The players to wear the most numbers for England

Every Wednesday, we like to read The Knowledge in The Guardian. The questions are often fascinating, the answers often moreso, and every once in a while there is a query which is right up our alley:

Unfortunately, our reply to The Knowledge wasn’t in time for their deadline, but you can still enjoy/endure the long answer.

Further direct contact with Alex revealed him to have been wondering who wore the most different numbers in any senior internationals, but we took it to mean major finals, i.e. competitions where set squad numbers were assigned (and ignoring the 1993 US Cup, 1995 Umbro Cup and 1997 Tournoi de France).

We will time try to come up with a definitive answer but for now the major finals provide enough material anyway. The 1954 World Cup was the first to utilise squad numbers and, since then, there have been 465 places up for grabs. A total of 87 players have worn two numbers, 16 have worn three and just two have been allocated four different numbers. There is one man, though, who has had five.

We won’t go through all of the three-number players, but there are some notable instances. Bobby Charlton was given 20 for his World Cup in 1958, four years later he wore 11 and by 1966 of course he had 9, which he retained for 1970.

Peter Shilton’s wearing of 1 at the 1986 World Cup was the first time he had been given it for a finals, having worn 13 at Euro 80 and then 22 for Spain 82. He played once in 1980 and in all of the games in ’82, but England’s numbering was alphabetical, of a kind. Captain Kevin Keegan was allowed to retain 7 with all of the other outfielders arranged by surname. Though the goalkeepers were the usual 1, 13 and 22, Ray Clemence, Joe Corrigan and Shilton were sorted alphabetically too.

The ’86 World Cup also saw Ray Wilkins in a third consecutive different number, wearing 4 after the ’82 system had him 19. What’s most noteworthy is that he wore 6 at Euro 80 – most un-English for a midfielder – presumably Phil Thompson was keen to keep 4, which he had at Liverpool.

Chris Waddles wore 11 in Mexico, 12 at Euro 88 and 8 at Italia 90. David James is the other goalkeeper to have had three numbers, going 22-1-13 from 2002-06 while James Milner has gone 16-17-4 across the last three tournaments.

Onto the four-timers, though, with Glenn Hoddle the first to achieve it. In 1980, he was handed ‘Gazza’s number 19‘ ten years before Gazza (no picture unfortunately as he only played against Spain and the shorts didn’t have numbers), and then in 1982 the alphabetical system meant he wore 9.


It could nearly be argued, though, that 9 was a more suitable fit for an attacking midfielder than the 4 he wore in ’86.


The very short shorts of the 1980s, coupled with Hoddle’s preference for wearing his shirt untucked, mean that there is no good pictorial evidence from Euro 88, but he was 17 this time around.

The next time England rocked up at the Euros, Martin Keown was wearing the number 4 shirt.


While he wasn’t part of the squad for Euro 96, he was included for World Cup 98 after helping Arsenal to the double but his number 18 didn’t see any game-time. He was first choice for Euro 2000, this time wearing 6 (in a switcheroo with Tony Adams, who wore it for Arsenal while Keown had 5).


By the time of 2002 World Cup, he was just a squad member again and once more was left on the sidelines, but this time wearing 15. He is one of only three Englishmmen to go to two World Cups and not play at all, and coincidentally the other two – George Eastham (1962 and ’66) and Viv Anderson (1982 and ’86) – were Arsenal players as well.

When Keown won his second double with Arsenal in ’02, Sol Campbell was his most regular partner and the former Tottenham man holds the distinction of wearing five different numbers across six tournaments. Coincidentally, he was the answer on one of our previous Knowledge appearances too.

As a greenhorn at Euro 96, his only action was as a late sub against Scotland, wearing 16.


A first-choice for France 98, Glenn Hoddle’s 3-5-2 system meant that the numbering had to be tweaked slightly. Graeme Le Saux retained 3 as the left wing-back, so that meant that Campbell had 2 as he joined the 5 and 6, Adams and Gareth Southgate, in central defence. Here he is not scoring a legitimate goal against Argentina.


With Adams and Keown 5 and 6 at Euro 2000, Campbell was perhaps surprisingly given 4, Paul Ince shunted to 14. He and Adams started together in the game against Portugal, with Ince the only player over 11 in the line-up and 6 absent.


For the 2002 World Cup, Campbell would finally receive one of the ‘proper’ centre-back numbers, given 6 as Rio Ferdinand wore 5, and he retained it for Euro 2004 too.


By 2006, though, John Terry had usurped him and, by and large, Sven-Goran Eriksson’s squad numbering was reflective of the first 11 (at Euro 2004, England began three of the four games wearing 1-11). As a result, Campbell was given 12.


Will such an achievement be matched? Of the Euro 2016 squad, only the aforementioned Milner has had three numbers and he’s 30 now so it’s unlikely (Edit: As pointed out in the comments, he has retired too, which is another impediment). Jack Wilshere (7 in 2012, 17 in 2016) or Ross Barkley (21 in 2014, 19 in 2016) perhaps, but it’s almost certain that Campbell won’t be passed out.

At the other end of the spectrum, David Seaman (1), Ashley Cole (3) and David Beckham (7) wore the same number at five tournaments. This year’s European Championship was Wayne Rooney’s sixth finals, but he wore 9 in his first two, 2004 and 2006, before switching to 10.

One final thing of note – for the 2006 World Cup, Fabio Capello opted to go with the Italian tradition of giving a goalkeeper 12 rather than 13, meaning that Stephen Warnock was the first England outfielder to be allocated the number at a finals since Derek Kevan in 1962, but apparently the latter didn’t even travel.

Reserve goalkeepers Eddie Hopkinson and Alan Hodgkinson were 12 and 13 respectively for the 1958 World Cup (though, again, Hodgkinson was a stay-at-home reserve), so 1954 squad member Ken Green is the only outfielder apart from Warnock to actually wear 13 at a finals.

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.