For much of his Liverpool career, Ronnie Whelan wore the number 5 shirt, first on the left side of midfield and then in the middle after the arrival of John Barnes in 1987.
As we well discuss in our upcoming mammoth Liverpool numbering article, the wearing of 5 by a non-defender for Liverpool was a common occurrence, though in Whelan’s case it was a personal preference, as he related in his 2011 autobiography, Walk On: My Life in Red.
In discussing how the club fared under the management of former team-mate Graeme Souness, Whelan laments how he lost his favoured shirt, though he has his dates a little bit wrong:
…Then the Premier League kicked in at the start of 1992/93 and everybody was issued with squad numbers.
Players have a thing about the number on their shirt. Ray Kennedy had worn the No. 5 so I got it when I took over from him. I didn’t own the number, I also wore 8 and 10 over the years. But early in 1982/83 I was out injured and not playing great when I got back into the team.
Then in September 1982 we played Dundalk in the first round of the European Cup at Oriel Park. Before the game I asked Ronnie Moran, ‘Can I wear number five today?’ Bugsy grunted back at me, ‘Wear whatever you want.’ So I wore the No. 5, I scored two goals that day, and it was always my lucky number after that. I tried to get it as often as I could and eventually I wore it more or less constantly for seven years.
Then I found out in the 1992/93 that Wrighty [Mark Wright] would be the permanent captain now and that he’d be wearing the No. 5 shirt. I’d be wearing No. 12. A manager with half-decent man-management skills would’ve gone to a player who’d been there all his career, whether it was me or anybody else, and explained the situation. No big deal: just show a bit of respect and courtesy to a long-serving player, that’s all.
Whelan is correct with the broad strokes of the story – he did revert to 5 for that Dundalk game (interestingly, he had been wearing 6 in the few games before it, more of that anon) and kept it for almost all of the 1980s and early 90s. His 1990-91 and 1991-92 seasons were hampered by injury, and he missed the ’92 FA Cup final. Wright captained the side to victory, though he wore 6 that day with Jan Molby wearing 5 in midfield.
It wasn’t until 1993-94 that squad numbers would come in, and Whelan began 92-93 wearing 5 with Wright at 6. It wasn’t until January 1993 that Wright switched from 6 to 5 (after a loss to Wimbledon, Torben Piechnik, who had been wearing 5, was dropped). When Whelan returned to the side in March, he wore 6 – which had always been his number for the Republic of Ireland – from then until he was injured again after a win over Leeds in April.
Jamie Redknapp then came into the team wearing 6, though when squad numbers were introduced that summer, he was given 15 with Whelan in the aforementioned 12, while Don Hutchison was the new owner of the number 6 shirt.
- In our research, the LFC History website was a great resource as they have recorded every single Liverpool line-up