Soccer Shirt Numbers: History and Meaning

  • Football shirt numbers are for easier identification
  • Normally number 1 goes to the goal keeper
  • Some numbers are infamous

The explanation for the printing of soccer shirt numbers is straightforward. It enables referees, lineman and the fans to recognize players on the pitch. But apart from this, over time, various numbers developed their own mystic and reputation.

Introduction: Soccer Shirt Numbers

On 25th August 1928, Arsenal played against Sheffield Wednesday and and Chelsea hosted Swansea Town at Stamford Bridge. These were the first English clubs to wear numbered shirts in a professional football match. For the first time fans could be properly identify each player. As The Daily Express reported, “The 35,000 spectators were able to give credit for each bit of good work to the correct individual. Because the team were numbered, and the large figures in black on white squares enabled each man to be identified without trouble.” Around then, the starting players were wearing numbers 1 to 11 as per their position on the field. Higher numbers were for substitutes.

Fixed Player Numbers

Static numbers were given out to every player. These were “squad numbers”, and saw their introduction during the duration of the 1954 World Cup. Forty years later, the Football Association finally disbanded the use of 1-11 system starting order. Online sports book news in the UK says that the use of persistent squad numbers became the norm during the 1993-94 English Premier League season. These days the vast majority of the world’s top football clubs utilize squad numbers as standard practice.

There are various methods to dole out a shirt number to a player.

By Player Position

The shirt number generally denotes the position of a soccer player on the pitch. In spite of the foundation of squad numbers, shirt numbers from 1 to 11 are regularly given to the first team line-up according to their place on the field.

The following is the normal numbering of players in an advanced 4-2-3-1 arrangement:

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/Play maker
11 – Left midfielder/wingers

The use of a specific shirt number by football position is a convention, and not a standard. To that end, football clubs are allowed to offer different numbers to their players as they see fit. Maybe your number will come up at Bet365!

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Famous number 10

In Alphabetical Order

During three back to back World Cups (1974, 1978, and 1982) Argentina numbered the team one after another in order of surname. Because of this, the starting goalkeeper, Ubaldo Fillol, wore the number 5 shirt during the 1978 World Cup. He then wore the number 7 in 1982. The number 1 shirt went to an outfield player. A special case was made in 1982 in order to let Diego Maradona wear his favorite number 10 rather than the number12.

During the 1982 World Cup, England utilized the same order framework aside from the goalkeepers and the number 7 of the captain, Kevin Keegan.

Given by “Mistake”

Prior to the 1958 World Cup, Brazilian authorities sent the selection list of chosen players to FIFA, Unfortunately, they neglected to apportion shirt numbers to each player. Thus a poor representative of Uruguay, Lorenzo Villizzio, was got the job of dispersing the numbers. He did his best. He gave the number 10 to an unknown 17 years old player, Pelé.  The number 3 went to the main goalkeeper, Gilmar.

Renowned Soccer Shirt Numbers

Some shirt numbers are more famous than others. This is often because of their historical significance. The following are the three best known football shirt numbers:


The number seven, as is customarily, goes to the right wingers (Pierre Littbarski, Luis Figo, Garrincha, Marc Overmars). Those wearing it on numerous occasions also include David Villa, Raul, Pato, Claudio Caniggia,  Bebeto and Shevchenko.

However, number 7 shirt became most famous thanks to one club in particular: Manchester United. Without a doubt, the numerous players who have worn this number were significant in the the history of the Red Devils. Players like George Best, Eric Cantona, Bryan Robson, Cristiano Ronaldo and David Beckham.

No. 9

The number 9 football shirt is for by strikers. These are players who are dangerous anywhere near the goal. They are lethal finishers. Their normal position is “center forward”. Ronaldo de Lima, Romario, Marco Van Basten, Gabriel Batistuta, Samuel Eto’o and Alan Shearer are just a few of the extraordinary footballers who have worn the number 9 shirt.

No. 10

The number 10 on the shirt carries more esteem than any other number. Some also say it’s lucky. Talking of luck, check out the football odds at Bet365. The No. 10 shirt is normally worn by the most dexterous and talented player of the team. The most notorious and gifted footballers in history like Ferenc Puskás, Pelé, Zinedine Zidane, Michel Platini, Diego Maradona and Messi, all wore or wear the number 10.

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The Goalkeeper is normally Number 1

Retired Shirt Numbers

You may know the expression “retired shirt number”. In football, as in many team games, a shirt number going into retirement is one which can never again be used by a different player of the same squad. The retirement of a number is out of respect to a player. Someone who has made a noteworthy contribution to a club or a national team. The following are famous for retiring some shirt numbers:

Paolo Maldini, #3 of Milan – the greatest player of AC Milan
Franco Baresi, #6 of Milan – one of the best defenders in football history
Aldair, #6 of Roma – one of the greatest Brazilian fullbacks
Bobby Moore, #6 of West Ham United – one of England’s greatest players
Roberto Baggio, #10 of Brescia – the best Italian footballer ever
Ferenc Puskas, #10 of Kispest AC/Honvéd – considered as the best Hungarian footballer of all time
Diego Maradona,  #10 of Napoli – who took them from one of the poorest to the best club in Serie A
Johan Cruijff, #14 of Ajax – Netherland’s best ever player
Marc-Vivien Foe,  #23 of Manchester City – died while playing for his country Cameroon

Shirt Number Retired for Fans

In football, the fans are the twelfth player. This is because their help is equivalent to having an extra player on the field. Some football clubs that got solid support from their fans retire the number 12 shirt as a mark of respect for them. In this manner, Bayern Munich, Fenerbahce, Dynamo Kiev, Portsmouth, RC Lens, Feyenoord, Lazio or Zenith St. Petersburg are just a small number of the clubs where the number 12 was withdrawn in to tribute to the devotion of the supporters. For more numbers, check out these online sports book sites in the UK.

There are cultural differences as well.  The Dutch traditionally allocate No.5 to left-backs. But the Italians assign No.4 to this position. For the German’s it’s No.6 and vice versa. Argentina, having been effectively cut off from International sports up until the 1960’s and beyond, saw the development their own system. It was based on their unusual player formation of 4-3-3.

And finally, we should mention the No.77 on the shirt of Andreas Görlitz. Playing for the German club,  Karlsruher, he wore this number throughout the 2007/08 season as a nod to his rock band, “Room 77.”

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