72.5% Of A Nap

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There has been mild consternation at the fact that Tottenham Hotspur’s Harry Winks doesn’t wear number 40.

The young midfielder wore 29 last season as well as this, but in both campaigns 40 has been occupied by suitably-named goalkeeper Tom Glover. In 2014-15, 40 was empty but Winks was, even more frustratingly, 44.

There is another player who has worn 40 for pun-based reasons, though. When squad numbers were introduced in 1993-94, Julian Watts wore 24 for Sheffield Wednesday and he kept that until he left in 95-96. Then, at Leicester City in 96-97 and 97-98, he had number 4.

He was with Luton Town when squad numbers were made mandatory for Football League clubs in 1999 and it seems it was at this point that a lightbulb went off over his head (not even sorry) and he became 40 Watts (best available picture, sadly).

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This was only for 1999-2000, though, as he switched to 5 for the next two seasons with Luton and then wore 2 when he moved to Australian side Northern Spirit.

While his surname means that any number technically works, it’s a disappointment that Robert Page wore 2, 4, 5, 6, 28, 29 and 32 but never – it would appear – 3.

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Away from football, baseball does provide a couple of nice examples.  In 1951, Johnny Neves of minor league side the Fargo-Moorhead Twins wore 7 but had it stitched on backwards to reflect his surname:

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Carlos May of the Chicago White Sox was born on May 17 and so, having initially worn 29, transferred to 17, making him the only major-league player to have his birthday on his back.

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Manchester United players quizzed on historical squad numbers

We expected more from Michael Carrick but he kind of redeemed himself with the David Beckham answer.

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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1-11 at international level; vacant Premier League numbers

At the time of writing (lunchtime on Tuesday), there are still nine internationals to be played in what are now being referred to as the European Qualifiers for the 2018 World Cup.

By the end of the round of fixtures, it looks like we’ll be left with a total of three countries, of the 54 in action, to have begun the game with their team numbered 1-11 – England, the Netherlands and Scotland. Even Gibraltar and the newly-formed Kosovo had squad numbers.

England stick to the origins, and, while Scotland’s system isn’t the most perfect, they still deserve kudos for not buckling.

We have doffed our hats to the Netherlands in the past, of course, and while all the rest of Tuesday’s participants are listed by squad number on the UEFA site, the Dutch players have zeroes next to their names.

Of the other nations, Denmark and Wales (who have form, to be fair) came closest, starting with nine 1-11 players:

It was also interesting to note a reassignment of some numbers in the wake of retirements. Mesut Ozil is now the Germany number 10 after Lukas Podolski’s departure – apparently he wants it at Arsenal too – while the Republic of Ireland have replaced one Robbie with another at 10.

Robbie Keane signed off with a goal in the friendly against Oman last week and for the game with Serbia last night, Robbie Brady inherited it, having previously been associated with 19. Brady played in midfield in the 2-2 draw but has played most often at left-back in recent times. We have to say, we’re feeling a bit nervous.

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Elsewhere, all of the Premier League squad numbers have been finalised, following the closing of the transfer window.

Of the 220 available 1-11 numbers, 24 – or just under 11 percent – are empty.

Liverpool are the worst offenders, leaving 4, 8 and 9 vacant. Obviously, Steven Gerrard’s old number is still seen as a heavy burden which can’t be given to just anyone, but surely Ragnar Klavan – who wore 5 at Augsburg – could have taken the 4 freed up by Kolo Touré’s departure, rather than 17?

Daniel Sturridge was offered number 9 before Christian Benteke came but turned it down. Speaking of players who have left Liverpool on loan, Lazar Markovic isn’t wearing 50 anymore:

Bournemouth, Hull City, Leicester City, Middlesbrough and Southampton have allocated all of the numbers from 1-11. The most unused number is 2, which isn’t used at Everton, either of the Manchester clubs or Watford.

Séamus Coleman could have taken 2 – which he wears for Ireland – when Tony Hibbert retired but has stuck with 23, while Matteo Darmian opted for 36 upon arrival at Manchester United and remains there (he does wear 4 for Italy).

Man City have two right-backs – Bacary Sagna and Pablo Zabaleta – in their numerical first 11 but they wear 3 and 5 respectively. John Stones picked 24 rather than taking 2.

Tottenham, whose first-choice team wasn’t far off 1-11 last season, have 6 and 8 free, with Eric Dier and Dele Alli opting to keep their 15 and 20 respectively. Moussa Sissoko wouldn’t have been a bad fit at 8 but will wear 17, having been 7 at Newcastle United.

News of Andros Townsend’s switch – and proof of Chris Sutton’s

While changing numbers during the season is not uncommon in Spain, it remains a rarity in England. We did devote a previous post to the practice, and the conclusion was that it was permitted prior to the closing of the transfer window.

New Crystal Palace signing Andros Townsend availed of this option recently. Having been allocated 17 upon his arrival from Tottenham Hotspur, when Yannick Bolasie left to join Everton, the England winger sought to switch to 10:

The number 10 is one of the most iconic numbers in the game and with it becoming available I wanted to take the opportunity to snap it up. Hopefully I can do the number justice.

It’s not a perfect fit for a right midfielder, but we’ll let him off – he has, after all, made the de rigueur offer to reimburse any fans who had bought a number 17 shirt. The full story can be read here.

In the previous article, we mentioned a hazy memory of Chris Sutton swapping 16 for 9 during the 1996-97 season, but, beyond a mention here, proof was in short supply. The only way to satisfy ourselves was with snatched images from YouTube videos.

Sutton did indeed begin the season wearing the 16 he had had since joining from Norwich City for a record £5m fee – those were the days – in 1994. Here he is scoring against Derby early on in the season, which Blackburn began with just one in six games (and that at Old Trafford):

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We had assumed that the move would have been early in the season, but it appears that the arrival of Per Pedersen in the spring was the catalyst. Here he is with career caretaker manager Tony Parkes on the left (the number font is all wrong) and scoring against Chelsea on the right:

As luck would have it, Sutton actually missed a lot of this part of the season, but did return in time for its culmination. At Highbury, Blackburn trailed Arsenal 1-0 with the Gunners chasing second in the table but, after the ball was returned to the home side following an injury, Sutton pressured Nigel Winterburn into giving a corner, from which Garry Flitcroft scored.

Patrick Vieira wasn’t too happy with the now-9-clad Sutton, though oddly he wouldn’t be as interested in following protocol two years later when Nwankwo Kanu scored against Sheffield United in similar circumstances.

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Sutton continued to wear 9 for Blackburn until he joined Chelsea in 1999 and wore it for the Blues and Celtic too, finishing his career in the number 20 of Aston Villa after a spell as Birmingham City’s number 40.

Our OCD would like if the number-transferring had happened more in the 90s, but then these incidents wouldn’t be as noteworthy if they had.

The sometimes inconsistent squad numbers of Melchester Rovers

As part of a cross-blog series on Melchester Rovers, we decided to delve back 23 years to the beginning of the ill-fated relaunch of Roy Of The Rovers as a monthly comic.

Coincidentally, 1993 was also when the one-year-old Premier League decided to introduce squad numbers and the first issue of the monthly, with Roy Race coming to terms with the amputation of his left foot, references this new development as son Roy Jr (‘Rocky’) breaks into the squad.

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Rocky would make his debut against Felixstowe Town (basically an avatar for Ipswich – Museum of Jerseys will cover this in the near future), though unfortunately wouldn’t manage to mark it with a goal, instead being booked and then substituted. While the squad numbers were in effect, the shirts had no names and the numbers themselves were white, for the only time in the lifespan of the new comic. Rocky’s replacement was a unnamed player wearing number 12, who wouldn’t be seen again.

Issue 2 would revolve around Melchester signing another striker, Paul Ntende, and he would wear the number 14 for the duration of the strip. Img_5366.jpg

Come Christmas 1993 and those behind ROTR entered into an agreement with the makers of Shoot!, whereby the weekly magazine would run two pages of Roy in each edition. It was in this first instance of the collaboration that Johnny Dexter – a Melchester stalwart – first appeared in the new iteration, and not as likeable as he used to be.

It was also the first time that more information on the squad numbers was provided, by way of manager ‘Blackie’ Gray’s teamsheet for an upcoming FA Cup tie, where Rocky would make his comeback after a spell AWOL.

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However, one of the problems of running a strip across two publications was that more than one artist was needed, and the near two-year run saw a multitude of people on the pencil. As a result, consistency of details was hard to ensure.

Even the teamsheet above wasn’t gospel, as Dexter would always be seen wearing 6 on the pitch despite being listed as 25 (Neil Ruddock reference, perhaps?). Some artists had names on shirts, while Karl Brucker, who generally wore 4 in the old weekly, now appeared most often in 5, but sometimes 7 or 8.

Other inconstencies were were Kevin Clark sometimes being 11 and occasionally 13 (when it was unheard of for an outfield in the PL to do so), while the changing hair-colour must have worried him too:

In the spring of 1994, another teamsheet appeared and a reader wrote in to the comic to ask why there were two number 16s, with the reply being that Blackie Gray was ‘tired and emotional’ after a long season. It must also be the explanation for the degeneration of his handwriting.

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Wes Harper, one of the two 16s above, was listed as 18 in the other teamsheet, but on the pitch was always 16 (see below). The other 16, Steve Wooten, so central to the old weekly, was never actually seen in the monthly but would would re-appear in the late 90s when the strip was resurrected in Match Of The Day magazine. We would have to assume that, as the first-choice right-back, he was ‘really’ number 2.

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A non-Melchester occurrence came in the final edition of the monthly, in March 1995. Melchester were playing Teesbrough (Middlesbrough) in the FA Cup. Leaving aside the fact that an away kit should have been worn, the opposition have number 1 playing outfield – as Charlton Athletic did in 1993-94 – but generally the reason for this would be alphabetical numbering.

We’ll give them the benefit here and assume that Toley joined in a swap-deal with a player called Anderson or Allen or somesuch after the season started.

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That was it for ROTR for a few years, but in 1997 it came back as a two-pager in MOTD, running until that magazine stopped in 2001, when the BBC lost the rights to Premier League highlights.

This time round, the numbers were a bit more straightforward, though perhaps too boring and tidy – having gained promotion under the management of Roy Sr, the first team was the 1-11. The only deviation in the 5-3-2 was that, Wooten had kept 2 as he moved to centre-back, with Anton Gronvold wearing 4 at right wing-back (that’s something we enjoy).

In the summer of 1998, Blackie was on holidays in Ireland and a barman recommended a young local player to him, with he in turn suggesting to Roy that he sign him. That was Declan McKaffree (McCaffrey is far more common as a spelling in Ireland) and, really, as a teenager joining a top club from nowhere, he should have had a far higher number than 15.

Back-up goalkeeper Peter Marshall wore 12, with 13 left empty, presumably for superstitious reasons.

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Liverpool and Manchester United tidy up their squad numbers, 1996

We do enjoy when clubs ‘tidy up’ their numbers, i.e. the re-assignment of first-teamers with higher numbers. Arsenal giving Alexis Sanchez and Aaron Ramsey 7 and 8 respectively for the coming season is an example (though Granit Xhaka wearing 29 isn’t as nice), while Tottenham Hotspur’s re-jigging in the summer of 1999 was very pleasing.

As the days of 1-11 fade further, there is less of this re-allocation of numbers, with most one-off instances pushed by the player in question. In 1996, though, there was still a culture of wanting something close to the first XI in the lowest numbers and the two biggest clubs in England effected big alterations. Perhaps it’s unsurprising, given that Liverpool and Manchester United are already responsible for two of the widest-ranging articles on this site (here for Liverpool’s unique numbering system of the 70s-90s and here for the story of the United number 7).

In the spring of ’96, an Eric Cantona-inspired United were reeling in Newcastle United in the Premier League title race, while Liverpool – using what Johnny Giles had described as “a three-man back four” – were playing some exellent stuff, eventually winding up in third place in the table.

The clubs also made it to the FA Cup final, with Cantona’s goal giving United a 1-0 win to clinch the double. It is, to be fair, worth noting that that goal came in the 85th minute, and had more to do with David James’ uncertain goalkeeping than Liverpool’s choice of pre-match attire.

These are the way the sides lined out for the final (Liverpool wore a green-and-white quartered change kit but representing that would make the numbers harder to see, which is, after all, the point of the whole thing):

With both goalkeepers wearing 1, between them the sides had nine players numbered above 11, but, if the same two line-ups had met three months later, there would have been just two offenders:

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Let’s start with Liverpool. When Roy Evans decided to switch to a 3-5-2, it meant that Mark Wright (5) and Phil Babb (6) were joined by John Scales (12). Ideally, he would have taken 4 but Jason McAteer, playing right wing-back, had that, with number 2 Rob Jones switching to the left flank. Therefore, it made sense to give Scales 3, which had been vacant since Julian Dicks re-joined West Ham United during 1994-95.

In midfield, Jamie Redknapp, John Barnes and Steve McManaman somehow made an effective trio, despite the seeming lack of defending/attacking balance. Obviously, Barnes had been 10 since joining at the start of 1987-88, and 7 and 11 were empty after the departures of Nigel Clough and Mark Walters respectively. Looking at it objectively, Redknapp might have been a better fit for 7 but, given its mythology at Anfield, it made sense for McManaman to take that with Redknapp in 11.

The other switch was the most straightforward. Robbie Fowler had been 23 since his breakthrough in 1993-94, but with Ian Rush leaving after the final, Fowler to 9 was a no-brainer. More satisfying still was the re-tooling didn’t stop with the first XI, as Steve Harkness – whose brief loan spell with Hudderfield should have had more headline-love – moved from 22 to the 12 vacated by Scales, and Neil Ruddock swapped 25 for 14.

Sadly, the cup final side never played together again and we were robbed of seeing the 1-11 in action. Redknapp and Jones both suffered with injuries – the latter only made two appearances in 1996-97 – while Scales was sold to Tottenham. Incidentally, we have a clear memory of Liverpool trying something similar before 1994-95, with Ruddock moving to 6 and Fowler taking 12 among others, but we haven’t been able to locate the copy of Match magazine in which this news featured. If anyone out there has it, we’d be delighted if you got in touch.

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In the first three seasons in the squad-number era, none of the Manchester United 1-11 numbers had been worn by more than one player in the league. However, 8 and 10 lay idle for 95-96 after Paul Ince and Mark Hughes left, and in the summer of ’95 Alex Ferguson had a mini clean-up – Gary Neville moved from 27 to 20, Paul Scholes from 24 to 22 and David Beckham from 28 to 24. All three were key components of the double-winning side, though Neville and Scholes were on the bench in the cup final – Neville’s place taken by his brother Philip with Denis Irwin moving across to right-back.

Gary Neville was still a first-choice for England during Euro 96 and there was never any likelihood of his staying out of the United team for long, so when Paul Parker left that summer, he was the natural choice for the number 2 shirt. Club captain Steve Bruce also departed, so David May switched from 12 to Bruce’s 4, with Philip Neville taking 12. The younger Neville had previously been 23.

Nicky Butt, 19 for the previous three years, move to take Ince’s old number 8 shirt while Beckham was given 10. The only instance of a 1-11 player being moved to accommodate a change was Brian McClair switching from 9 to 13 to allow Andy Cole inherit it. He had previously been 17 and, perhaps strangely, this was now given to new reserve goalkeeper Raimond van der Gouw.

Scholes made another move, from 22 to 18, in a straight swap with Simon Davies (this one, not that one), indicating the contrasting directions they were heading. New signing Ronny Johnsen took over the number 19, but in the Champions League he wore 5, following Lee Sharpe’s transfer to Leeds United, and would take it over permanently from 1997-98 on. Also wearing different numbers in Europe were Scholes and Phil Neville, 12 and 28 respectively. Basically, it was to do with UEFA’s rules on ‘A’- and ‘B’-listed players.

Ben Thornley (29 to 23) and John O’Kane (30 to 24) completed the downward movements. The one notable exception was Roy Keane, who kept 16 when taking 5 on Sharpe’s exit would have seemed expected. Apparently, he was later offered 7 by Ferguson but declined as having a higher number kept him motivated to prove himself.

His status as one of the first names on the teamsheet, and the lack of a number 5 in the league, meant that opportunities for United to play 1-11 were limited. The closest they came was in the first leg of the Champions League quarter-final at home to Porto when, with Keane absent, Ferguson went with a very adventurous side and was rewarded with a 4-0 victory.

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