We threw the question out there on Twitter earlier, and we will admit that we half-expected the replies that came:
Unsurprisingly, a few of the responses surmised that it might have been the Manchester derby in February 2008, when Manchester United wore a commemorative kit to mark the 50th anniversary of the Munich air disaster.
United did play in 1-11 that day but, while City donned a sponsorless shirt, players wore their allocated squad numbers.
The last time a team played a Premier League game with the players who had squad numbers 1-11 was Charlton Athletic, drawing 3-3 away to Liverpool – who had six – in September 1998 [edit: this was correct at the time of writing but obviously Burnley’s 1-11, also at Anfield, in 2021-22, is now the most recent]:
Obviously, that was only one team, five years after the introduction of squad numbering in the Premier League (and two after they came into use in European competitions).
As far as we know, no Premier League game since 1992-93 has had two teams wearing 1-11 but the 1995-96 Coca-Cola Cup final saw two top-flight clubs dispense with squad numbers and revert to the traditional system.
Leeds United were taking on Aston Villa at Wembley and it was actually common practice for the Whites to play 1-11 in the domestic cup competitions in 1995-96 and 1996-97 (they didn’t in 1993-94 or 1994-95).
Their starting team featured seven players with squad numbers from 1-11 – John Lukic, Gary Kelly, Lucas Radebe, Carlton Palmer, David Wetherall, Gary McAllister and Gary Speed.
Oddly, however, Lucas Radebe wore 3 despite normally having 5. John Pemberton’s squad number was 12. Something similar happened in other games with Tony Yeboah wearing 9 while Brian Deane, whose squad number was 9, wore 11.
The 3-5-2 formation was in fashion at the time and Gary Speed operated at left wing-back (during the 1991-92 title-winning season, he wore 11 in various positions too), leaving things slightly unbalanced further forward. None of the four players with squad numbers above 11 ever traded down in their time with Leeds.
Villa, who won 3-0, had eight 1-11 players – Mark Bosnich, Gary Charles, Gareth Southgate, Paul McGrath, Ian Taylor, Mark Draper, Savo Milosevic and Andy Townsend – and all retained their digits.
That meant that Alan Wright, Ugo Ehiogu and Dwight Yorke slotted in cleanly, giving them a ‘correct’ 3-5-2 numbers-wise (barring the reversed central defenders).
Steve Staunton, squad number 3, often played instead of Ehiogu that season. If he had featured, we might have had Wright in a Brazilesque number 6 at left wing-back.
For 1996-97, Yorke moved to number 10 while Townsend assumed the number 6. The following year, Ehiogu switched to 5 after Paul McGrath’s departure and Wright – who initially wore 2 after he signed from Blackburn Rovers in late 1994-95 – inherited 3 when Staunton returned to Liverpool in 1998.