The first post in our new home of squadnumbers.com is dedicated to a man whose versatility allowed him to create a unique record, and just in time too.
If you think you’re a numbers-geek and you don’t know who Steve Palmer is, then we feel sorry for you.
Palmer began the 1997-98 season on the bench for Graham Taylor’s Watford, but as the Hornets’ Division 2 promotion campaign gathered speed, he found himself pressed into action all over the pitch and accumulating quite the collection of shirts (this was the second-last season before the Football League introduced mandatory squad numbering, with it having been optional in 1993-94).
Having worn 12 and 14 in August (all stats are from this page, by the way), Palmer’s first start was at the end of that month, wearing 5 – centre-back is the position with which he was most associated – in the loss at Preston. Then, an away win at Luton on October 4 saw him wearing the number 8 shirt. Ten days later, he wore 2 at Bristol Rovers and added the final subs’ shirt, 13, before the month was out.
November brought no new digits but, in the space of four December days, he added 6 and 11 before 4 and 3 were added in January, giving him ten of the 14 available. It would be before the middle of March before he wore an 11th number – 10 – and then in early April, with manager Graham Taylor aware of the situation, he was assigned 7 for a defeat at Wigan.
The race for the title was going down to the wire, and Watford needed to win their final two games, at home to Bournemouth and away to Fulham, to hold off the challenge of Bristol City. Despite the pressure – or perhaps in a bid to alleviate some of it – for the penultimate match against Bournemouth on April 28, Taylor named Palmer as number 1 – despite research in places such as this site dedicated to Chamberlain, we haven’t been able to ascertain which shirt the usual netminder walked out in.
From the kick-off, Watford put the ball out of play, allowing Palmer and Chamberlain to swap shirts, and they went on to win 2-1. That was also the scoreline four days later at Craven Cottage, with Palmer wearing 9 to complete the set. He was happy with the achievement but gave the credit to Taylor:
I was fairly versatile and played in a number of positions. I was of the mentality that you played wherever you were asked to play. We got to the stage where there were only three numbers that I hadn’t worn through the season and Graham Taylor was our manager.
We were at the top of the league, we needed a couple of wins to get promoted, and he just decided it was a little lightener to get me in all the numbers.
I started one game in goal very briefly and the last game of the season I needed to wear the number nine shirt, so we did that. It was a little diversion and it took the heat out of the situation a little bit. It was Graham’s idea.
Watford had a second successive promotion in 1998-99 and in the Premiership in 99-00, Palmer was given number 5. When he joined Queens Park Rangers in 2001, he took number 4 there. He wound down his career at Milton Keynes Dons, wearing 18 (which he had had from 1993-95 at Ipswich Town) in 2004-05 and then 20 in 2005-06.