While changing numbers during the season is not uncommon in Spain, it remains a rarity in England. We did devote a previous post to the practice, and the conclusion was that it was permitted prior to the closing of the transfer window.
New Crystal Palace signing Andros Townsend availed of this option recently. Having been allocated 17 upon his arrival from Tottenham Hotspur, when Yannick Bolasie left to join Everton, the England winger sought to switch to 10:
The number 10 is one of the most iconic numbers in the game and with it becoming available I wanted to take the opportunity to snap it up. Hopefully I can do the number justice.
It’s not a perfect fit for a right midfielder, but we’ll let him off – he has, after all, made the de rigueur offer to reimburse any fans who had bought a number 17 shirt. The full story can be read here.
In the previous article, we mentioned a hazy memory of Chris Sutton swapping 16 for 9 during the 1996-97 season, but, beyond a mention here, proof was in short supply. The only way to satisfy ourselves was with snatched images from YouTube videos.
Sutton did indeed begin the season wearing the 16 he had had since joining from Norwich City for a record £5m fee – those were the days – in 1994. Here he is scoring against Derby early on in the season, which Blackburn began with just one in six games (and that at Old Trafford):
We had assumed that the move would have been early in the season, but it appears that the arrival of Per Pedersen in the spring was the catalyst. Here he is with career caretaker manager Tony Parkes on the left (the number font is all wrong) and scoring against Chelsea on the right:
As luck would have it, Sutton actually missed a lot of this part of the season, but did return in time for its culmination. At Highbury, Blackburn trailed Arsenal 1-0 with the Gunners chasing second in the table but, after the ball was returned to the home side following an injury, Sutton pressured Nigel Winterburn into giving a corner, from which Garry Flitcroft scored.
Patrick Vieira wasn’t too happy with the now-9-clad Sutton, though oddly he wouldn’t be as interested in following protocol two years later when Nwankwo Kanu scored against Sheffield United in similar circumstances.
Sutton continued to wear 9 for Blackburn until he joined Chelsea in 1999 and wore it for the Blues and Celtic too, finishing his career in the number 20 of Aston Villa after a spell as Birmingham City’s number 40.
Our OCD would like if the number-transferring had happened more in the 90s, but then these incidents wouldn’t be as noteworthy if they had.