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Retrofitting squad numbers to the 1989-90 season

Retrofitting squad numbers to the 1989-90 season

Simon Treanor is somebody we’ve regularly engaged with on social media and we were delighted when he got in touch offering to write a piece based on how he assigned numbers for his 1989-90 season patch for the greatest computer game ever, Championship Manager 01-02. His blog can be found here. Take it away, Simon…

For some time now, I’ve been working on a project to create a version of Championship Manager, based on my favourite football season, 1989-90. Because this is based on Championship Manager 01-02, this means teams wear squad numbers before their time, and as my nerdiness/enthusiasm for this subject rivals even Denis’s, this is a subject I’ve approached with relish.

In selecting players’ numbers, I followed the following principles, where appropriate:

  • Clubs’ 1-11 should be, if not their absolute first choice, then at least a line-up that could realistically be selected
  • In the UK, 12 and 14 should go to the most likely subs, and 13 the reserve goalkeeper. Similar standards apply abroad
  • All players should have a number appropriate for all positions they play, which means versatile players often have numbers outside the first 11
  • Players can be given the numbers they’re most associated with, even outside the 11,  although this is rare as squad numbers hadn’t yet taken hold at club level
  • Some variety to ensure that not all clubs follow the traditional English 4-4-2 numbering system, using individual clubs’ traditional numbers where known

This post will focus on the numbers I set for clubs in the English First Division at the time.

I’m a Liverpool fan (which partly accounts for 89-90 being my favourite season), and their unique numbering stylecovered at length on this site, made things easy, aside from a few numbers, which were up for grabs:

  • 2 could have been Gillespie or Hysén, and while I somewhat prefer the former, Hysén gets it as the big-money new signing
  • 3 could go to Ablett, Burrows or Staunton, and while Staunton is my preferred of the three, the latter two can be deployed in midfield, for which that number isn’t appropriate, so the more experienced Ablett wins out
  • 5 is a straight choice between Molby and Whelan, with the latter winning out because he’s been associated with the number longer, and Molby suits the number 14 better
  • 8 and 9 shuffled around a bit with Rush’s brief spell in Italy, and Aldridge’s consequent reluctance to take his number. Aldridge was back on the bench this season, though so gives up his number 8 shirt to Houghton, freeing up 9 for Rush

Aston Villa
An unusual squad this – at the beginning of the season Ian Ormondroyd was really their only established striker (if you can call him that), with Olney and Yorke yet to break through and Cascarino joining mid-season. Therefore, Adrian Heath (who didn’t last very long at the club) gets the 10.

David Platt gets 7, the number with which he’s largely associated, although this probably didn’t come about until the World Cup at the end of the season. In defence, there is a bit of shuffling, with McGrath at 4, and Nielsen and Gray at 3 and 6.

Tottenham Hotspur
Quite straightforward, really – the big names of Gascoigne, Lineker and Mabbutt are easy to assign, while Pauls Stewart and Walsh number-swaps resemble 1970s Liverpool.

Although reigning league champions, Arsenal’s numbers were surprisingly hard to pick. The classic back four was easy, and although it was tempting to give Bould the 10 shirt he wore at Anfield in 1989, that goes to Merson instead.

Richardson wins the battle for 8 over Davis, so who should be 11? The squad contains three strikers who would be major names in 90s football (Campbell, Cole and Quinn), but none were first-team regulars, so there was only one choice really: Perry Groves.

A team with three decent left-backs. Dorigo was clearly bigger player at the time, so he gets 3, while the more experienced Clive Wilson, also able to play in midfield, takes the number 11 ahead of Graeme Le Saux. Dixon and Durie make a classic 9/10 partnership.

The 1989 FA Cup final would seem like a natural starting place here, but a lot of these numbers just don’t feel right. Watson’s number 5 fits perfectly, but McCall is a natural number 4 [SN note – more on him soon], so Ratcliffe moves to 6. Meanwhile, Sheedy wears 8 with new signing Whiteside at 11, and Cottee and Sharp take 9 and 10 respectively.

Some variety from the usual 4-4-2 here. Cockerill gets 8 and as Jimmy Case was never a number 4, he gets 10, a semi-nod to his Liverpool days, with Rod Wallace taking 11. Osman and Horne swap places, while Le Tissier takes his traditional number 7.

Essentially the 1988 FA Cup final squad with a few adjustments – with Vinnie Jones having left, there’s a shortage of numbers, so John Scales gets the number 4 shirt, which I think (perhaps wrongly) he wore later in his career.

Nottingham Forest
This is largely the 1990 League Cup final squad, with the departed Chapman replaced with Jemson, who swaps with Nigel Clough. Walker’s use of 4, swapping with Hodge, marks another break with the traditional English numbering system, but both just feel right.

Norwich City
A team full of central midfielders, and yet the number 4 shirt goes to Ian Butterworth, who wore it during the 1990s. Tim Sherwood takes the 8 shirt, so Andy Townsend wears 6 with Jeremy Goss at 7.

A team comprised almost completely of current or future England internationals – it seemed only apt to give Peter Reid number 4 and player-manager Francis 10. Sansom is an equally obvious number 3, while Paul Parker takes 6, as he often played in central defence at club level.

Coventry City
Conforming almost as much to the classic 4-4-2 numbering as possible, this is another squad based on a recent cup final. Regis and Speedie are a near-perfect 9/10 combination.

Manchester United
Many of these players’ numbers will be known to any football fan, although it’s complicated by the fact that four of their key players this season (Ince, Pallister, Sealey and Wallace) joined after its start.

Therefore, Ince gets neither the 8 for which he’s famous for nor the 2 here wore in the FA Cup final, with these numbers going to Webb and Anderson respectively. The only other real debate is between Blackmore and Donaghy, and the Northern Irishman wins out for the same reason Gary Ablett did.

Manchester City
A squad dominated by the great generation of the late 90s – Brightwell at 2, Hinchcliffe 3, Redmond 6, White 7 and Lake 11. Gary Megson makes a natural number 8, while Allen and Morley are another good 9/10 combo.

Crystal Palace
A squad closer to that that lost 9-0 at Anfield earlier in the season than that which got revenge in the FA Cup. Shaw and Salako began the season loaned out, while Nigel Martyn was still at Bristol Rovers.

Derby County
A slight variation, with 4 and 6 swapping positions. Like a lot of people, I associate Dean Saunders with number 7, but that came later, and without many obvious candidates for the 9 shirt, that feels like a better fit.

Luton Town
Based somewhat on their squad in the previous season’s League Cup final, with Wilson’s 7 and Harford’s 9 standing out.

Sheffield Wednesday
Atkinson and Hirst seemed like an obvious 9 and 10, while Nigel Pearson can surely only be number 5. Likewise, Carlton Palmer will forever be associated with the number 4, and Nigel Worthington, then used as midfielder more often than not, makes a suitable 11.

Charlton Athletic
I’m not sure if Rob Lee was a number 7 until his Newcastle days, but it seems apt here. McLaughlin and Caton are well-suited to 5 and 6, with Colin Pates at number 4, able to play in defence or midfield. Garth Crooks seems like a natural number 10.

Cascarino and Sheringham’s numbers almost assign themselves, as do Stevens and McCleary’s at the other end of the pitch. Terry Hurlock at 4 and Jimmy Carter at 7 feel like natural choices.


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  1. Mark
    October 15, 2020 at 08:59 — Reply

    I proper loved reading this! Thank you.

  2. Dave Hudson
    January 25, 2018 at 07:38 — Reply

    Really good effort this! Not sure why I remember this season as well as I do, but as I remember it, Everton’s first team more often than not had Ratcliffe at 4, Watson at 5, Whiteside at 6, Nevin at 7, Sharp at 9, Cottee at 10 and Sheedy at 11, leaving McCall as an 8.

    Lee Unsworth is also correct about the needs to switch the above 9s and 10s. : )

  3. Lee Unsworth
    November 13, 2017 at 17:36 — Reply

    Some mistakes here. Cottee and Sharp are the wrong way round at Everton. Same story with Hirst and Atkinson at Wednesday. Although Clough at 10 for Forest with Chapman at 9 sounds logical, Clough was always number 9 at Forest so those two would have been the other way around too!

  4. January 29, 2017 at 21:27 — Reply

    Thanks David, that’s really useful! I’ll add that into the next beta – I’m always looking for real examples, particularly when they’re a bit “different”, with Saunders’ #8.

  5. David Brown
    January 26, 2017 at 17:35 — Reply

    Great article – but I’d have to dispute some of the Derby numbers as a season ticket holder that year (and now)! Back then Derby had pretty fixed numbering with 8 & 9 up front, 4 and 10 central mid and 5 & 6 centre backs.
    Geraint Williams always wore 4 in central mid, Paul Goddard was 9, Dean Saunders 8 and Trevor Hebberd 10. At 6 Rob Hindmarch was the most likely selection, though Paul Blades also wore it. The other numbers are in the correct positions, although McMinn at 7 is a better choice than Pickering.

  6. January 2, 2017 at 21:20 — Reply

    We actually did a piece on Houghton’s number promiscuity last year Ned – certainly an argument for him swapping with Aldo but one of Simon’s conditions was that the 1-11 should make a proper team and it’d be a very unbalanced 4-3-3 then!


  7. Ned
    January 2, 2017 at 21:13 — Reply

    You’ve got me thinking about the Liverpool numbers far too much!

    Although he seldom figured by this point, I wonder whether Dalglish would have kept the no7 shirt in a world where squad numbers existed.

    While Aldridge was in and out by this point, he always took priority for the no8 shirt – Houghton wore whatever he was given. So I’d have Aldo at 8 and Houghton at 12 or 14.

  8. […] think it’s nerdy or obscure enough”. Well, to answer those people, I’ve written a guest post on Denis Hurley’s squad numbers blog, detailing my selection of squad numbers. Obviously in 1989 teams didn’t have squad numbers, […]

  9. January 1, 2017 at 18:43 — Reply

    (Those last two paragraphs are out of order)

  10. January 1, 2017 at 18:38 — Reply

    The game starts in July 1989, so anyone aged 14 in the game was born from July to December 1974 (it was only trial and error that revealed this cut-off point- there are a lot of players I’d like to have included, not least to pad out squads).

    I expect it’ll be a while before I can stop describing it as a Beta (it’s already been over a year to get it to this stage). My definition of complete is when the major five European Leagues, plus Scotland and Holland, are playable, and there are no recognisable players left out of their era.

    Hope you enjoy the patch though, and thanks for the feedback – any detail you can provide is really welcome!

    Even then, though, it won’t be finished – there’ll still be people to add, attributes to tweak, leagues to be made playable, as I work through it and find more info.

    • j boots
      January 28, 2017 at 17:58 — Reply

      Although the birth date will be random, just putting a year of birth in will allow you to put players aged 10-14 into the game in the normal database, so perhaps that would work for you?

  11. HArry
    January 1, 2017 at 18:18 — Reply

    Fair point about Macca, Simon. And I hadn’t realised that about the DOB. But aren’t there some 14 year olds in there?

    And apologies, I thought I’d read in the readme that the Tapani patch had to be used.

    I think a save with Palace or Wimbledon is in the offing, but I’m spoilt for choice!

    Any news on when the database will be finalised (I.e. not beta)?

  12. January 1, 2017 at 14:20 — Reply

    Hi Harry,

    Thanks for the feedback. I don’t tend to use the Tapani patch, as it caused errors for me, but I’ve seen screenshots of others using it, so maybe it’s worth a try. Safer not to though – I’ve played the patch without it for 20+ seasons, and the wrong dates didn’t bother me.

    McManaman was a late change, and one that I was wavering on – I wanted to give players numbers they would wear later on, where I knew, and where appropriate, and McManaman, although young, was good enough to be in the squad, and I reckon he would have been on the bench a few teams if there were 7 subs in those days.

    I didn’t include The Class of ’92 because the game won’t accept anyone born after 31/12/1974 (it will just adjust their year of birth to 1968) – this is why there’s no Fowler, Ronaldo, Totti etc. I’ve been meaning to do an FAQs page which addresses things like this.


  13. HArry
    January 1, 2017 at 14:00 — Reply

    Simon – firstly a million thanks for doing this update. It’s incredible. (Geeky question – with the Tapani patch, can I start a save with the game date as 1989 without any fatal errors?)

    My only quibble with your numbering is McManaman. He didn’t play that season, so 17 feels too low. Also, why no teenage Beckham, Scholes and Nevilles at United?

    Again, many, many thanks. I think I’m going to buy a new laptop just for this once you’ve finalised the database.

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Retrofitting squad numbers to the 1989-90 season