The reason behind the printing of jersey numbers is simple: it helps referees and fans distinguish players on the pitch.
Numbered shirts were first worn in professional football by English clubs Arsenal and Sheffield Wednesday in August 1928. At that time, starting players were wearing numbers 1 to 11 according to their positions on the field, and higher numbers for substitutes.
Fixed numbers assigned to each player, called squad numbers, for the duration of a competition was introduced first during the 1954 World Cup. 40 years later, The Football Association (governing body of English football) abandoned the required use of 1-11 for the starters and squad numbers became the rules during the 1993-94 English Premier League season. Nowadays most of the top football leagues in the world adopted the squad numbers system.
Different methods to assign a shirt number to a player exist:
The jersey number traditionally denotes the position of a soccer player. Despite the establishment of squad numbers, jerseys 1 to 11 are often given to the first choice line-up according to their positions on the field.
Below is the traditional numbering of players in a modern 4-2-3-1 formation:
1 – Goalkeeper
2 – Right fullback
3 – Left fullback
4 – Center back
5 – Center back
6 – Defending/Holding midfielder
7 – Right midfielder/wingers
8 – Central/Box-to-box midfielder
9 – Striker
10 – Attacking midfielder/Playmaker
11 – Left midfielder/wingers
Because the assignment of jersey numbers by football position is a tradition and not a rule, teams are free to give numbers to their players as they want.
During 3 consecutive World Cups (1974, 1978, and 1982) Argentina numbered the team alphabetically by surname. In consequence, starting goalkeeper Ubaldo Fillol wore the number 5 jersey during the 1978 World Cup and the number 7 in 1982 letting the number 1 to an outfield player. An exception was made in 1982 to let Diego Maradona wore his favored 10 instead of the 12.
During the 1982 World Cup, England used the same alphabetical order system except for the goalkeepers and the number 7 of the captain, Kevin Keegan.
Before the 1958 World Cup, Brazilian officials sent the list of selected players to the FIFA, but forgot to assign shirt numbers to each of them. This is a delegate of Uruguay, Lorenzo Villizzio, which distributed the numbers trying to do his best. He gave the number 10 to an unknown 17 years old player, Pelé, and the number 3 to the first choice goalkeeper Gilmar!
Some jersey numbers became more popular than the rest through the history of football. Below are the three legendary football jersey numbers:
7 – the number seven, dedicated traditionally to right wingers (Luis Figo, Marc Overmars, Pierre Littbarski, Garrincha), has been worn also by many brilliant forward like Raul, Claudio Caniggia, Pato, David Villa, Bebeto or Shevchenko.
But number 7 jersey became iconic in one club particularly: Manchester United. Indeed, many players who have worn this number marked the history of the Red Devils like George Best, Bryan Robson, Eric Cantona, David Beckham and Cristiano Ronaldo recently.
9 – the number nine football jersey is worn by pure strikers, deadly anywhere near the penalty area and brilliant finishers. Ronaldo de Lima, Romario, Gabriel Batistuta, Marco Van Basten, Samuel Eto’o and Alan Shearer are some of the great footballers who donned the number 9 shirt.
10 – on the shirts of all football teams in the world, there is a number that is more prestigious than all the others, the No. 10. Mythical, this number is usually reserved for the most skillful player of the team.
The most iconic footballers in history like Pelé, Diego Maradona, Zinedine Zidane, Michel Platini, Ferenc Puskás and Messi today wore or wear the legendary number 10.
You may have come across the term “retired jersey number”. In football, like in other sports, a retired jersey number is one which can no longer be used by other players of the same squad.
Numbers are retired to honor a player who has given significant contributions to a club or national team. Below are some retired jersey numbers:
#3 of Milan – for Paolo Maldini, the greatest player of AC Milan
#6 of Milan – for Franco Baresi, one of the finest defenders in football history
#6 of Roma – for Aldair, one of the best Brazilian fullbacks
#6 of West Ham United – for Bobby Moore, one of England’s greatest footballers
#10 of Brescia – for Roberto Baggio, the best Italian footballer ever
#10 of Kispest AC/Honvéd – for Ferench Puskas, considered as the best Hungarian players of all time
#10 of Napoli – for Diego Maradona, who gave lifted them from one of the poorest to the best club in Serie A
#14 of Ajax – for Johan Cruijff, considered as Netherland’s best ever player
#23 of Manchester City – for Marc-Vivien Foe, City player who died while playing for his country Cameroon
Jersey number retired for fans
In football, the fans are dubbed the 12th player because their support is equal to having an additional player on the field. Some football clubs that received strong support from fans retire the number 12 jersey to honor them.
Thus, Fenerbahce, RC Lens, Bayern Munich, Feyenoord, Portsmouth, Dynamo Kiev, Lazio or Zenith St. Petersburg are some of the clubs where the number 12 has been permanently withdrawn to pay tribute to the loyalty of supporters.
Who invented football?, discover the ancient origins of football and when the game we love today was created.
Main football rules, get a better understanding on the main rules of football.
Football formations explained, find out what are the different football formations in nowadays.
Different types of football game, as soccer evolved to become the worldwide sport it is now, many variations emerged; check out the 7 most popular football variants.