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A look back at 1990-91

A look back at 1990-91

Often, a lament at the state of modern squad numbering is accompanied with a longing for how things were in the old days, when everything was seemingly in order.

We felt it was something worth looking at and – to tie win with the series over on Museum of Jerseys – have opted for the opening day of the 1990-91 season, three years before the birth of squad numbering in England.

While the misty-eyed reminiscences are that every team had a defence of 2-5-6-3, midfield of 7-4-8-11 and attack of 9 and 10, the reality is somewhat different. It was a surprise to learn that quite a few teams had systems other than 4-4-2, while number 1 was the only one used in the same position by every club.

Aston Villa 1 Southampton 1

1 Nigel Spink 1 Tim Flowers
2 Chris Price 2 Alexey Cherednik
3 Stuart Gray 3 Micky Adams
4 Paul McGrath 4 Jimmy Case
5 Derek Mountfield 5 Kevin Moore
6 Kent Nielsen 6 Russell Osman
7 Tony Daley 7 Matthew Le Tissier
8 David Platt 8 Barry Horne
9 Ian Olney 9 Paul Rideout
10 Gordon Cowans 10 Glenn Cockerill
11 Tony Cascarino 11 Rod Wallace

New Villa boss Dr Jozef Vengloš sought to implement a sweeper system and the numbering was fairly tidy – Ian Olney had worn number 2 up front on occasion in 1989-90. Southampton had a perfectly-numbered 4-5-1/4-3-3 – in September, Alan Shearer would come into the team wearing 10 before switching to 9, though he did wear 7 on one occasion that season.

Chelsea 2 Derby County 1

1 Dave Beasant 1 Peter Shilton
2 Gareth Hall 2 Mel Sage
3 Tony Dorigo 3 Mike Forsyth
4 Andy Townsend 4 Geraint Williams
5 Erland Johnsen 5 Mark Wright
6 David Lee 6 Jon Davidson
7 Dennis Wise 7 Gary Micklewhite
8 Peter Nicholas 8 Dean Saunders
9 Kerry Dixon 9 Mick Harford
10 Kevin Wilson 10 Craig Ramage
11 Graeme Le Saux 11 Paul Williams

Fairly straightforward from Chelsea – despite playing on the right, Dennis Wise had a preference for number 11 from his Wimbledon days and he would take that shirt during the season. A 7-4-10-11 midfield wasn’t uncommon, so nothing really out of the ordinary from Derby.

Everton 2 Leeds United 3

1 Neville Southall 1 John Lukic
2 Neil McDonald 2 Mel Sterland
3 Andy Hinchcliffe 3 Glynn Snodin
4 Martin Keown 4 David Batty
5 Dave Watson 5 Chris Fairclough
6 Mike Milligan 6 Chris Whyte
7 Pat Nevin 7 Gordon Strachan
8 Stuart McCall 8 Imre Varadi
9 Graeme Sharp 9 Lee Chapman
10 Mike Newell 10 Gary McAllister
11 John Ebbrell 11 Gary Speed

When Everton won the league in 1970, they did so with John Hurst wearing 10 at centre-back but during Howard Kendall’s successful spell in charge in the 1980s, 4 and 5 were the centre-backs with a midfield of 7-6-10-11 and 8 and 9 up front.

During Don Revie’s heyday, Leeds had almost always had 7-4-10-11 in midfield and the signing of Gary McAllister inspired Howard Kendall to revive this – in the 1989-90 promotion season, 10 had been a striker’s number with David Batty wearing 8 in midfield and Vinnie Jones 4.

Luton Town 1 Crystal Palace 1


1 Alec Chamberlain 1 Nigel Martyn
2 Tim Breacker 2 John Humphrey
3 Julian James 3 Richard Shaw
4 Darron McDonough 4 Andy Gray
5 Dave Beaumont 5 Eric Young
6 John Dreyer 6 Andy Thorn
7 Lars Elstrup 7 Phil Barber
8 David Preece 8 Geoff Thomas
9 Iain Dowie 9 John Salako
10 Ceri Hughes 10 Ian Wright
11 Kingsley Black 11 Glyn Hodges

Reversed wingers for Luton but otherwise fairly good. Palace’s John Salako was just keeping the number 9 shirt warm for Mark Bright – he wore 7 on the wing in every other game he played that season. It’s interesting to note that, while Ian Wright became intrinsically associated with the number 8 at Arsenal, he never wore it for Palace.

Manchester United 2 Coventry City 0

1 Les Sealey 1 Steve Ogrizovic
2 Denis Irwin 2 Brian Borrows
3 Mal Donaghy 3 Paul Edwards
4 Steve Bruce 4 Lloyd McGrath
5 Mike Phelan 5 Brian Kilcline
6 Gary Pallister 6 Trevor Peake
7 Neil Webb 7 Kevin Gallacher
8 Paul Ince 8 Tony Dobson
9 Brian McClair 9 David Speedie
10 Mark Hughes 10 Kevin Drinkell
11 Clayton Blackmore 11 David Smith

A successful start for Manchester United’s sweeper system – originated with the absent Bryan Robson in mind – but it wouldn’t last too long. However, number 5 in midfield was a constant presence in the late 1980s and early 90s – the result of a Steve Bruce superstition. Good stuff from Coventry – this would be a break-out season for Kevin Gallacher, who soon moved from the wing to a central striker’s role, finishing the season wearing 10.

Norwich City 3 Sunderland 2

1 Bryan Gunn 1 Tony Norman
2 Paul Blades 2 John Kay
3 Mark Bowen 3 Reuben Agboola
4 Ian Butterworth 4 Garry Bennet
5 John Polston 5 John MacPhail
6 Tim Sherwood 6 Gary Owers
7 Dale Gordon 7 Paul Bracewell
8 Ruel Fox 8 Gordon Armstrong
9 Ian Crook 9 Peter Davenport
10 Robert Rosario 10 Marco Gabbiadini
11 David Phillips 11 Brian Atkinson

Two oddities. Ian Crook had worn 10 for Norwich the previous season with Robert Rosario 9, so why they changed is a mystery. Tim Sherwood, who had worn 2, 4, 6, 7 and 10 in 1989-90, swapped with Crook early in the season and kept 9 for the remainder, though when squad numbers came in in 1993-94, Crook was allocated 9. Sunderland’s right midfielder Gary Owers wearing 6 may or may not have been the motivation for Gaizka Mendieta to do the same.

Nottingham Forest 1 Queens Park Rangers 1

1 Mark Crossley 1 Tony Roberts
2 Brian Laws 2 David Bardsley
3 Brett Williams 3 Kenny Sansom
4 Des Walker 4 Justin Channing
5 Steve Chettle 5 Alan McDonald
6 Steve Hodge 6 Danny Maddix
7 Gary Crosby 7 Ray Wilkins
8 Garry Parker 8 Clive Wilson
9 Nigel Clough 9 Mark Falco
10 Nigel Jemson 10 Roy Wegerle
11 Franz Carr 11 Andy Sinton

These are slightly misleading as Gary Crosby was more of a right-sided player and Brian Clough’s Forest generally had a midfield of 7-8-6-11, with Roy Keane soon to make 6 his own. Similarly, Andy Sinton was more comfortable on the left and spent most of the season there.

Sheffield United 1 Liverpool 3

1 Simon Tracey 1 Bruce Grobbelaar
2 John Pemberton 2 Glenn Hysen
3 David Barnes 3 David Burrows
4 Bob Booker 4 Steve Nicol
5 Paul Stancliffe 5 Ronnie Whelan
6 Colin Hill 6 Jan Molby
7 Jamie Hoyland 7 Gary Gillespie
8 Wilf Rostron 8 Ray Houghton
9 Tony Agana 9 Ian Rush
10 Brian Deane 10 John Barnes
11 Ian Bryson 11 Steve McMahon

Nothing out of the ordinary for United, but Liverpool’s numbering was a bit more enigmatic even than usual. In the Charity Shield the week before, Gary Ablett wore 6 at centre-back with Peter Beardsley in his usual number 9 up front, so why Gary Gillespie didn’t wear 6, we don’t know. Jan Molby had finished 1989-90 wearing 7 and appeared in 3, 5, 8, 10 and 11 in 1990-91 – this was his only apperance in the number 6 during the campaign.

Tottenham Hotspur 3 Manchester City 1

1 Erik Thorstvedt 1 Tony Coton
2 Gudni Bergsson 2 Ian Brightwell
3 Pat van den Hauwe 3 Neil Pointon
4 Steve Sedgley 4 Alan Harper
5 David Howells 5 Colin Hendry
6 Gary Mabbutt 6 Peter Reid
7 Paul Stewart 7 David White
8 Paul Gascoigne 8 Paul Lake
9 Nayim 9 Niall Quinn
10 Gary Lineker 10 Adrian Heath
11 Paul Allen 11 Mark Ward

See, Tottenham fans – number 9 on the left wing, as Gareth Bale will presumably be, isn’t that strange. Gary Lineker’s aversion to 9 was a factor, but Tony Galvin had worn 9 on the wing in the early 1980s, too, while 5 in midfield wasn’t new, either. The placing of 2 and 3 is conventional here, but Spurs often had them the opposite way round.

As for Manchester City – answers on a postcard, please. Peter Reid had worn 6 for Kendall’s Everton and maybe the manager was seeking to harness that, but Alan Harper wore all manner of numbers and could have played in 8 with new captain Paul Lake wearing 4 in defence.

Wimbledon 0 Arsenal 3

1 Hans Segers 1 David Seaman
2 Roger Joseph 2 Lee Dixon
3 Terry Phelan 3 Nigel Winterburn
4 Warren Barton 4 Michael Thomas
5 John Scales 5 Steve Bould
6 Keith Curle 6 Tony Adams
7 Alan Cork 7 David Rocastle
8 Paul Miller 8 Paul Davis
9 John Fashanu 9 Alan Smith
10 Lawrie Sanchez 10 Paul Merson
11 Carlton Fairweather 11 Anders Limpar

Paul Miller’s retention of 8 from the previous season seems to have caused the kink in Wimbledon’s numbers – unfortunately for him, injury meant it was the only game he played that season and he appeared in numbers 7 and 10 in 1991-92. While Warren Barton is remembered as a right-back, he operated in a number of roles for the Dons and didn’t appear in number 2 until 1992-93.

Arsenal were numbered in the classic style but David O’Leary played a number of games as sweeper that season, wearing number 7 in all of them with the unlucky David Rocastle missing much of the campaign due to injury.

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A look back at 1990-91