For 65 years following the first
international match in 1872, England’s players took the pitch with no
identification—no numbers or names--on their shirts.
The players were identified in the match programmes only by their
position. Even so, there was little chance of
this era, with the exception only of the very early years, England played in a
2-3-5 formation (two fullbacks, three halfbacks and five forwards), the
players pretty much stuck to
their positions during play, and no substitutions were permitted for any
appeared in club level football before the England team wore them for the
first time, although the national side regularly sported shirt numbers before
the Football League required them for league play.
On 25 August 1928,
Arsenal and Chelsea wore numbered shirts in their matches against The Wednesday
(renamed Sheffield Wednesday soon after) and Swansea Town, respectively. This is the earliest record of
the use of shirt numbers in Football League play. On 29 April 1933,
shirt numbers were worn for the first time in the Football Association Challenge
Cup final. Everton players wore numbers 1 through 11 and
Manchester City numbers 12 through 22. The following week, on 6 May
1933, Everton wore their numbered shirts in a Football League match against
Wolverhampton Wanderers at Molineux. But at its annual general
meeting in 1933, the Football League Management Committee rejected a proposal
requiring shirt numbers after hearing objections that it would
cost too much and spoil club colours.
On 4 December 1933, Arsenal,
reigning Football League champions, wore numbers as an experiment when they
beat the full Austrian national side, in the guise of F.C. of Vienna, 4-2
at Highbury. However, the Football League Management Committee again
rejected requiring shirt numbers at its 1934 annual general meeting.
England wore numbers on the back of their shirts for
the first time in a trial match, a 5-1 defeat against The Rest on 22 March
1933 at Fratton Park, Portsmouth. It would be another four years that
England would wear numbers in an official capacity, in a 3-1 loss to Scotland at Hampden Park in Glasgow on 17
April 1937. For the next
two decades and more, England continued
to play in the 2-3-5 formation or its variant, the W-M formation, and shirt
numbers were assigned according to player position, 1 going to the goalkeeper
and 2 through 11 to the outfield players beginning with the right fullback,
continuing through the 2-3-5 formation from back to front and right to left
and ending with the outside left.
On 5 June 1939, the
Football League Management Committee finally decreed at its annual general meeting that players on each
club would wear numbers 1 through 11 in league matches and that the numbers
would be assigned according to position. William Cuff, the incoming
Football League president, turned aside a proposal that would have made shirt
either all clubs would wear them or none. The vote was 24 for numbering
against. Shirt numbers were first worn
in league play during the 1939-40 season, which was abandoned after three
rounds of matches on the outbreak of the Second World War. Thus the
first official season in which Football League matches featured shirt numbers
was the first conducted after the war, the 1946-47 season.
Shirt Numbers in
the 2-3-5 Formation
Shirt numbers and positions were so closely aligned they became synonymous.
Positions were often referred to by shirt number.
To say “Tommy Lawton was England’s No. 9” indicated he was the
centre-forward. To note
“Billy Wright was England’s No. 5” was to say he was the
centre-half (or, more accurately by that time, the centre-back).
To say “Stanley Matthews was England’s No. 7” meant he was the
This identity of shirt numbers and positions meant
that shirt numbers were assigned on a match-by-match basis to the players who
took the pitch on the day. No
player had a claim to a particular number unless he played in the position
corresponding to that number. Tom
Finney wore No. 7 when he was chosen as outside right and No. 11 when he was
played at outside left, but Stanley Matthews wore No. 7 if he was selected at
outside right and Bobby Langton No. 11 if he was selected at outside left.
As new formations—4-2-4, 4-3-3, 4-4-2, 3-5-2, 5-3-2
and their variants—were introduced beginning in the late 1950s and early 1960s, no
longer was there a strict correlation between positions and shirt numbers, although England’s starting
goalkeeper always wears No. 1, the two fullbacks usually wear Nos. 2
and 3, a central defender usually wears No. 5 and a striking forward
usually wears No. 9. The
introduction of substitutions into international play as a matter of course in
1970 meant that players wearing numbers
higher than 11 routinely appeared
on the pitch for England.
Yet, outside the major final tournaments, England
still cling to tradition and assign shirt numbers 1 through 11 to the players
who start a match, whoever they are, with the substitutes, whoever they are,
wearing the higher numbers, 12 and above.
When a player has established himself as a regular in England’s
starting 11, he usually is given the same number, but he has no claim to that
number beyond matches in which he is a starting player. For example, David Beckham invariably wears No. 7 when he
plays for England, but another starting player wears No. 7 when Beckham is
injured or suspended. Similarly,
when Michael Owen starts for England, he invariably wears No. 10, but if he is unavailable for a particular match, another starting player wears
Beginning with the 1954 tournament, FIFA’s
competition regulations have required teams taking part
in World Cup final tournaments to adopt a squad numbering system.
Shirt numbers are assigned to all the players on a national team’s
entire squad for the duration of the tournament.
At World Cup 2002, each national team was allowed 23 squad members, and
the competition regulations required assignment of numbers 1 through 23 to
squad members. UEFA’s competition regulations also have
required the squad numbering
system at European Championship final tournaments.
Under this squad numbering system, England’s starting team often
includes players wearing numbers higher than 11, and, correspondingly, the
substitutes often include players wearing numbers below 12.
Some national teams have adopted a squad numbering
system for all their matches, final tournament or not, with players assigned
their own numbers for the duration of the season or even the duration of their
international careers. Although
there has been some discussion at the Football Association about adopting a
squad numbering system, England
have thus far persisted in the traditional custom of assigning shirt numbers
on a match-by-match basis, so that England players starting a match wear
numbers higher than 11 only at one of the major final tournaments, where FIFA
or UEFA regulations take precedence.
The squad numbering system is, however, firmly
entrenched in English football at club level. On 11 June 1994, the
Premier League decided at its annual meeting to adopt the squad numbering
system for the Premiership's second season, 1993-94.
first sported player names in major tournament play before shirts with player
names became a regular feature of English club football. But
almost another decade passed before the national side shirts bore player names
in qualifying and friendly matches as well as final tournament
matches, and by that time shirts bearing player names were
well-established in English club level play.
Shirts bearing player names as well as numbers were
first worn in European Championship final
tournament play at the 1992 tournament in Sweden. England's first match in that tournament, the
dismal goalless draw against Denmark at Malmö Stadion in Malmö on 11 June
1992, was the first occasion on which England jerseys bore player names as
well as numbers. Shirts bearing
player names as well as numbers were first used in World Cup final tournament
play at the 1994 tournament in the U.S.A.
England, of course, did not qualify for that tournament, and so the
first World Cup final tournament at which England shirts bore player names was
the 1998 tournament in France.
Player names first appeared on top-flight English club shirts in
the League Cup final of 18 April 1993, which pitted Arsenal against Sheffield
Wednesday, and the Football Association Challenge Cup final of 15 May 1993
(replayed following an extra-time draw on 20 May 1993), which featured the same two
teams. On 11 June 1994, the Premier League decided at its annual
meeting not only that clubs should adopt the squad numbering system, but also
that players would wear shirts bearing their names as well as their squad
numbers in league play at the start of the Premiership's second season,
Outside the World Cup and European Championship final
tournaments, England shirts did not bear player names as well as numbers until
the World Cup qualification 2-2 draw against Greece at Old
Trafford in Manchester on 6 October 2001.
This change was a long time in coming precisely because of
England’s continuing adherence to the practice of assigning shirt numbers on
a match-by-match basis. Since the
players who start a match, whoever they are, wear numbers 1 through 11, which
name should go with which number may not be decided until the day of the match
when the coach delays lineup decisions, as when a player's fitness is in doubt.
Modern technology has made affixing the appropriate lettering to a
jersey much easier and quicker so that last-minute changes in the starting
lineup may be readily accommodated.
The commercial prospects of shirts bearing player
names were, of course, irresistible. England's players thereby gained
additional exposure, which helped their promotional prospects. The
addition of names also boosted the already-booming fan market for
replica shirts, benefiting the Football Association and Umbro, the long-time
manufacturer of England's uniforms, as well as the players.