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.


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.

Scotland cap it all off

We have already looked at the phenomenon of alphabetical numbering by countries in the World Cup.

That is the most well-known ‘quirky’ style, but it’s not the only one. In the 1990 World Cup, and the European Championship in Sweden two years later, Scotland employed a system which – to the best of our knowledge – nobody else has replicated.

If you just had a quick glance at the squad list, you mightn’t twig anything, as numbers 2, 3, 4 and 6 were defenders, 5, 8 and 10 were midfielders and 7 and 9 were strikers. Only number 11 on Gary Gillespie, a defender, jarred with you might consider acceptable.

The basis for the allocation of the numbers was the amount of caps each player had, in descending order. Goalkeeper Jim Leighton was excluded, but if the system had been rigorously applied then he would have been him in number 2 and the most-capped player, Alex McLeish at 1. The only other change was that of strikers Gordon Durie and Alan McInally. It’s possible that the numbers were assigned before friendlies against Egypt, Poland and Malta. Durie played only against Egypt while McInally started the other two. The full squad, with caps in brackets, was as follows:

  1. Jim Leighton (55)
  2. Alex McLeish (69)
  3. Roy Aitken (53)
  4. Richard Gough (49)
  5. Paul McStay (46)
  6. Maurice Malpas (34)
  7. Mo Johnston (33)
  8. Jim Bett (24)
  9. Ally McCoist (23)
  10. Murdo MacLeod (14)
  11. Gary Gillespie (11)
  12. Andy Goram (9)
  13. Gordon Durie (6)
  14. Alan McInally (7)
  15. Craig Levein (5)
  16. Stuart McCall (5)
  17. Stewart McKimmie (4)
  18. John Collins (4)
  19. Dave McPherson (4)
  20. Gary McAllister (3)
  21. Robert Fleck (1)
  22. Bryan Gunn (1)

Had Scotland fielded the players from 1-11 in any of their games, it would have looked like this:


Not perfect by any means, but nor would it have been the worst ever seen. Their first match, the loss to Costa Rica, was the closest they came, with eight of those players present. McPherson featured instead of Gillespie while McCall replaced MacLeod and McInally was up front with Johnston.

When Scotland qualified for Euro 92, they followed broadly the same system but this time there were a few discrepancies.

euro 92

Gough – who had worn 2 in the 1986 World Cup – was in that shirt again despite having a cap fewer than McStay, who was 3. In 1990, reserve goalkeeper Goram had been 12th in the list of caps but now he was first-choice and took 1. His deputy Henry Smith was a relative newcomer with only three caps but he wore 12. Number 18 Dave Bowman and 19 Alan McLaren should have been the other way round too.

Again, it’s likely that the list had been decided before Scotland played the USA, Canada and Norway in friendlies prior to going to Sweden. Before these games, Gough and McStay had the same number of caps but Gough missed the USA game while McStay played in all three. Additionally, Bowman had one cap to his name while McLaren had yet to feature but he played in all three with Bowman only being seen once, leaving McLaren on three and Bowman on two. Duncan Ferguson had also been cap-less before these games but played against the USA and Canada.

  1. Andy Goram (20)
  2. Richard Gough (56)
  3. Paul McStay (57)
  4. Maurice Malpas (50)
  5. Ally McCoist (38)
  6. Brian McClair (23)
  7. Gordon Durie (19)
  8. Dave McPherson (20)
  9. Stewart McKimmie (17)
  10. Stuart McCall (17)
  11. Gary McAllister (15)
  12. Henry Smith (3)
  13. Pat Nevin (12)
  14. Kevin Gallacher (9)
  15. Tom Boyd (9)
  16. Jim McInally (7)
  17. Derek Whyte (4)
  18. Dave Bowman (2)
  19. Alan McLaren (3)
  20. Duncan Ferguson (2)

For their games against Germany and the Netherlands, Scotland had the 11 most capped players on the field and looked something like this: