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What number should a back-up goalkeeper wear?

What number should a back-up goalkeeper wear?

Well, we say ‘back-up goalkeeper’ because we still cling to the vain, naive hope that every club gives number 1 to its number 1, but sadly that’s not the case. Assuming that that is still worn by a netminder though (and Edgar Davids and Derek Riordan have done their bit to erode its sanctity in recent times), what are people’s preferences for the others in the squad?

Obviously, this wasn’t really an issue before squad numbers came in at club level. For international tournaments, countries tended to assign 12 or 22 if carrying two and both of those if taking three, though in some instances it was 12 and 13 or 21 and 22. Another oft-used GK shirt was 16, presumably because this was a popular choice for ‘normal’ internationals, where five subs were allowed.

Premier League clubs were allowed a substitute goalkeeper in 1992-93, the season before squad numbers. Many used 16 along with the 12 and 14 which had been in use since a second sub was allowed in the late 1980s. However, at the start of 1993-94, the hitherto-unused 13 was the second goalkeeper shirt of choice, with no club assigning it to an outfielder (off the top of our heads, Brian McClair in 1996-97 was the first to break this trend). It’s still popular for goalkeepers, with 12 rarely used by them in England. Most other numbers up as far as 30 have been seen at one stage or another.

In a lot of Europe and the rest of the world, 12 remains the top choice, though in Spain, league rules mandate that 13 and 25 must be used, while in France it’s 16 and 30. Both of those countries, incidentally, have fairly strict rules on numbering, unlike Italy, where anything goes.

What are your preferences? If playing Football Manager with an English club, we’d tend to go with 1, 13 and 22. In Ireland, 16 is seen as the traditional number and so, in our current game with Cork City, which has reached the early 2040s, it’s 1, 16 and 25, with 30 and 35 reserved for goalkeepers if needed. In our view, something just doesn’t sit right unless exactly one of the numbers between 12 and 21 is used by a goalkeeper.

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  1. Jimmy
    May 9, 2023 at 15:12 — Reply

    Great article! I tend to spend way too long making sure all the squad numbers make perfect sense in my FIFA careers, at least the outfield player – my poor extra keepers were given whatever was left over. But no more! Cheers

  2. Kate
    January 2, 2022 at 18:00 — Reply

    Any reason no goalkeepers outside of the US and Canada don’t wear #0? Is it a league thing, or just preference? I wore #14 as a keeper once in youth league one year (it was my regular shirt number), but didn’t have a number in high school (out first-string keeper on JV wore my old #14 jersey that I lent them).

  3. koala onesie
    August 19, 2018 at 02:51 — Reply

    wonderful post, very informative. I ponder why the other specialists of this sector do not understand this. You should continue your writing. I am sure, you have a great readers’ base already!

  4. french fan
    January 2, 2018 at 15:37 — Reply

    About France, Barthez began with the 16 in the 96-98 period becase he was the back up of Bernard Lama. Even when he became the main keeper for the WC 98, he choose to keep his 16, and he keeped during all his games with France.
    Since 2002, usually, 1, 16 and 23 are the keepers number for France’s squads.

  5. October 30, 2014 at 13:26 — Reply

    Interesting point about France and Spain. Their international goalkeepers have often worn 16 and 13 (Barthez, Canizares), though I had no idea there was a rule attached to this trend. Let’s not forget Nery Pumpido’s preference for 18. I always prefer 12 and 22 — the English 13 never made much sense to me.

    • October 30, 2014 at 14:02 — Reply

      Are you sure about Pumpido, James? I always thought the 18 in 1986 was just because of the alphabetical numbering and then he took 1 in 1990.

      • October 30, 2014 at 16:20 — Reply

        You are absolutely correct, Denis. How could I forget that? At least he wasn’t lumbered with 7 or 5 like Fillol!

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What number should a back-up goalkeeper wear?