A World Cup offering for today’s look back, a game primarily remembered for Bryan Robson setting a record for the quickest goal in the finals, netting after 27 seconds. Incidentally, if you’re wondering why both countries wore change kits, France had first choice and opted for white in the Spanish heat, forcing England to switch to red.
I had seen footage of Robson’s strike when I was younger and just assumed that the number 16 on his back, rather than the 7 with which he was associated with, was due to his relatively junior status – I didn’t think it at the time but 16 was a good substitute in Zamoranoesque mathematical terms.
However, a look at the England team which started this opening game shows that the numbering didn’t follow the preferences of manager Ron Greenwood.
England, for the first and last time in a finals, operated an alphabetical system, though with a couple of special cases. The FA weren’t brave enough to include goalkeepers in this, though the three custodians – Ray Clemence, Joe Corrigan and Peter Shilton were alphabetically ordered in 1, 13 and 22, meaning that Shilton became the first goalkeeper wearing 22 to start a World Cup game for England.
Captain Mick Mills wore 12, Terry Butcher wore 4 while his defensive partner Phil Thompson – who usually wore 4 for Liverpool – was 18 with Kenny Sansom wearing 17.
Steve Coopell was the most incongruously numbered starter, playing on the right win with 5 on his back, while Ray Wilkins (19) joined Robson in central midfield and Graham Rix was on the left.
Up front, Trevor Francis wore 8 and Paul Mariner 11, but Francis should actually have had 7, as captain Kevin Keegan, whose game-time was limited due to injury, was also exempt from the system and had his favoured number when he should have been 9.
As it happened, Glenn Hoddle wore 9, while another odd allocation was Trevor Brooking’s 3. Right-back Viv Anderson did at least have the appropriate number 2.
England’s opponents also had an unusual system – and a high-profile exception.
France, like Italy until 2002, numbered their players in positional blocks, albeit with the goalkeepers 1, 21 and 22 (again alphabetically, with Jean-Luc Ettori the third in order and thus wearing 22, like Shilton).
Otherwise, it was defenders 2-8, 9-14 and attackers 15-20. However, the French captain Michel Platini, who would have had number 13, pulled rank and was allowed to wear 10.
France would keep the same system for the 1986 World Cup, but for their next appearance in a finals, Euro 92, they had dispensed with it.