One of the most beautiful sights in football is seeing a perfectly numbered team line up as a starting XI — a feat rarely seen outside internationals in these cosmopolitan days of magic spray and goal line technology and Shane Long costing £12million. You know what I mean— Goalie 1; Defenders 2, 3, 5 & 6, with the former couple full backs & the latter centre halves; 7, 11, 8 & 4, again the former on the wing & the latter in the middle, 8 bombing forward, 4 holding back, and then 9 and 10 up front; big man, little man.
Ah. Memories. Flooding back aren’t they? Ooo, the pie is too hot for my mouth. Aah, I got my thumb caught in one of those rattles! Eek, Mum’s homemade scarf don’t half itch. What? Samuel Eto’o is Everton’s number 5?
Blame Eto’o for many things, but he’s not the first tradition-flouting hot-dog to play fast and loose with the order of things.
Here’s some of recent history’s biggest offenders.
Milan Baros — Striker — 5
Milan Baros wasn’t very good at being a footballer, by which I mean he had rubbish hair and wasn’t that tall. That said, somehow he managed to be top scorer at one European Championship and play for Liverpool, although this was back when Liverpool also had Florent Sinama-Pongolle and Bruno Cheyrou. Maybe Eto’o’s numbering is a tribute to Baros, or a kind of performance art trolling. Either way Milan’s google alert has just kicked in because of this article, and he’s about to be crushingly disappointed.
William Gallas — Defender — 10
Oh Gallas. I liked Gallas when he was at Chelsea, when Chelsea were a kind of parochial West London hobby like Fulham are now or getting cunted on Bolly — when they couldn’t scrape together two-bob to sign Geremi and Flavio Conceicao. Gallas was the proto-hipster footballer back then. Playing alongside Desailly it always showed you were a bit more savvy if you pointed out Gallas’ heroics instead. He also wore Mercurial Vapours. Big ticks.
Those days are dead and gone now. The moment Gallas took Bergkamp’s number at Arsenal, going on to sully it forever by packing a sad in the middle of St Andrews, he killed them dead.
Know your place William. Know your place.
Khalid Boulahrouz — Defender — 9
See this shit? This shit wouldn’t have happened under Gianluca Vialli. There’s a man who knew tradition. I remember this press conference, Mourinho pissing his little pants because he thought he’d pulled one over on the establishment. Aye, fair, but turns out he was dog shit, so every cloud.
Kanu — 4 — Striker
I bloody love Nwankwo Kanu, I do. Arsenal legend, with a perfectly serviceable number for a squad striker — 25! Proud, majestic, definitely not his age at any point during his Arsenal career. The most goals Kanu ever scored in a season was 16, so yeah he’ll take 25 and be glad of it.
For Nigeria however, whom he captained, he was number 4, and I never once saw him deployed as a defensive midfielder, though that would have been hilarious.
Clint Dempsey — 2 — Striker
And here’s the fucking reason for all this horse shit. American sports couldn’t give a fuck about numbers, or indeed, tradition. I love America, don’t get me wrong, but they have 99s, 00s, all sorts of nonsense adorning their kits — vests sometimes, imagine. Clint Dempsey grew up with that, and despite us graciously welcoming him into our home, he proceeded to leave our milk out and eat all our toast and wear the number fucking 2 when he signed for Spurs. His big move. He chose to mark his big move by choosing the number 2. Back in America now, where he belongs.