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The Meaning Behind Football Jersey Numbers



A football jersey is the first thing you look for when you want to find your favourite football players amongst others in the field. Their names and especially their numbers stand out alongside the colours and design that differentiate the respective teams. 

But did you know that there is more to the football jersey numbers than it seems? In fact, during the early 1990s in the UK, certain football jersey numbers are associated with specific positions. This is still a relevant practice today.

For you to get a better understanding, here’s where it all started.  

The 2-3-5 football formation

At the time when football jersey numbers were first introduced in the 1920s, the 2-3-5 was the most common formation for most of the football teams. Early football before did not use names on the back, so it was difficult to identify players and their positions. 

The 2-3-5 formation includes two defenders, three midfielders and five forwards. Defenders have the lower numbers and the attacking football players have numbers closer to 11. This is because players were numbered back-to-front and right-to-left.

This formation eventually evolved and did not even exist in modern times. However, we can be grateful for it for giving us the modern player positions we know today and their corresponding numbers. The jersey numbers also differ for each country. In the UK, this was how the numbering system began. 

Number 1

This is the football jersey number for goalkeepers. This is because they are the first names on the team sheet for starting line ups and the first players chosen to begin a match. 

Numbers 2 and 3

Originally, during the 2-3-5 formation, football players who wore the numbers 2 and 3 played centrally. These were the defenders. The players then shifted out wide, and the numbers 2 and 3 were given to the fullbacks. This created the 4-4-2 formation that we know. The evolution of the 2-3-5 paved the way for the numbers to be worn on the right and left backs. These are now the outside defenders.

Numbers 4 and 5

The three midfield players wore the numbers 4, 5 and 6 when playing the 2-3-5 formation. With more changes brought throughout the game, the football players with jersey numbers 4 and 5 had to do more defences and were thus dropped back centrally in between the fullbacks. This created the centre backs.  

Numbers 6 and 8

Because 4 and 5 had to become defence players, that only left number 6 to be the only defensive midfielder. That is why football players with number 8 jerseys who were the ones covering the length of the field as both attack and defensive players dropped back to help with number 6 players. This has led to the holding midfielder with jersey number 6 and the box-to-box player with jersey number 8.

Numbers 7 and 11

For attacking positions, the 7 and 11 were the ones tasked attacking the flanks and swinging in crosses. This is one of the things that did not change until today. However, with the 4-4-2 formation, they had to drop a bit more so that there would be more solid defences. This, later on, created the outside midfielder or winger.

Numbers 9 and 10

Since the wingers were dropped deeper, there were only two forwards at the front. The player with the number 9 football jersey then became the out-and-out goalscorer while the number 10 player dropped a bit deeper and became the creative midfielder. 

You’ve probably got your preferred football jersey number. There’s the ever-popular number 10 worn exclusively by the best players. You’ve got legends such as Pele and Lionel Messi. For number 7, you have Cristiano Ronaldo. There are so many great football players out there that make their jersey numbers iconic. 

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