Numbering soccer jerseys goes back to an original concept of just knowing who the players were on a specific team. Those were the days of simplicity, with easy team colors and recognizing your favorite player with a single large number on the jersey.
Soccer wasn’t the first sport to put numbers on jerseys; the tradition was used baseball. In that game, the numbering sequence was based on the batting order. Numbers one through nine were initially started, as we might recognize Number 3 for Babe Ruth and Number 4 for Lou Gehrig, of Yankee fame. As new players and substitutes were added, the numbering sequence increased, beginning with number 12. In the days before electronic scoreboards, fans would look out on the field for these players.
Soccer jerseys initiated their numbers based on starting formation. The first record of this is in 1928, in a match between Arsenal and Sheffield Wednesday. In most traditional jersey numbering systems, the keeper was number 1, increasing in numerical count from back to front , up to number eleven. Positions typically follow this formation: 1 is the Goalkeeper. 2 is the Right Fullback. 3 is the Left Fullback. 4 is the Centre Half/Centre Back). 5 is the Centre Half/Centre Back (potentially Centre Midfield). 6 is the Centre Half/Centre Back (potentially Centre Midfield). 7 is the Right Wing/Right Midfield. 8 is the Centre Midfield. 9 is the Centre Forward. 10 is the Centre Forward. 11 is the Left Wing/Left Midfield.
Any parent will know that when they sign up their kids for a soccer team, the children are given a selection of jersey numbers to choose from. The numbers on a kid’s soccer team can be anything from 00 through 99 and usually don’t have any significance for importance. Most children do not associate a soccer jersey number with any particular placement, player or team, but they know to watch the electronic scoreboard for their number to show up.
Sports has changed and evolved over the years, and various countries have added their own flair and logic for the numbering of soccer jerseys. They have added unusual or unique fonts, color coordination with jersey colors as well as the addition of corporate sponsorship logos (big business in the sports world). Different teams allocate specific numbers, while other countries allow their members to wear any number they choose.
In the last number of years there has been an uptick in those that collect sports memorabilia, with some of the highest prices paid at auctions for the top team soccer jerseys.
The question has arisen: what happens when a member is swapped? What number will they be assigned or can they bring their number with them? This is dependent upon the country and the team, as numbers on soccer jerseys has escalated to part of team policies.
The retiring of a jersey number has become more of a tradition over the years. The purpose of retiring a number is to honor an outstanding player within that sport. American sports teams that have retired jersey numbers include Michael Jordan, Number 23, and Scottie Pippen, Number 33 of the Chicago Bulls; Magic Johnson’s Number 32, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s Number 33, and Number 34 for Shaquille O’Neal of the LA Lakers; and Larry Bird’s Number 33 of the Boston Celtic.