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