Steve Bruce’s aversion to number 5

We started watching football in 1990-91 and, from an early stage, became aware of the generally accepted way of numbering a 4-4-2. Non-conforming systems, like Liverpool’s (more in the future), were fascinating though, and we often wondered just how Manchester United came to have numbers 4 and 6, Steve Bruce and Gary Pallister, at centre-back while 5 – often, but not exclusively, Mike Phelan – was generally in midfield.

Bruce made his debut for United in December 1987 against Portsmouth wearing 4 and kept it for the entirety of his time with the club. Midfielder Remi Moses, who had been 4 for the previous few games, switched to 6 while Bruce slotted in alongside number 5 Kevin Moran.

Later in the season, Graham Hogg would move from midfield to central defence while wearing 6 with Liam O’Brien wearing 5 in midfield. The club still started 88-89 with 4 and 5 as centre-backs but when O’Brien got another run of games it was at 5 again and this time the change stayed permanent.

To find out why Bruce came to be so attached to 4, though, you have to go back to his time with previous club Norwich City. His defensive partner there was Dave Watson, who revealed all in the 1986 Shoot! annual.


In the course of a piece outlining how great things were for the Liverpudlian, there was a note of caution sounded:

But Dave has harboured one secret hate about Norwich City.

“Wearing the number 5 shirt. It’s just a superstition that involves Steve Bruce and myself.

“When Steve arrived here last summer he was reluctant to wear the number 5 because he’d scored three own goals while wearing that number for Gillingham.

“Then after just minutes of his debut for us against Liverpool Steve put through his own goal again.

“He was so uptight about it, I offered to swap my number 6 with him. But while I was wearing the number 5 I scored two own goals myself! The only time I enjoy carrying that number is for England.”

In 1985, Norwich had won the Milk Cup with Bruce wearing 4 and Watson 6, though when Watson joined Everton he overcame his dislike of 5 and wore it with distinction there. The luck with that number deserted him with England, however. He wore it in Euro 88 but only featured in the final game against the USSR, a 3-1 defeat. He never played for his country again.

Meanwhile, Bruce’s love of 4 has transferred to his son Alex, who has worn it for Leeds and Hull City.

Chelsea’s false 9s

The number 9 is the goalscorer. If he can find the net every two games or better, then you can’t have too many complaints, really. Of course, nowadays ‘9’ generally refers to the player in the centre-forward position with the actual number on his back a fairly movable feast. Since the start of 2001-02, only once has the Premier League Golden Boot award been won by a number 9 (answer at the bottom).

It’s fitting that the last 9 to win it before that was Chelsea’s Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink in 2000-01, for this article looks at the curse of that shirt since Roman Abramovich bought the club in 2003-04. The Chelsea 9s just don’t get enough goals.


Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink (2003-04)

Abramovich’s first season would prove to be Hasselbanink’s last in blue before joining Middlesbrough. While not complete duff, he wasn’t the force that he once was and a haul of 17 goals in 44 matches in all competitions was a poor return, especially considering that Chelsea came second in the league and reached the Champions League semi-finals. Ratio: 0.39 goals per game


Mateja Kezman (2004-05)

The Serbian arrived at Stamford Bridge having scored 105 goals in 122 games for PSV Eindhoven and the inheritance of Hasselbaink’s shirt seemed a perfect fit. Seven goals in 41 appearances for Chelsea suggested otherwise. Moved to Atletico Madrid, where he got eight in 30. Ratio: 0.17


Hernan Crespo (2005-06)

Crespo spent 2004-05 on loan at Milan, almost winning a Champions League medal, but he was back at Bridge for 05-06 and his swapping of number 21 for 9 seemed to be a statement of intent. While he got the winner away to Wigan on the opening day of the league season, he didn’t effect a turnaround in his Chelsea career and finished the campaign with 13 goals in 42 games before joining Inter. Ratio: 0.31


Khalid Boulahrouz (2006-07)

Chelsea’s new number 9 was really a number 2, number 3 or number 5. Khalid Boulahrouz, signed from Hamburg, was a dirty bastard of a defender and, not surprisingly, didn’t score in his 20 games with the club before joining Seville. Still, not much worse than Kezman. Ratio: 0


Steve Sidwell (2007-08)

Another non-striker in the shirt and again, worn for just one season. Sidwell arrived on a free from Reading and then joined Aston Villa, scoring once in 25 games. Ratio: 0.04


Franco di Santo (2008-09)

A striker, but never a first-choice player. Still a teenager when he signed, he had scored 13 in 55 for Chilean side Audax Italiano. Originally given 36 in the 2008 pre-season, he was subsequently assigned 9. Mainly used as a sub in his 16 Chelsea appearances, failing to find the net. Joined Blackburn on loan for 2009-10 and then inked a permanent move to Wigan. Ratio: 0


Fernando Torres (2011-14)

Chelsea didn’t allocate a number 9 at the start of the 2009-10 or 2010-11 seasons, allowing Torres to take it when he joined for £50m in January 2011. While he brought Gary Neville much joy in the Camp Nou, he couldn’t rediscover the form which made him such a hot property at Wigan. Having joined Milan on loan for the next two seasons, he’s unlikely to add to his Chelsea tally of 45 goals in 172 matches. Ratio: 0.26

So, in the 11 years since Abramovich bought the club, Chelsea number 9’s have scored 83 goals in 352 matches, an average of 0.24 goals a game. They’ve still won a few trophies in that time, mind.


  • Dimitar Berbatov is the last 9 to win the Golden Boot, doing so in 2010-11.

The numbers to avoid at Cork City

In the final game of the 2011 Airtricity League Division 1 season, Cork City travelled to face Shelbourne with a lot at stake. Shelbourne were the league leaders, two points ahead of City while Monaghan United were two points further back, with the top two sides automatically promoted while the third-placed side would have to take part in a play-off against the side 10th in the Premier Division.

With the game heading towards injury time, Shelbourne and City were tied at 1-1, meaning that both would go up with Shels as champions. Then, City’s number 11 Derek O’Brien crossed from the left for number 9 Graham Cummins to head the winner, sparking delirium. This video probably sums up the situation best.

Cummins and O’Brien were gone by the time the 2012 season kicked off, however, sparking a somewhat pattern which has continued – the number 9 and number 11 at the start of each subsequent season have not been there by the end of the campaign. It’s not much better for number 10 – the wearer of the shirt that night in Tolka Park, Vinny Sullivan, remained for 2012 but he left after that and 10 has been worn by three different players since then.

It’s all a far cry from the decade or so when the club’s joint-top scorers of all-time, the strike partnership of Pat Morley and current manager John Caulfield, were fixtures in numbers 10 and 11, bringing so much joy that we were willing to overlook one of our big beefs. Here, then, is the list of those who have worn 9, 10 and 11 since 2011:

9: Graham Cummins was regularly among the goals in the title-winning season of 2011 and it was only natural that he would attract attention, with a transfer to Preston North End taking him from the club. For 2012, Davin O’Neill moved from 7 to 9 to reflect the fact that he was now more of a striker than a winger but he departed at the end of that season.

Daryl Kavanagh was a high-profile signing at the start of 2013 but things didn’t work out for him and he joined St Patrick’s Athletic midway through the season. Anthony Elding, the scorer of the winner for Sligo Rovers in the FAI Cup final signed for 2014 but he too departed prematurely. John O’Flynn, a distinguished owner of the number 9 in the past, took it upon his re-signing.

10: Vinny Sullivan left after the first season back in the Premier Division in 2012 and the returning Denis Behan, who had worn 21 in his previous stint at the club, took 10 in 2013. It wasn’t a successful reignition of his relationship with the club, though, and he was part of a mid-season cull.

Former Republic of Ireland underage international Michael Rafter signed this year but injury prevented him from playing a competitive minute and his contract is up at the end of the campaign. The number was re-assigned to Cillian Morrison when he signed but he hasn’t featured too heavily in the league.

11: O’Brien’s contract wasn’t renewed after the promotion-winning season, with Cork native Shane O’Connor taking over 11 after he returned home following stints with various clubs in England. He only made five appearances before being released, however. Adam Rundle was one of a raft of new attacking signings for 2013 but he didn’t fare much better in the 11 shirt than O’Connor, playing 12 games and scoring once before departing mid-season with Kavanagh, Behan and Danny Furlong.

Ian Turner had worn 2 since 2010, but had evolved from a right-back to a wide midfielder and sought a new number to reflect that. He struggled to find favour with Caulfield, though, and joined Limerick on loan during the season. Ross Gaynor, signed from Sligo Rovers at the end of July, now wears 11, but, tragically, he does so as a left-back.