A Story Told Through Numbers

I was having a conversation with my buddy Gavin about jersey numbers while discussing formations for our Football team. We were arguing over the number 10 shirt when I had a flash of insight and told him that some of the best upcoming players and play makers have the number 19. Santi Cazorla wears it for The Arsenal, Nasri wore it last year for City, Wilshere had it in Arsenal and even Messi once graced it for Barcelona. Thus, I managed to convince him andgot the coveted number 10 jersey. That conversation got me thinking and I began wondering about why do certain footballers wear some select jersey numbers. I did a little research and what I found out, I have put in here. It’s quite an intriguing tale and also throws light upon the development of the Beautiful Game.


When professional football was in its infancy (1910-1930), the most common formation used by teams was 2-3-5. It went something like this.



Now in early 1930′s there came a (iconic) manager in Arsenal called Herbert Chapman. In the era where football was all about attacking and scoring goals, He was the first one to realize that since only the slow and clumsy players seemed to play as defenders against the quick and agile forwards, the goalkeeper needed more protection.

Herbert Chapman


He was the first one to push the center half i.e. the number 5 back between the two full backs. His formation 3-2-2-3 was fondly called the W-M.



When his team played the standard 2-3-5, the erstwhile center half (now centre back) would mark the opposing center forward (9), the two full backs (2 & 3) marked the opposition wingers (7 and 11) and the two halfs (4 & 6) marked the opposition inside forwards (8 and 10).

Until this point of time, it wasn’t mandatory for the players to wear numbers. Eventually, in 1939, the English FA made it mandatory for players to wear numbers on their shirts. Moreover FA made the numbers mandatory with respect to the positions i.e.

Right Back –> 2
Left Back –> 3
Right Center Half –> 4
Center Half –> 5
Left Center Half –> 6
Right Winger –> 7
Right Inside Fwd –> 8
Center Fwd –> 9
Left Inside Fwd–> 10
Left Winger –> 11

Eventually as football progressed, the left center half (6) was moved to the left full back position to mark the opposition right winger. Left back (3) was tucked in as the second center back. The right inside forward (8) was pushed back to occupy the space vacated by the left center half. This left the left inside forward (10) alone upfront. Eventually he was moved to a bit more central position and the team’s creative burden fell upon him.

With this the type casting was complete.



1 being the goalkeeper,
2 and 6 being the right and the left backs,
5 and 3 being the right and the left center backs,
4 and 8 being the central midfielders,
10 being the attacking midfielder and the creative fulcrum of the team,
7 and 11 being the wingers,
and finally 9 being the center forward.

Credits: Jonathan Wilson’s wonderful book “Inverting the Pyramid”.


P.S. – Now Gavin thanks me for giving him Jersey number 19.

All’s Well That Ends Well.