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The Balls XI: Wanted For Crimes Against Shirt Numbers

The Balls XI: Wanted For Crimes Against Shirt Numbers
By Paul O'Hara

With the news that Samuel Eto'o will be lining out for Everton in the number 5 shirt this season in what is the latest act in a long history of shirt number abuse, we've decided to take a look at this deeply disturbing phenomenon and bring you the Balls inappropriate squad numbers XI.

We've had to make do with selecting a few duplicates of the same disaster. For me, wearing 3 when you're not a left back is particularly troubling. Surely it's the last number from 1-11 that you'd want to be saddled with - though a left-footer might think just as poorly of 2 or 7.

With that subjective observation still in mind, remember that this is very much open to debate, criticism and your suggestions of other kit criminals down the years. Where possible, players are assigned to the most suitable position for the shirt number in question.

Numbers over 11 don't really apply to this selection, of course - since the advent of the squad number 20-odd years ago, it's not inconceivable for a player to wear any number from 12 to 99, or in the famous case of Iván Zamorano, 1+8, because he wasn't able to wrest the number 9 shirt from '90s Ronaldo.

GK: Ossie Ardiles (1)

Minding the house is the Argentine midfielder and Tottenham cult hero, who wore number 1 in 1982 because Argentina opted for an alphabetical squad number system. Ardiles bustling around the engine room with 1 on his back was too unique to be offensive (at least for us it is; shortly after, spoilsports FIFA insisted that a goalkeeper must wear 1 in every World Cup squad) but someone has to play in goal.

RB: Arouna Koné (2)


This is the kind of carry-on that requires some serious explaining, otherwise somebody at Wigan really should have stepped in.

CB: Milan Baros (5)

Wearing an offbeat number to make yourself stand out doesn't make you any less of a journeyman stop-gap. Seemed to reinforce the idea that Baros wasn't really a striker of the highest pedigree - which ultimately proved to be the case, even if he subsequently abandoned the practice.

CB: Samuel Eto'o (5)

The kind of megalomaniac bullshit that only one of the highest-paid players in history could pull off with any legitimacy, but it's more likely that he chose 5 because his usual number 9 in the possession of one Arouna 'You Couldn't Make This Shit Up' Koné. The nearest available number is 12, which I couldn't see him choosing, ever.

LB: Nicklas Bendtner (3)


I'm not going to go on too much about this. This is surely just Bendtner being Bendtner.

MF: Stan Collymore (6)

As we can see from this helpful graphic of the England side that beat Japan in the Umbro Cup in 1995, Collymore wore number 6 for the occasion. He made only two other appearances at international level; the fact that he was given such a patronisingly inappropriate shirt seemed to show that he was never going to be around when it really mattered.

MF: Jonathan Woodgate (8)

I'm not totally sure why he did this, but it was likely due to 8 being the lowest number available to the centre back when he returned to his hometown club after his inauspicious spell at Real Madrid. If that was indeed the case he still should've picked 18 or something because it's a horrific choice, even if plenty of you might feel that it was possibly one of the least offensive things he's ever done.

LM: Asamoah Gyan (3)


Will have to act as a roving left wingback in our woefully unbalanced set-up, as his egregious misuse of the number 3 is too grave to omit. Could you imagine if Robbie Keane always wore 3 for Ireland? You can bet that the baying hordes of begrudgers would be far quicker to get on his case than they usually are - especially if he dyed the number onto his hair.

RM: Jan Jongbloed (8)

The Dutch goalkeeper earns his place in the XI on account of the number 8 jersey he wore at the height of Total Football. This was more novel than inappropriate and served to add to the romance of the side. But still, leave that shit to hockey, or whatever. Considered well past his best before his surprise selection in '74. It's believed that Jongbloed only made the squad at the insistence of Johan Cruyff.

FW: Khalid Boulahrouz (9)

This was utter nonsense from the Dutch hard man. I don't care if it was a boring case of next available number. Unlike say, 7 or 10, 9 is not a particularly versatile shirt number and assigning it to a player other than a full-on striker tends to lead to discomfort and confusion on a par to what England felt when the Hungarians did just that in 1953.

FW William Gallas (10 and captain)

Without question the skipper of the side, succeeding Bergkamp in the Arsenal no 10 shirt from heart of the rearguard was either a disgustingly self-indulgent move or a devilishly clever decision by Wenger to prevent direct comparisons between the Dutch genius and his successor. Either way, it wasn't right.


Steve Finnan (3) - Finnan didn't always wear 3, far from it, but it's an almost universally-accepted truth in football that right-sided defenders should never wear 3, while those on the left should under no circumstances line out with 2 on their backs. It's not nearly as much of a problem if they wear another number, but to willfully don such a universally-accepted label is an act of aesthetic treachery on a par with David Cameron wearing a shell-suit.

Clint Dempsey (2) - His decision to take the shirt at Tottenham was seemingly because there were no other numbers from 1 to 11 available when he joined, but it's more likely because his nickname is 'Deuce' and 2 was his number at Fordham University (such numerical neurosis has not reached the States it seems - lucky them). For that reason alone his wearing 2 is slightly less annoying than Koné's, but only just. Still wears it at Seattle.

Ubaldo Fillol (5) - the goalkeeper for Argentina's successful 1978 World Cup campaign misses out on a starting spot in the side, mainly because his shirt number wasn't as unique in this team as it certainly was for him at the time.

Ruud Geels (1 - GK) - Dutch midfielder from 1974 assumed the role of substitute goalkeeper because he wore 1 instead of Jongbloed in 1974.

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