(Or If The FA Cup had kept 1-11 Numbering in Force)
- A recent chat with our friend Jim Hearson (see here for his previous work) threw up the query as to what life might be like if the FA Cup had avoided allowing squad numbers in the early 1990s, a situation which is actually in place in the Coupe de France. Before I could do anything else, Jim had put together the pieces looking at the cup winners since 1993 and how they might have been in 1-11 format. Take it away, Jim…
Coupe de France shirt numbering isn’t dissimilar to rolling cheese down a hill. Both are long-standing traditions, but each year they’re brought up in those ‘Look at what these crazy people are doing!’ kinds of stories that bored journalists/content producers churn out.
As we’re nothing if not innovative, we’ve decided to combine the two, so let’s track the careers of Christian Camembert, Ryan Babybel and Gianfranco Gorgonzola! No, of course not. Instead, we’ll be taking that classic French quirk (which, admittedly, ends in the quarter-finals onwards) and applying it to another historic English tradition – the FA Cup final.
The 1992 final was the last one where 1-11 was used in the showpiece game, so it got us to wondering… what would it look like if the subsequent winners had stuck to the traditional numbering system? For our purposes, players with squad numbers under 12 can keep them and everyone else can scramble around the kitbag for the digits that best fit their position.
1993: Arsenal 1 Sheffield Wednesday 1 (aet)
The embryonic days of squad numbering didn’t stray too far from the norm, so the 1993 final doesn’t need much rearranging. Because of that and because there wasn’t a winner from this game itself, we may as well do Arsenal and Sheffield Wednesday.
For the Gunners, Paul Davis (14) and John Jensen (17) were the only outliers, with 4 and 9 laying fallow. Annoyingly, both suit 4 and neither suit 9, but Davis can have the lower digit as he wore it more frequently in ye good olde days, while Jensen can have the higher number as he ultimately wore 19 for Arsenal.
Wednesday are much simpler – John Harkes (15) is the only fix needed is him switching to the spare 7, which he later wore for Columbus Crew. Shout out to Paul Warhurst (9) and David Hurst (5) for being pioneers of playing silly buggers with squad numbers.
1993 replay: Arsenal 2 Sheffield Wednesday 1 (aet)
Squad rotation wasn’t a thing in 1993, so the line-ups for the replay weren’t vastly changed. Alan Smith reclaims his rightful 9, so Jensen can wear Ray Parlour’s 11 this time, which feels less wrong – not right, just not as wrong as 9. Danny Wilson reclaimed his 7 shirt for the Owls and with Viv Anderson missing out, Harkes can wear 6, his usual USMNT number.
1994: Chelsea 0 Manchester United 4
It wasn’t just the scoreline that was emphatically in United’s favour – they had nine 1-11 players compared to Chelsea’s six, which makes our job easier here. There’s also precedent from the preceding season – while squad numbers were in force in the Premiership, they weren’t in Europe, so let’s use that as a steer.
Andrei Kanchelskis (14) and Roy Keane (16) need different digits here and – as was often the case in Europe – we have 5 and 9 available. Keane generally was the recipient of Brian McClair’s unused 9 shirt and while Kanchelskis usually claimed Eric Cantona’s 7, he wore 5 when United lost at IFK Goteborg, so he can have that here too.
1995: Everton 1 Manchester United 0
These days, seven players wearing 1-11 feels noteworthy and it did here too – but more for the fact that there were four starters for Everton outside of the usual: David Unsworth (26), Anders Limpar (17), Joe Parkinson (18) and Paul Rideout (15).
With 4, 7, 9 and 11 to play with, centre back Unsworth (4) and centre forward Rideout (9) are easy enough to sort out. While Limpar played on the right in the game, he was assigned 11 the following year, so he can have that, leaving Parkinson with the remaining 7.
1996: Manchester United 1 Liverpool 0
Famously, you can’t win anything with kids – except the Premiership and FA Cup double. This came before the Great Number Reassignment at Old Trafford during the summer, but that seems a sensible place to find inspiration.
For some, the stars align perfectly – David Beckham (24) can wear 10, Nicky Butt (19) can don 8 and Andrew Cole can slip on 9. Despite playing left-back here, Phil Neville (23) can wear 2 here, as ‘Neville 2’ became rather familiar in the years to come.
This leaves us with David May (12) and Roy Keane (16), with 4 and 5 up for grabs. The kneejerk reaction would be to give the centre midfielder the former and the centre back the latter, but given May received 4 that summer and Keane sometimes wore 5 in Europe, let’s go with that.
1997: Chelsea 2 Middlesbrough 0
It’s tempting to give Roberto Di Matteo (16) the spare 1 shirt to commemorate his first-minute goal, but we’re not here to be silly sods, so let’s do this properly.
There are plenty of easy wins here – Frode Grodas (30) will actually get 1, of course, 3 is perfect for left wing-back Scott Minto (17), Frank Sinclair (20) suits 4 and Gorgonzola (25) (sorry) would be an acceptable – if not ideal – wearer of 9.
That leaves us with the goalscorers, which can be done by feeling, as there’s no clear steer either way. Di Matteo taking 7 and Eddie Newton in 8 just seems right, doesn’t it? So let’s say that.
1998: Arsenal 2 Newcastle United 0
Arsene Wenger revolutionised many things for the Gunners – the style, the diet, the general culture, but most importantly, he made doing this winning team much easier than the 1993 version.
Martin Keown (14) to 5, as would happen in reality, Ray Parlour (15) can take the position-appropriate 7, Emmanuel Petit (17) could perform the reverse Zamarano to claim 8, and Christopher Wreh can assume 10. Right, next!
1999: Manchester United 2 Newcastle United 0
Wenger and Alex Ferguson didn’t see eye to eye on many things, but keeping squad numbers tidy was something that both seemed happy to do. As a result of that – and an evolution of United’s team – this is as straightforward as their victory over Newcastle.
With Denis Irwin suspended, the younger Neville (12) could take 3 – as he would in reality – while we can just subtract ten from the usual digits of Keane (16), Paul Scholes (18) and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer (20) to leave us with a very numerically pleasing line-up.
2000: Chelsea 1 Aston Villa 0
We shouldn’t play favourites, but it’s probably just as well Villa didn’t win this one, otherwise we’d be trying to find a rationale for squeezing number 8 or 11 into a back five. As it is, Gianluca Vialli showed himself to be the gentleman we know him to be by making this pretty straightforward.
Mario Melchiot (15) wearing 2 at right-back writes itself, as does George Weah (31) wearing 9 because, well, he’s George Weah. That means that Zola (25) can wear a much more suitable 10, while Di Matteo is left with 4, which is what it is, really.
2001: Arsenal 1 Liverpool 2
We’ve had it too easy in the past few years, but fortunately here are Liverpool – the only final winners in this instalment who did so wearing a change kit – with their fetish for esoteric numbering. There’s only one real gimme and that’s Jamie Carragher (23) wearing 3 at left-back – and even then, that’s not been a constant throughout the years at Anfield.
As Sami Hyypia (12) would later wear 4 for the Reds, he can have it here, even though that means 5 needs to be worn by a midfielder. For many clubs, that’s not ideal, but this is Liverpool, where that practice has a bit of a history. Didi Hamann (16) feels the best fit, given he’s a more defensive player and it’s a kind-of reverse Zamorano, minus one plus six equalling five.
Under regular circumstances, giving 11 to a wide player makes sense, but as we’ve acquiesced to the Reds’ quirks so far, we may as well stick with it. With that, Steven Gerrard (17) can take 11 – reflecting the few times he wore it for England, as well as Liverpool’s history of 11s playing centrally – and Danny Murphy (13) – who was replaced by Robbie Fowler in the game – can wear his 9 shirt here.