Some History of Soccer Jersey Numbers

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.

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  1. I wore #11 even though I played left back in HS and even though I somewhat understood the numbering (at the time I knew #1 = goal keeper, #10 = best player, which is NOT true but it so happens the midfielder is usually the best player)

  2. As an older footballer when I first started the numbers on a football team denoted the position, please note we were only allowed two substitutes usually numbers 12 and 14 (13 is unlucky).
    1 = Goalkeeper.
    2 = Right Fullback.
    3 = Left Fullback.
    4 = Centre Half (Centre Back).
    5 = Centre Half (Centre Back). Or possibly Centre Midfield.
    6 = Centre Half (Centre Back). Or possibly Centre Midfield.
    7 = Right Wing (Right Midfield)
    8 = Centre Midfield.
    9 = Centre Forward.
    10 = Centre Forward.
    11 = Left Wing (Left Midfield).

  3. Number 11 for me! When I started to play, my team ordered kits with the numbers dictating the size of the shirt. I was easily the smallest on my team until high school, so I wore number 1 playing left wing until I was about 10 and started playing on more competitive club teams where they gave me number 11 and its been that way ever since.

  4. I wore number 7 when I started playing soccer at a very young age & when I grew up I switched number to number 10 & that’s when the team won are first championship & after that championship thats when I changed back to my number 7 thanks

  5. I played number 6 and 8 in middle school and 7 twice and 6 agian in high school got one more year to go. Kinda want seven again though or maybe try 9. But you know..the number that you wear on your jersey doesnt really matter. Its all about the effort and dedication you put into every practice and game ^^

  6. may I point out that number 10 is not always given to the best player but the attacking play maker of the side. many teams would not regard there number 10 as there best player for example Manchester united give their best player the number 7 jersey eg: George Best, Eric Cantona, David Beckham and Cristiano Ronaldo. or Newcastle they give there best players the number 9 like Alan Shearer, Malcolm Mcdonald or more recently Papiss Cisse.

  7. I wear number 19 and I play as a forward
    I’m not that good at football and just started it 2 years ago.
    But my friend said that i have potential by looking at the result that I gain during this 2 years. He said, most of the famous winger and striker started their career with number 19 before they go with 9,10 or 11. It symbolize young spirit that ready to go to the next level just like Gotze, Welbeck, Cazorla, Modric, Nasri, Llorente and Messi

  8. I always wore #33 for basketball, because that’s what some of my favorite players wore. Moving to soccer I knew that 1-11 were worn by starters, so instead of 33 I selected 3 (even though I play left midfield) and have kept it ever since.