfield.

You might be confused as to why Hughes is still wearing blue, as in the first picture. Monaghan are normally white shirts and blue shorts, but Tyrone are white shirts and red shorts, so that 2010 Ulster final saw both teams change jerseys. Monaghan’s regular goalkeeper outfit is the same as the change kit. In this game, Duffy was able to wear the white in goal, number 16 on his back:

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Thankfully, the bullshit of de Guzman wearing 1 was slightly counter-balanced by The Universe.

Mario Balotelli enjoys wearing number 45. However, stricter rules at international level have seen him look conventional and his latest transfer, to OGC Nice, has meant a similar limitation applied.

As with La Liga in Spain, the French Ligue 1 employs some control on numbering. Goalkeepers must wear 1, 16 or 30 and higher numbers are only allowed if absolutely necessary.

The league’s rules state that ‘novelty’ numbers are not allowed (forgive Google Translate’s own rigidity):

Every Ligue 1 and Ligue 2 club must establish the number assignment list on Isyfoot 72 hours before the start of the competition. This list can not exceed 30 names, the number 30 is the last in the list may be supplemented and updated with every movement in the club. If a club justifies employ over 30 professional players under contract, the board may grant an exception to the preceding paragraph. Whimsical dials are prohibited (example: 45 – 82).

The numbers 1, 16 and 30 are exclusively and necessarily reserved for goalkeepers. Ultimately, the number 40 can be assigned. All teams must have a jersey with number 33 that is not assigned to a player and reserved for breaking replacements. A directory is established early in the season and available to referees and delegates by the LFP.

As a result, Balotelli has had to conform and, luckily, the number 9 is free. Hopefully, success in this digit will signal a turnaround in his career.

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Any Owl number will do

In the same way that St Andrews holds a special place in the hearts of those who love golf, the announcement of the Sheffield Wednesday squad numbers should be a reverential annual occasion.

On August 25, 1928, the Owls were one of four teams to wear numbers, the first time they were seen in English football, while they also hold the honour of being there at the birth of domestic squad numbers in 1993. Imagine, then, the horror of seeing the list released by Wednesday for the 2016-17 season:

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Without any details other than numbers and names attached, the initial horror may not be apparent, apart from only six numbers less than or equal to 11 being occupied. Here, then, are the main takeaways:

  • Number 2, Joe Wildsmith, is a goalkeeper. He was 28 last season and Liam Palmer – who has played at right-back – has moved from 2 to 16 to accommodate this. We’ve mentioned before that we don’t like the practice.
  • Sam Hutchinson has moved from 4 to 23.
  • Attacking midfielder Kieran Lee will wear 5, having previously been 20. Centre-back Glenn Loovens has swapped 5 for 12.
  • New signing Steven Fletcher – a centre-forward – will wear 6. He has form for disrespecting numbers, having switched from 9 to 26 at the start of last season when he was at Sunderland.
  • Another new signing, attacking midfielder Almen Abdi, has been given 8. We’re not sure how such an example of normality crept in there.
  • The former owner of 8, Filipe Melo, has gone to 22, while Marco Matias is trying to become three times the player he was, transferring from 7 to 21.
  • Austrian striker Atdhe Nuhiu was 9 last season, but will now don number 44.
  • Lucas Joao has moved from 18….to 19.

Thankfully, Wednesday fans didn’t take too kindly to this whole farrago.

Nicklas Bendtner, we hardly knew ye

Nicklas Bendtner is looking for a new club after Wolfsburg decided to terminate his contract more than a year early.

Whether we like it or not (we don’t), the Danish striker is inextricably linked with the primary subject matter of this site, so it’s about time we gave him a post of his own.

The Dane made his Arsenal debut in the 2005-06 season, wearing 33 – not that out of the ordinary. For 06-07, he was on loan at Birmingham City, for whom he had number 27 and then, on his return to the Emirates for 07-08, he was given number 26, an indication of his rise up the pecking order.

He kept 26 for 2008-09 but, on the eve of the following season, it was announced that he would change – to 52. The badly-written press release didn’t give much real info:

Before [the season] starts I wanted to change my squad number from 26 which I’ve obviously had for a number of seasons now. I chose to move to 52 because it’s a special number to me personally, and I hope that it brings me good luck for the new season.

I appreciate that a good number of fans have bought their kits for 2009/10 already with names and numbers printed up so I’d like to personally cover the cost of replacing anyone’s shirt that has my previous number. It means a lot to see supporters wearing your name and number, and I want to ensure people aren’t inconvenienced by the change.

It was never revealed how much he had to pay to reimburse fans who had bought ‘Bendtner 26’ shirts, but there was certainly never any fear of him going bankrupt. Later that season, though, his own official website offered a different reason for the change:

Nicklas Bendtner plays with the number 52 on his back, but actually his favourite number is 7. But when he joined the Arsenal team, the number 7 was already taken by the Czech Tomas Rosicky. So when Nicklas Bendtner was presented with the opportunity to change his old number 26 before the season 2009/10, he chose the number 52 because 5 and 2 equals 7. He also thinks that 52 sound good.

At the time when Nicklas Bendtner changed his number, some fans had already purchased the new Arsenal shirt with his old number. And Nicklas Bendtner was not going to disappoint these fans. So, he invited them to return the shirts, and he would pay for a new one. That story travelled the world.

The last sentence perhaps gives some insight into how Bendtner was once off the charts in a self-confidence test. Why he preferred 7 to the traditional centre-forward’s number of 9, we don’t know, but it was perhaps the reason why he wore 17 when he joined Juventus on loan in 2012-13 (after continuing to wear 52 when with Sunderland in 11-12).

He was back at Arsenal for 2013-14 and, as Arsène Wenger engaged in his usual transfer-market dithering – pulling out of an almost-confirmed move for Gonzalo Higuaín – Bendtner was the back-up to Olivier Giroud, but now wore 23. He even scored two goals in his limited game-time, but eventually tried Wenger’s patience too much, enjoying the night-life at home in Denmark when he should have been recuperating from injury.

Wolfsburg provided him with another chance, and also another opportunity for numerical trickery. The reason for him taking number 3 in Germany was put down to his mother’s influence. Unfortunately, Mama Bendtner’s choice ended up signifying the total league goals he would score across 2014-15 and 15-16.

Where to, and which number, next?

Another Manchester United inconsistency

Following on from our look at the numerical inaccuracies of Actua Soccer Club Edition, here’s a real-life deviation from the norm, one we can’t explain.

In the summer of 1996, Manchester United underwent a numbers ‘clean-up’, as vacant 1-11 digits were filled. You can read about that, and a similar operation by Liverpool, in a comprehensive analysis here.

Other players moving were Philip Neville (23 to 12) and Paul Scholes, continuing his series of gradual reductions, moving to 18 from 22, having previously been 24. New signing Ronny Johnsen took Butt’s former 19, but all three players – Neville, Scholes and Johnsen – would have alternative numbers in the Champions League.

As a centre-back, Johnsen’s move to 5 makes sense, the number freed up by Lee Sharpe’s transfer to Leeds United before the deadline for the naming of the CL squad. As a result, Chris Casper – 26 domestically – had 19 in Europe.

The switches of Phil Neville and Scholes leave us bemused, however – Neville had 28 for continental games and Scholes wore 12 (the lowest number he wore for United in games where 1-11 wasn’t used). Just a clerical error, or something else? We don’t know, so if you do, please let us know.

A number 1 record for Liverpool?

Following on from our recent Christian Abbiati post, another missive on goalkeepers preferring not to wear 1.

Since the 2005 Champions League final, Liverpool have played a total of 46 competitive senior games in which their goalkeeper has worn number 1.

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While Jerzy Dudek was the hero that night in Istanbul, he was displaced that summer by new signing José Manuel ‘Pepe’ Reina, limiting the Pole to 12 appearances in his final two years at Anfield.

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Dudek had worn number 12 in his first season with Liverpool but took the number 1 when his predecessor Sander Westerveld was moved on. On Dudek’s departure, though, Reina showed no signs of inheriting the traditional netminder’s number and retained 25 for the entirety of his Liverpool career.

With 1 having been vacant for 2007-08, Diego Cavalieri wore it for the next two seasons and the very start of 2010-11 but never suggested that he would usurp Reina as the first-choice, playing only nine times.

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Likewise, his replacement as number 1, Brad Jones, was seen as a reserve – in fact, he was third choice behind Reina and Doni (who wore number 32) in 2011-12.

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In 2012-13, he did play 15 times, but, despite Reina joining Napoli on loan in the summer of 2013, it was new signing Simon Mignolet (number 22) who Brendan Rodgers favoured in goal.

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Reina left for good in 2014, joining Bayern Munich, while Jones remained until the end of 2014-15 before departing for Bradford City. After just a few months there – wearing 22 – he left by mutual consent and is now with Dutch side NEC Nijmegen, with 30 on his back.

The vacating of number 1 didn’t affect Mignolet, however, as he revealed back in August. Neither did new signing Adam Bogdan follow the recent tradition of the back-up keeper wearing 1, as he opted for 34. That was the number he had had in his first season with Bolton Wanderers, 2007-08, but since then he had worn 1. At his first professional club, Vasas in Hungary, he had been number 12 in 2005-06 and 2006-07.

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Ireland’s forty shades of numbers

We’re aware of the irony, that this is called the Squad Numbers Blog but the curator prefers the older 1-11 style.

When squad numbers became ubiquitous, we accepted it under protest but comforted ourselves that at least international football retained the traditional numbering – with, of course, the exception of major finals, once so exotic because they were the only times we got to see high numbers.

Slowly, the status quo began to be eroded. We recall seeing Cameroon play in squad numbers for a friendly at Wembley in early 1991 but it wasn’t until the mid-2000s that they began to proliferate in competitive qualifying games. France and then Spain were the first to adopt this as we recall but no doubt there were others. At least the consolation remained that England – the home of football – and our native Republic of Ireland stayed with 1-11. It was a source of pride that Ireland had been 1-11 in four of six European Championship finals games, comprising the 1988 and 2012 tournaments.

To their credit, England still do stay true to the way it should be, but apart from them and the Netherlands, everybody else seems to number their squad 1-23 for every game. The first time Ireland did this was their World Cup 2014 qualifier away to Kazakhstand, when Kevin Doyle (number 9) came on to help turn the game as a scarcely-deserved 2-1 win was achieved. Stephen Kelly (2) and James McClean (11) were also subs, with Jon Walters (12), Simon Cox (14) and Darren O’Dea (15) starting.

In the aftermath of that, we thought that Ireland’s 1-23 numbering was for ‘pairs’ of games, the two internationals scheduled for each break, but the recent Euro 2016 qualifiers belied this. It took a while for us to notice the inconsistencies but some are glaring from game to game, as you can see (black indicates a starting player, with the subs in red):

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It’s interesting to note that the players who wore 1-11 for the opener against Georgia were all in situ for the last one, the play-off second leg against Bosnia & Herzegovina, though Robbie Brady was now wearing 19 instead of 11. He wore that as a sub against Georgia and then switched to 17 as McClean took 11 for the remainder of the campaign but it wasn’t until Brady donned 19 that he became a regular starter.

Jef Hendrick (8-13-21) was another who saw his number rise as he became more of an integral member of the team. In contrast, David Forde retained number 1 as he went from first-choice goalkeeper to second and then third choice, with captain Robbie Keane likewise welded to 10 despite losing his status. Shay Given initially had 23 as Forde’s back-up, but when he resumed in goal he wore 16 before injury against Germany saw Darren Randolph take up residency between the posts, 23 on his back.

Exactly why Jon Walters and Darron Gibson swapped 14 and 19 between the Georgia and Gibraltar games – which were part of the same break – is unclear, as is why Richard Keogh had to surrender 5 to Ciarán Clark, wearing 22 instead, when starting against Scotland away. By the end of the campaign, Keogh had 5 back and Clark was wearing 14 and then 12. Also strange is Wes Hoolahan wearing 20 throughout the campaign, except for the home game against Germany, when he had 11.

That match, with Seamus Coleman, Marc Wilson and Glenn Whelan unavailable saw their 2, 3 and 6 respectively taken by unused subs Paul McShane, Eunan O’Kane and David McGoldrick. Whelan had 6 whenever he was involved, missing only Germany at home and Scotland away, when Cyrus Christe wore it. He is a defender, so it was one of the rare examples of 6 not being worn by a midfielder for Ireland – perhaps the first time since Roy Keane inexplicably wore 4 against Lithuania in 1997.

The most numbers worn by one player? That’s Alex Pearce, who had (in order) 15, 21, 20, 5 and 4, without ever starting a game. Darron Gibson is next closest, with 19, 14, 20 and 18 on his back.