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Football Number Positions Explained

The number on the back of a football shirt is one of the sport’s most iconic and recognisable features. But have you ever wondered what these numbers mean and where they came from?

The history of numbers on football team shirts is fascinating, dating back over 100 years to the game’s early days, so let’s have a closer look at each football shirt numbers by position.

No. 1 – Goalkeeper

The number 1 shirt has traditionally been reserved for goalkeepers in football. This practice began in the early days of football when players wore shirts with numbers to help officials keep track of them on the football pitch.

At the time, the goalkeeper was the only player on the team who needed to wear a different coloured jersey from the rest of the team, and the number 1 was simply assigned to them.

Over time, the number 1 shirt became a symbol of the goalkeeper’s position and importance in the team. The goalkeeper is seen as the last line of defence as they are responsible for preventing the opposition from scoring goals.

And as such, the keeper is often seen as the most important player on the team. The number 1 shirt reflects this status and is worn by the team’s first choice goalkeeper.

Today, the number 1 shirt is almost exclusively worn by goalkeepers at all levels of the game, from amateur club level to professional football, and has become a symbol of the position.

No. 2 – Defender (Right Back)

The number 2 is typically worn by a defender, specifically a right-back, and sometimes even a defensive midfielder.

This tradition dates back to the early days of football when players were assigned numbers based on their positions on the field.

The numbering system was initially introduced by the English Football League in 1928, and the number 2 was assigned to the right-back position, which is considered to be the second most important defensive position after the centre-back.

Since then, the number 2 shirt has been worn by some of the greatest defenders in football history, including Cafu, Gary Neville, and Lilian Thuram, among others.

No. 3 – Defender (Left Back)

The number 3 shirt was typically given to the left-back player as they often played on the left side of the defence, opposite the number 2 right-back.

The left-back is responsible for marking opposing attackers on the right-hand side of the field, as well as supporting the team’s attacking play by overlapping down the left flank.

 While there is no specific reason why the number 3 was chosen for the left-back position, it has become a longstanding tradition in football and is recognised around the world.

No. 4 – Central Defender or Midfielders

The number 4 shirt is typically worn by central defenders or defensive midfielders in football. This tradition goes back to the early days of football, when team line-ups were written down in numerical order, with defenders and midfielders given lower numbers and forwards given higher numbers.

Number 4 is often associated with defensive players who are physically imposing, reliable and skilled in breaking up the opposition’s attacks. It’s also a position that requires leadership qualities as the player wearing the number 4 is often expected to organise the defence and provide a sense of stability to the team.

Some notable footballers who have worn the number 4 shirt include Franco Baresi, Sergio Ramos, Patrick Vieira, and Roy Keane.

No. 5 – Defender (Centre Back)

In football, the number 5 is commonly worn by a central defender or centre-back. The position of centre-back is considered a crucial one in the team’s defensive line, responsible for stopping the opposition’s attacks and clearing the ball away from danger.

The number 5 shirt is also associated with attributes such as toughness, physicality, and resilience, which are essential qualities for a central defender.

Fabio Cannavaro, Rio Ferdinand, and Gerard Pique are just some of the famous players who have worn the number 5 shirt.

No. 6 – Defender or Midfielders

The number 6 shirt is worn by a team’s central defender or defensive midfielder. This position is often referred to as the holding midfielder or the defensive midfielder.

The number 6 player is usually responsible for breaking up the opposition’s attacks and protecting their own team’s defence. The position of the number 6 player is vital in controlling the game’s tempo, distributing the ball to other players, and providing stability to the team’s defensive structure.

Often, they are the most crucial player in a team.

Even if you have a player in the defensive midfield position that wears a different number, pundits and commentators often refer to them as the six. The number 6 shirt is associated with iconic players in football, including Fernando Hierro and Claude Makélélé.

No. 7 – Wingers or Forwards

The number 7 shirt in football is frequently worn by attacking players, particularly those who play as wingers or forwards. This number is associated with players who have exceptional dribbling ability, pace, and goal-scoring prowess.

The number 7 shirt is considered prestigious in football and has been worn by some of the greatest players in the sport’s history, including Cristiano Ronaldo and Luis Figo.

The origins of the number 7’s association with attacking players are unclear, but it is thought to have started in the early days of football when shirt numbers were first introduced.

Since then, the number 7 has been worn by some of the sport’s most and highest-paid strikers, and many aspiring footballers are eager to wear this number on their shirts.

No. 8 – Central Midfielder

Central midfielders mostly wear the number 8. This position requires players with a range of skills, including the ability to create and score goals, maintain possession, and support both the attack and defence.

The number 8 is associated with this position because it is often a box-to-box midfielder who covers a lot of ground on the pitch. This player is expected to be able to contribute both offensively and defensively, making the number 8 a versatile and vital position in football.

Some famous footballers who have worn the number 8 include Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, and Andres Iniesta.

No. 9 – Centre Forwards or Strikers

In football, the number 9 is routinely worn by the centre-forward or striker of the team. It was originally assigned to the centre-forward because this player typically played closest to the goal.

This player is usually the one who is responsible for scoring the majority of the team’s goals.

The number 9 has become synonymous with the art of scoring and is often associated with some of the greatest goal-scorers in football history, such as Ronaldo, Lewandowski, and Harry Kane.

No. 9 – Playmaker (Midfielders or Forwards)

The number 10 shirt is considered a prestigious and iconic number, traditionally given to the team’s playmaker, attacking midfielder or forward. The number 10 player is often seen as the creative heart of the team, responsible for linking midfield and attack, dictating the team’s tempo and providing assists or scoring goals.

Many legendary players have worn the number 10 shirt throughout football history, including Pele, Diego Maradona, Michel Platini, Zinedine Zidane, Ronaldinho, Lionel Messi, and many others.

These players have all been known for their exceptional passing skills, vision, and creativity on the field, which have helped to elevate the importance of the number 10 shirt.

The number 10 shirt is often retired by clubs as a sign of respect for legendary players who have worn it, such as Maradona’s number 10 shirt at Napoli. In some cases, a team’s star player may choose to wear the number 10 shirt, which can add to the pressure and expectation placed upon them to perform.

No. 11 – Winger

In football, the number 11 is usually worn by a left winger. This is because wingers operate on the left side of the field, and the number 11 position was reserved for them.

The number 11 is associated with famed players such as George Best, Ryan Giggs, and Neymar, who have all played in that position.

Number 11 players are expected to have good technical skills and be quick on the ball. They are responsible for providing crosses into the penalty box and making runs down the left-hand side of the pitch to create scoring opportunities.

Overall, the number 11 position is one of the most exciting and challenging roles in football, requiring a combination of speed, dribbling ability, and excellent ball control.

Football Positions And Numbers Recap

To recap, the numbering system in football has evolved over the years, with different positions and roles associated with other shirt numbers.

While modern football teams do not strictly enforce the squad numbers, it remains a tradition in the sport and is recognised by players and fans alike.

The number 10 is often seen as a symbol of creativity and playmaking, while the number 9 is associated with goal-scoring prowess.

Goalkeepers typically wear the number 1 shirt, while defenders are often assigned numbers 2-5. Midfielders generally are given numbers 6-8, and attackers or wingers may wear numbers 7, 11 or sometimes 9 or 10.

Other Notable Football Shirt Number Positions

There have also been a few players who played striker that have chosen number 99, as number 9 wasn’t available.

Sometimes, football players feel so connected with a club, they will wear the year the club was founded.

For example, at Celtic FC, Gary Hooper wore the number 88 shirt, as Celtic were founded in 1888. Another example of this, again at Celtic, goalkeeper Fraser Forster didn’t have the choice of number 1, so he chose number 67, the year Celtic won the UEFA Champions League.

Staying in Scottish football, Derek Riordan, an ex-Hibernian player, returned to Hibs for a second spell with the club and chose the number “01” as the number 10 shirt was already taken in what some consider to be the worst choice of numbering of all time.

Other players who wore football position numbers that were a little strange:

Dani Alves

#22: While most defenders typically wear numbers in the 2-6 range, Dani Alves has often chosen to wear the number 22 throughout his career, including during his time with Barcelona and Paris Saint-Germain.

Mario Balotelli

#45: Balotelli has worn various numbers throughout his career, including 9, 19, and 99, but perhaps his most unusual choice was the number 45, which he wore during his stint with Nice in France.

Cristiano Ronaldo

#9: While the number 9 is certainly not a weird or unusual number in football, it is a bit unusual for Ronaldo, who has typically worn the number 7 throughout his career.

However, when he first joined Real Madrid, he was unable to take the number 7, which Raul already wore, so he opted for the number 9 instead.

Lionel Messi

#30: Messi has worn a variety of different numbers throughout his career, including 10 (his most famous number), 19, and 9, but perhaps his most unusual choice was the number 30, which he wore during his first season with the Barcelona football team.

The number 30 was actually assigned to him by the club, as they did not initially believe he was ready for a lower number. He also wore number 30 during his time at PSG, as number 10 was taken.

Andrea Pirlo

#21: Pirlo wore the number 21 throughout much of his career, including during his time with AC Milan and the Italian national team. While the number 21 is not necessarily weird, it is relatively uncommon for midfielders, who tend to wear numbers in the 4-8 range.

Alan Murphy

Alan Murphy

About The Author

Alan Murphy is a sports writer from Glasgow who spends most of his time obsessed with football. He specializes in creating engaging content that resonates with fans and attracts visitors. Connect on LinkedIn

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