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FourFourTwo’s (not entirely serious) guide to squad numbers

After Gareth Southgate announced his 23-man England squad for the 2018 World Cup, it’s time to get ready. 

Get ready for what?” we hear you ask. Well, to read heavily into each nation’s squad numbers, of course.

This isn’t club football, where the famous No.9 shirt is less of a draw for young players than 99. Nope, it’s a major international tournament, and that means a straightforward 1-23, giving each digit untold worlds of symbolic meaning. Possibly.

So, to save you the trouble, here’s who you can expect to be wearing each shirt number this summer – whoever your team is...

1. Goalkeeper, 60-cap stalwart and undisputed No.1… at least as far as his kit goes. His place in the team is, in fact, very disputed.

2. Reliable right-back, at a middling club and getting on in years. Once assisted a goal; has been called a wing-back ever since.

3. The wildcard of squad numbers: a flying right-winger who, to the dismay of 1-11 purists, insists on taking the quiet left-back’s No.3 shirt in order to promote his personal brand, ‘Threezy’. Has Threezy T-shirts printed for every squad member.

4. Ageing warrior midfielder accommodated in a deeper role. Will refuse to retire and keep moving deeper until he’s behind the goal, taking photographs.

5. The central defender you always forget in a Missing Men quiz.

6. Captain, centre-back, occasional misunderstander of internet memes. Guaranteed to miss in the penalty shootout.

7. Journeyman midfielder glumly predicted by every fan to be in the manager’s starting lineup, because he’s wearing a shirt numbered between 1 and 11 and that means something, surely.

8. Hasn’t actually started a match for his country in three years, but if he isn’t in the squad and wearing No.8 there’ll be an international incident.

9. Diminutive, wispy playmaker given the No.9 shirt to the bafflement of many.

10. Strapping, robust centre-forward given the No.10 shirt to the bafflement of many.

11. Exciting young winger and hope of a nation. His ACL falls off in the second group game.

12. Carb-loving utility player wearing the No.12 shirt because it fits him and no one else, symbolically or literally.

13. A fine goalkeeper forced to laugh about wearing the unlucky 13, despite being many supporters’ first choice between the sticks.

14. An unexpected squad pick who jumped up the pecking order after his positional rivals suffered a series of unfortunate and unusual injuries, mostly sustained by falling pianos.

15. The actual left-back.

16. First-choice central midfielder throwing a spanner in the works by demanding to have the same number he wears for his club.

17. Young forward who immediately gets ‘17’ shaved into the side of his head in celebration, then doesn’t play a minute.

18. Ambitious, striving striker who didn’t want the No.9 anyway – 18 means much more to him; that’s the age he was when his kid was born, and 1+8=9 anyway so actually it’s fine, OK?

19. Classy midfielder known only to his club’s fans, foreign hipsters and, it turns out after a breakthrough international tournament, everyone on Twitter but they just didn’t happen to mention it before, that’s all.

20. Caps: 24. Minutes played: 26.

21. Reserve right-back picked as backup even though the first-choice one hasn’t had so much as a sniffle in his 14-year career.

22. Taken for the experience.

23. Third-choice keeper selected after a half-decent loan spell saving shot after shot for beleaguered relegation battlers. “When the call came, I thought it was a wind-up by the lads,” he says. Two years later, when he’s in the fourth division, that’s exactly what it is.


• Utility full-back equally uncomfortable on each side.

• Rapidly repatriated flavour of the month.

• Picked to appease fans of Big Club A.

• Picked to appease fans of Big Club B.

• 40-goal striker at an unfashionable club.

• 17-year-old placed in reserve by an approval-seeking manager, with no chance whatsoever of going (the kid, not the manager).

• Spiky centre-back who expected to make the main squad and immediately announces his international retirement.

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