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A history of squad numbers: which ones are the most significant?

A history of squad numbers: which ones are the most significant?

From football players themselves to fans, everyone involved in the beautiful game feels some sort of affinity to squad numbers. There’s something undeniably fascinating about those seemingly simple numbers that are found on the back of every single football shirt, such as their relationship to player positions on the field, as well as their significance throughout history.

Whether it’s tracking the various numbers that iconic players like Gary Lineker have worn throughout their careers, or counting down the luckiest squad numbers in the history of the sport, there’s always something new to discover about the shirts our football heroes have worn. In today’s post, we’ll be taking a look at some of the most significant numbers to appear on the football field in recent history. 

In Chinese numerology, the number 8 is considered to be the luckiest number of all. It symbolizes wealth and prosperity, and no matter what angle it’s viewed from (upside down, mirror image etc), the number always remains the same. 

As a squad number, 8 is usually assigned to a midfielder. There have been quite a few maestros to have donned the shirt in recent years, including Frank Lampard – who wore the number playing for both Chelsea and England – as well as Barca’s Andrés Iniesta and Arsenal’s Fredrik Ljungberg. Liverpool F. C’s Steven Gerrard, however, is probably the most memorable player to don the shirt, especially after bringing Liverpool to victory in the Champion’s League in 2005 after overturning that 3-0 deficit.  

On the football pitch, the number 10 has been worn by some of the greatest players ever in the whole history of the game. From Wayne Rooney to Ronaldinho, Lionel Messi to Zinedine Zidane, each player to have worn this number for their respective teams has made an unmistakable mark on the game, as well as raising the bar for future players to follow. There are still two number 10 player who stand out among all the others, even if one was only assigned his shirt by chance.  

Diego Maradona is still the classic 10 and has such an association with it that he was allowed to bypass the alphabetical numbering used by Argentina the 1982 World Cup. Péle’s story has more of a random element, though.

To this day, the Brazilian legend is considered by many to be the greatest player in the history of football, and he’ll always be associated with the number 10 after his incredible World Cup debut back in 1958. However, the Brazilian numbers were allocated randomly by an official at the country’s football association, meaning goalkeeper Gilmar wore 3. Still just a teenager, Pelé had 10 and he ended the tournament with six goals to his name – two of which were scored in the final – and from that moment on would never wear another number on the field again.  

You don’t need to be a casino gaming fan to know that hitting the Number 21 is the ultimate aim of Blackjack! This famous number has also featured quite heavily in football’s recent history; but just like the number 10 it’s mostly synonymous with a single player, in this instance the iconic Italian, Andrea Pirlo.  

Pirlo has worn the number 21 shirt throughout his notable career, wearing it when playing for both club and country. He also has a personal connection to the number itself, with his father being born on the 21st, it being the date of his wedding anniversary, and the date of his Serie A debut back in 1995. 21 became Pirlo’s shirt number early on in his career and he never once changed it.  

The number even played a part in his last-minute decision to reject a move to Qatar in 2011, even though it was the most lucrative offer he’d ever received. In his autobiography, Pirlo explains that he rejected the offer at precisely 21:21…a few months later he made that historic decision to join Juventus instead, and was granted a further four more years at the top of the game.  


Of all the numbers featured in this post, this particular prime number is one of the most fascinating. There are all manner of things associated with the number 23: we humans have 23 pairs of chromosomes, the author William Burroughs was obsessed by it, it’s a sacred number in ‘Discordianism’, and it’s even been linked to Darwin’s Origin of the Species and the Hiroshima bomb.  

Manchester City haven’t assigned it as a squad number since the unfortunate passing of Marc Vivien Foe in 2003; later that year, David Beckham took on 23 when he moved to Real Madrid, taking inspiration from Michael Jordan, and the number came to be as strongly associated with him as the number 7.

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A history of squad numbers: which ones are the most significant?