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Cantona was twice the player at Leeds

This post had been intended to be about just one thing – a kind-of example of squad numbers in the Football League in the 1-11 days – but further digging brought us into a nerdy numbers nirvana that we just had to share.

While the introduction of squad numbers didn’t coincide with the the advent of the Premier League in 1992 (they came a year later, beginning in 1993-94), the numbering of the last winners of the ‘old’ Division 1, Leeds United in 1991-92, is worth a look, we feel. We have in the past commented on how Liverpool’s more established players would have certain numbers they always wore while others took whatever else was available, and Leeds were similar.

Had Howard Wilkinson’s side used squad numbers that season, the first 11 would have been:

  1. John Lukic
  2. Mel Sterland
  3. Tony Dorigo
  4. David Batty
  5. Chris Fairclough
  6. Chris Whyte
  7. Gordon Strachan
  8. Rod Wallace
  9. Lee Chapman
  10. Gary McAllister
  11. Gary Speed

Of a total of 462 starting spots in the league (42 multiplied by 11), these players accounted for 409, though perhaps surprisingly they only played together as a team on five separate occasions in 91-92. If there was a 12th man, it was defender John McClelland, who played 16 times in the league, wearing either 2 or (more often) 5.

The 11 players listed above wore the number next to their name whenever they started a league game – the only exception across all competitions was Rod Wallace wearing 11 in the Rumbelows Cup against Tranmere Rovers, when Carl Shutt wore 8.

Shutt wore numbers 4, 7 and 8 across the season, but he pales in comparison to the most numerically versatile, Steve Hodge, who wore 2, 4, 7, 8, 9 and 10 at various stages. Shutt and Hodge were the only players to share 4 with David Batty, while the only other player apart from Rod Wallace to wear 8 was Tony Agana, who had a very brief spell on loan from Notts County.

Captain Gordon Strachan played 35 league games, but his number 7 was worn by four other players in six of the remaining games. Thirty-five plus six is only 41, which brings us to the original motivation for this article.

Eric The White

Elsewhere on this site is a fairly long article looking at the Manchester United number 7 shirt and its legendary status. One of the men who has contributed to that is of course Eric Cantona, but he never actually wore the shirt for Leeds.

Having signed from Nîmes at the start of February, he made his debut as a sub in the defeat to Oldham Athletic, wearing 12 as he came on for Hodge. For the next game, a draw at Everton, he started instead of Hodge and took the 9 that the midfielder had had, but it was the only time he would wear Chapman’s shirt.

In fact, he would made nine appearances from the bench, wearing either 12 or 14, and start just six games. After that game against Everton, his next appearance in the first 11 would be wearing number 3 at Wimbledon and then he switched to 2 for the next three games, away to Arsenal, at home to West Ham United and away to Manchester City.

Here he is at Highbury – incidentally, David O’Leary, just to his left as we look at it, was wearing 9 while playing centre-back for Arsenal.

It was back to the bench for Cantona following that run of his games, and his only other start that season was in the final game at home to Norwich City, after which Leeds would be presented with the championship trophy, having clinched the title with a 3-2 win at Sheffield United the week before.

Of the ‘first’ 11 shown above, Mel Sterland was absent, Jon Newsome replacing him at number 2, but Strachan didn’t start either, being named as a substitute as he wasn’t fully fit.

It should have followed that Cantona would therefore wear 7, but instead he started the game wearing 14, with Strachan retaining 7. Strachan did replace the Frenchman near the end, though Hodge (12) had come on for Chapman before that.

We asked our friend and expert on all things Leeds, MoscowhiteTSB, if he knew of any reason why it would have happened. He cited the ‘festive’ mode in the Leeds dressing room beforehand and the sentiment attached, given that Strachan was the captain and it was the first time he had won the league in England, having done so with Aberdeen in Scotland.

According to Moscowhite, Cantona then:

…started 92/93 wearing 7 while Strach was on the bench, then had 8 for a while, then as far as I’m aware he retired from football and was never heard of again 😉

So there you have it.

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  1. Denis Hurley
    November 13, 2019 at 20:44 — Reply

    I’m certainly not aware of any other examples, though of course that doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened!

  2. Avatar
    Andrew Rockall
    November 13, 2019 at 13:45 — Reply

    So was this the first instance of an outfield player wearing something other than 1-11 in a Football League game?

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Cantona was twice the player at Leeds