Elsewhere on the site, we describe Steve Nicol as “a real Swiss Army knife of a player“, and his versatility and the fact that the Liverpool number 4 shirt was welded to his back meant that the Reds often had oddish-looking formations.
Refreshingly, he is open and engaging on Twitter, answering inane questions:
@squadnos still is
— Stephen Nicol (@SteveNicol61) May 4, 2015
So superstitious was he, in fact, that he had strong reservations about wearing 13 for Scotland at the 1986 World Cup in Mexico, as he relates in his new autobiography, 5 League Titles and a Packet of Crisps:
The night before we flew to Mexico City, the players were informed of their squad numbers for the World Cup.
“You’ll be wearing number 13,” I was told.
I’m superstitious and wanted a different once but I was told it was too late – FIFA had already been informed of the squad numbers and that was the end of it.
That was typical of how the Scottish Football Association operated back then. It was like the players were an afterthought. And don’t get me started on the blazers getting the best seats at the front of the plane and the best rooms in the hotel.
I sometimes felt that they thought we were doing THEM a favour by turning up.
“Did you ever think that somebody might just have a problem wearing a jersey with number 13 on the back?” I asked.
“Tough shit, it’s too late.”
The SFA didn’t give a fuck about something as menial as this.
In 1962, Uruguay’s Guillermo Escalada became the first player to be allocated number 23 at a World Cup (though he didn’t play) when he sought permission not to wear 13, but Nicol didn’t opt for such a course of action.
The digits didn’t cause any personal harm, as Nicol turned out to be the only player numbered above 11 to start all three group games, against Denmark, West Germany and Uruguay. Scotland failed to reach the knockout stages, though.
What might have been?
That World Cup would prove to be the only time that Nicol featured for his country at a major finals. Injury meant he missed out on Italia 90 before a rift with manager Andy Roxburgh saw him retire prematurely, leaving him absent from the Euro 92 squad too.
At both of those latter tournaments, Scotland ordered their squad by the number of caps won (apart from goalkeepers). Had Nicol been available, he would have had number 10 in 1990 and then 6 in 1992.