“And replacing number 121….”

When Australia took on Indonesia in an Asian qualifier this week, youngster Tommy Oar made quite the impression with an outstanding debut performance. However, it was his shirt that was just as big a talking point amongst the game’s purists.

The days of teams stepping out in numbers 1 to 11 look to be truly gone as the modern game now seemingly requires shirt numbers that are in triple figures.

Tommy Oar’s number 121 shirt, simply put, looked ridiulous, and the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) are to blame, according to Simon Hill of Fox Sports.

“The AFC demands that players are given a number that they keep throughout the qualifying campaign,” he says.

“So I can only surmise that Pim [Verbeek, Australia manager] was thinking Tommy was well down the pecking order when he got 121!”

Oar wasn’t the only player to be handed a shirt that would be more at home in the NFL. Shannon Cole wore number 60 alongside fellow centre half and number 61, Simon Colosimo, while  Scott Jamieson (66) and David Williams (89) also got in on the act.

Shirt numbers have always had a sense of ridiculousness about them, with Serie A leading the way with some of the most bizarre cases.

While at Inter, Nicola Ventola wore 78 to symbolise the year of his birth. When AC Milan signed Andriy Shevchenko, Ronaldinho and Mathieu Flamini in 2008, all three adopted the same idea as Ventola, wearing 76, 80 and 84 respectively.

Goalkeeper Cristiano Lupatelli also wore the number 10 at Chievo, while fellow shot stopper Luca Bucci wore both the number 5 and 7 shirts during his time at Parma.

Chile striker Ivan Zamorano started a bizarre trend in Serie A in the 90s. Having been the club’s main striker, he was unhappy at having his number 9 shirt taken off him by new signing Ronaldo. As some weird form of protest, he adopted the number 18 shirt, though he seperated the numbers with ‘+’, insinuating that one plus eight would equal the nine that was so cruelly snatched from his grasp. Genius.

Clinton Morrison certainly thought so, and did something similar while at Coventry City (see below).

The madness isn’t just confined to Italy however. FC Porto’s Vitor Baia become the first player to wear 99 in a European final back in 2003, while in Mexico, players such as Jared Borgetti, Juan Pablo Rodriguez, and Benjamin Galindo have all worn 58 having been paid to do so by a local radio station.

Major League Soccer in the US is another great one for weird and wonderful squad numbers. Indeed, it’s the only place I’ve seen the number zero being worn. Los Angeles Galaxy goalkeeper Steve Cronin was the culprit in the 2006 season.

The highest number currently being sported in the Premiership is 52, as worn by Arsenal’s Niklas Bendtner. The striker made the decision to change from number 26 at the start of the current season.

“Before the season starts I wanted to change my squad number from 26 which I’ve obviously had for a number of seasons,” he said.

“I chose to move to 52 because it’s a special number to me personally, and I hope that it brings me good luck for the new season. I appreciate that a good number of fans have bought their kits for 2009/10 already with names and numbers printed up so I’d like to personally cover the cost of replacing anyone’s shirt that has my previous number.

“It means a lot to see supporters wearing your name and number, and I want to ensure people aren’t inconvenienced by the change.”

No number appears to be sacred now. The once coveted number 9 and 10 shirts, which were once seen as the hallmarks of the great attackers in the game, have been worn by defenders Khalid Boulahrouz and William Gallas at Chelsea and Arsenal respectively.

In Scotland, Hibs striker Derek Riordan once wore 01 because the number 10 was already taken.

La Liga seems to be the only place where there is a bit of tradition and sense left. Players in the A-squad, of which there can be a maximum of 25, must wear a number between 1 and 25, with goalkeepers assigned 1, 13 or 25. How nice and straight forward is that?

Squad numbers are just another example of a simple game being overcomplicated.

Author Details

Neil Sherwin
Neil Sherwin

Co-editor of BackPageFootball.com. Writes mostly on Premier League and A-League with contributions to other sites including TheFootballSack, InBedWithMaradona and Bloomberg's BSports. Has featured on The Guardian's Football Weekly.

6 thoughts on ““And replacing number 121….”

  1. Great piece and something thats begun to annoy me more and more!! I’ve always remembered zamorano’s move in partilcular but i had no idea that another footballing geniius imitated it. William Gallas’ no 10 is particularily irritating.

    Number 23 seems to featue an awful amount these days aswell. Players seem to love hopping on the Michael Jordan / Beckham bandwagon.

  2. Cheers lads.

    On the number 23 thing, City had the ultimate marketing dream when Stephen Jordan was in the squad but we couldn’t give him the number because it was retired for Marc-Vivien Foe!

    Think of the clothing line there could’ve been.

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