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.

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

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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.

‘Mark no. 6!’ ‘Which one?’

Friend of the site Jay from Design Football – the brains behind the excellent podcast of the same name – asked us an intriguing question recently: have there been instances, apart from testimonials, where two team-mates have worn the same number?

He suggested Peter Crouch for England against Uruguay in 2006, when he was officially number 21 but a printing error meant that, while the front of his shirt and his shorts reflected that, he had 12 on his back.

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Unfortunately, the ‘real’ number 12 was Luke Young and he stayed on the bench for the duration.

The first example that came to our heads was the play-off for the final Euro 96 qualifying spot, when the Netherlands met the Republic of Ireland at Anfield, two Patrick Kluivert goals giving the Dutch victory and ultimately making it Jack Charlton’s last match in charge of Ireland.

Edgar Davids would come to prominence for his number choices later in his career, but back then he was firmly established as number 8 for Ajax and Holland (though it would be another year before squad numbers were brought in in the Eredivisie). Either it was the kitman’s error or he wasn’t paying attention in the dressing room and plucked the wrong shirt, but he ended up wearing a short-sleeved 6 in the first half, the same as the player who usually wore it, Ronald de Boer, who had opted for the warmer option (click for bigger versions).

 

Irish commentator George Hamilton was quick to spot the mistake, but it wasn’t until half-time that it was rectified, with Davids wearing the proper number 8 in the secondhalf.

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Dele Alli’s possibilities

Bambidele ‘Dele’ Alli’s first three England caps were as a substitute and on each occasion he wore 20, which is his number for Tottenham Hotspur.

His first start came against France in November, when he wore 7, and last Friday against Germany he shone in the number 10 shirt as England came from 2-0 down to win 3-2. With the days of your Gerrards and Lampards gone and Jack Wilshere sadly looking like becoming the player who is a bonus when fit and little else, there are spots up for grabs and the former Milton Keynes Dons player is intent on taking one.

All season, he has been instrumental in Tottenham’s title challenge, displaying considerable maturity in midfield, and England manager Roy Hodgson believes that his all-round skill levels are such that he can play in a variety of midfield roles.

Dele Alli could do anything in those midfield positions. He could be box-to-box. He could be a number 10, or a number 6. He could be any of them. He has genuine all-round ability.

He can challenge, run, fight for the ball, see a pass, score a goal. You mention Bryan Robson — that’s the player I’d like to think he could become.

Robson of course wore 7, for West Brom, Manchester United and England, but it’s the other part of Hodgson’s quote which is interesting, when looking at it through an English prism.

While Alli was 10 against Germany, it’s normally a striker’s number for the England team. Geoff Hurst wore it when scoring a hat-trick in the 1966 World Cup final and it was also favoured by Gary Lineker while it’s almost a certainty that Wayne Rooney will wear it at Euro 2016.

We would imagine that Hodgson referring to “a number 6” comes from his time coaching on the continent, where it is used as a shorthand for a half-back-type midfielder. In England, of course, it means only one position, and, while he may carry the national team on his back, we would be very surprised if Alli ever carried the number 6 too.

Players of this type, including one former Tottenham and England hero, often end up as number 8s in England, so this may well be the case.

Keown and Adams, Adams and Keown

We’ve already looked at Xavi and Iniesta switching their club numbers at international level. There are probably not enough instances to make this a regular (or interesting) feature, but we will provide examples occasionally.

Number 5 was actually what Tony Adams wore on his Arsenal debut but it was 6 that he made his own, wearing it from 1986 until 2002. Martin Keown also wore both of the traditional centre-back numbers in first stint with the Gunners (on a few occasions he was 6 with Adams 5). When he returned he was given the number 14 on the introduction of squad numbers in 1993 and kept it until ’99, when Steve Bould’s departure freed up 5 – one wonders what Thierry Henry, who signed in ’99, might have taken if 14 wasn’t available. Apologies for the picture below by the way, there don’t appear to be too many images showing Keown and Adams for Arsenal with their numbers visible.

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Adams was England’s number 6 at Euro ’88 but was frozen out for a period after that and when he became a first-choice again it was alongside Gary Pallister, who had a firm hold on 6. Adams did switch when partnered with Bould against Greece in 1994, but at the turn of the millennium, when Keown was alongside him, they had the opposite of their Arsenal numbers (Seaman included so that the two pics are the same size, in case you’re curious).adamskeown2