Buzz Carrick has an interesting article up over at the 3rd Degree about soccer jersey numbers and how they have evolved over time:
A long time ago, when numbers were first placed on jerseys, so the fans and media could tell who players were from high in the stand, the numbers were handed out based on the starting formation. The first 11 wore numbers 1 to 11, starting with the keeper as the #1 and moving from the back to the front.
This is just like the early days of baseball when the batting order wore numbers 1 to 9 based on the place they were hitting. Babe Ruth wore 3 and Lou Gehrig 4 because they hit 3rd and 4th in the Yankee order. When substitutes were added to soccer they would wear numbers starting at 12 and going up to 16, 18, or whatever, depending on how many bench players were allowed.
As the shape of formations changed and evolved over the years the numbers moved in certain patterns depending on the country in which the evolution was taking pace. Numbers took on positional meaning that could slowly change over decades.
As he notes, most kids don’t know the significance of jersey numbers and just pick one when they’re little. So far mine have been polar opposites – choosing 00 and 99. Interesting to know how numbers evolved and which players of note wore them.
Here’s a fun activity if you coach – ask your players to find a current or past famous soccer player who wore their number. Granted some WILL choose their number that way to begin with, so you may need to ask them to find someone else who wore it.