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1-11 in the Premier League era

It’s a bit of a trick question: when was the last time a team played in the Premier League numbered from 1 to 11?

Watching Arsenal away to Aston Villa recently got us thinking. When number 7 Tomas Rosicky, 9 Lukas Podolski and 10 Jack Wilshere came on for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (15), Danny Welbeck (23) and Aaron Ramsey (16), it meant that the Gunners had nine players on the pitch whose numbers were 11 or lower. Numbers 19 Santi Cazorla and 21 Calum Chambers were the two exceptions and had number 2 Mathieu Debuchy been fit then he would likely have been right-back instead of Chambers. Number 5 was the only one missing and that has been vacant since Thomas Vermaelen joined Barcelona.

The last time a team played 1-11 in the Premier League? The occasion was February 10, 2008, when Manchester United played Manchester City at Old Trafford, a game used to mark the 50th anniversary of the Munich air disaster. Paying homage, United wore a replica of the 1958 kit and wore 1-11. Naturally, Edwin van der Sar was 1 and Rio Ferdinand (5), Cristiano Ronaldo (7), Anderson (8) and Ryan Giggs (11) retained their squad numbers. Wes Brown was the first-choice right-back that season and wore 2 even though his squad number was 6. John O’Shea switched from 22 to 3, Nemanja Vidic from 15 to 4.

In midfield, Nani, normally 17, donned 6, and Paul Scholes got to wear 10 instead of 18 while up front Carlos Tevez swapped 32 for 9. That was an engineered situation, however, so when was the last time it happened ‘naturally’?

In the first year of squad numbers, 1993-94, Manchester United started their game away to Newcastle United 1-11, basically the first-choice team when winning the league in ’93 before Roy Keane arrived and made 16 one of the first numbers on the teamsheet. Also that season, Arsenal finished their game away to Oldham looking numerically neat when number 7 Kevin Campbell replaced 18 David Hillier. In the second half of the season, they did revert to playing 1-11 instead of squad numbers (players still wore names on shirts, meaning there could be five different number 4 shirts, for example) but this experiment was abandoned by the start of 94-95.

As far as we can see, Charlton Athletic’s opening two games of 1998-99 were the last time that the players in the squad numbers from 1 to 11 formed a starting team in the Premier League – presumably they felt the need to apologise for the alphabetical numbering of 1993-94. Once the Addicks started losing, panic buys ensued but, as there were no gaps in the squad, we were treated to the joys of seeing Martin Pringle wear 39 and Graham Stuart don 40.

If there has been a more recent example of this beautiful phenomenon in the Premier League (there are a few instances of it happening in the World Cup and European Championship in the last few years – they will form another piece), please let us know.

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16 Comments

  1. October 15, 2014 at 20:07 — Reply

    I wouldn’t have recommended Arsenal doing it the last few years, especially since 2 (from 2005 to 2012) was Abou Diaby. As the Yankees’ Number 8, Yogi Berra, would have said if he’d been a soccer fan (and growing up Italian in St. Louis in the 1930s, he sure could have been), “Even when he can play, he can’t play.”

    Philippe Senderos never should have been given Tony Adams’ 6, although Laurent Koscielny has proven worthy. Defenders shouldn’t be 10, especially William Gallas, even if he did score 2 goals off “Willie’s willie”; Jack Wilshere now wears it with pride. Nor should atrocious left back Andre Santos have been given 11, now worn so nobly by Mesut Ozil.

    And 9 has been a sore spot for Arsenal ever since Nicolas Anelka sulked his way out: Davor Suker lasted just 2 years and Francis Jeffers was a bust. Jose Antonio Reyes got kicked into submission, and Eduardo da Silva got his leg broken by a thug; both were, quite literally, intimidated. Lukas Podolski has lots of talent, but it seems Arsene Wenger won’t use him enough, which I can’t explain.

    • denishurley
      October 16, 2014 at 14:15 — Reply

      Would agree with you on most of that Mike – it really irritated me that a proper team couldn’t be made from the 1-11 players for a good while. Even in 2012-13, when you could, it wasn’t a great team:

      ————-1————-
      —-4——-6——-5—–
      3————————11
      ——-2—-8—-10——-
      ————-7————–
      ————-9————-

  2. Jay29ers
    October 16, 2014 at 10:35 — Reply

    Fascinating stuff! I had always thought that squad numbers had come in with the inception of the Premier League and the printed names followed the following season. And Arsenal’s approach for the latter part of 93-94 not being illegal is staggering! The FA (who I believe ran the show back then) obviously still finding their regulatory feet with the new venture.

  3. October 16, 2014 at 12:11 — Reply

    I still recall the shock I felt when Swindon’s Jon Sheffield became the first PL player to wear no. 40 at Villa Park in 1994, they lost 5-0 that day and I can’t say I was dissapointed!

  4. denishurley
    October 16, 2014 at 13:10 — Reply

    I remember that too Statto, I don’t think he played again that season?

    @Jay – Arsenal going 1-11 was done in conjunction with the league to see if a compromise could be found, presumably it was too costly

  5. October 16, 2014 at 22:17 — Reply

    when watching televised games, I often make a game out of seeing who’s the closest to a natural 1-11 lineup. A point for each 1-11 starter, a half for any on the bench, plus a half point if any of those subs replace a higher numbered player.

    in case of a draw, winner is whoever has the most in the Natural Subs Range(European Edition) of 12-16

    • denishurley
      October 16, 2014 at 22:18 — Reply

      A man after our own heart! Do you then place the over-11 players in the most suitable ‘vacant’ 1-11 number?

  6. October 16, 2014 at 22:18 — Reply

    …on the bench.

  7. Count Zero
    October 17, 2014 at 06:37 — Reply

    Just a small point, but The Latics are Oldham Athletic. Charlton are The Addicks.

    • denishurley
      October 17, 2014 at 12:26 — Reply

      Of course! Thanks for that, corrected now

  8. Simon
    December 19, 2015 at 23:32 — Reply

    If I remember correctly, QPR started the first three games of the 95/96 season with the players allocated 1-11 and in at least one case the three named subs where the players allocated 12, 14 and 15.

  9. denishurley
    December 31, 2015 at 13:45 — Reply

    Good shout, Simon!

  10. Simon
    January 25, 2017 at 23:30 — Reply

    Chelsea came close in April 1997, when the turned up at Coventry with their home kit. It was too similar to Coventry’s navy and blue stripes so they had to borrow red and black checkered away shirts from their hosts’ reserve team.

    The outfield players wore 2 to 11, but ‘keeper Frode Grodås wore his number 30 shirt.

  11. Denis Hurley
    January 25, 2017 at 23:47 — Reply

    Funny you should mention that one, Simon – I’d been planning a post about it!

    Am I right in thinking that all players with 2-11 squad numbers wore the same number, with the others fitting in? I think Zola wore 9?

  12. Simon
    January 26, 2017 at 10:18 — Reply

    Not sure about the numbers Denis, but there was a similar situation in the Championship in the 2004/5 season when Derby went to Brighton.

    As I understand it Derby actually brought both their white home shirts and blue away shirts and black shorts and socks, but the referee wasn’t having it so it ended up with numbers 2-11 and (assumingly) 12 and 14-16 being printed on their black warm-up shirts in Brighton’s club shop.

    I can’t find the article now, but remember reading that players with squad numbers 2-11 in the starting eleven wore the same numbers as they usually did and the other players took the remaining ones. As numbers were worn on the shorts as well some players wore one number on their shorts and another one on their shirts, which was accounced over the PA system before the match as well.

    Lee Camp was in goal for Derby that day and his squad number was 24, so not a ‘straight’ 1-11.

  13. November 14, 2017 at 16:41 — Reply

    Shortly after the squad system was introduced for Football League clubs, Fulham selected players 1 to 11 in a League Cup tie at Norwich which they won 4-0. They’ve never done it since.

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1-11 in the Premier League era