- Thanks to Rob Stokes and Andrew Hoare for their assistance
- See here for Simon Treanor’s major series on Liverpool’s numbering from 1985-93
The 2023-24 season will see Liverpool have at least three new occupants of their 1-11 shirts.
With James Milner, Naby Keita and Roberto Firmino departing, numbers 7-9 inclusive were up for grabs while 10 has lain empty since Sadio Mané joined Bayern Munich at the beginning of last season. Luis Díaz has traded down from 23 to 7 while new signings Dominik Szoboszlai and Alexis Mac Allister have taken 8 and 10 respectively (though some might feel they’d be better the other way around.
There seems to be an expectation that Darwin Núñez will move from number 27 to 9 to make it four different 1-11 occupants for the new season.
Twenty-nine years ago, the Reds initially planned to do something similar but, for whatever reason, it didn’t happen.
On the eve of the 1994-95 season, Match magazine produced a booklet listing the squad numbers for each club – they had done the same for 1993-94, the inaugural campaign with fixed numbers, and obviously the second time around provided interest in terms of any changes made.
For instance, looking at Manchester City in the image on the left, Paul Walsh and Peter Beagrie were signed during 1993-94 and given numbers in the 30s but they were rewarded with numbers 8 and 11 respectively.
Leicester City were a blank canvas as they had been using 1-11 in Division 1 of the Football League the previous year (squad numbers were optional for the 70 clubs below the top flight and not taken up to any great degree) while champions Manchester United had an unchanged 1-11.
However, goalkeeper Gary Walsh took the 13 vacated by Les Sealey and young players like Graham Tomlinson and Simon Davies were also allocated teen numbers as the likes of Clayton Blackmore and Darren Ferguson had left. A lot of the blank numbers would go on to be filled by the Class of 92.
And then there’s Liverpool.
Of the 23 players listed, 11 had different numbers to what they wore in 1993-94. This was the 1-11 in the first season of the new system:
Of course, there is no rule saying that the players given those numbers all have to be first choice but, with the change from the old system, most clubs did have a 1-11 that was fairly reflective of the manager’s thinking.
For Liverpool, the main outlier was the number 25 given to Neil Ruddock, newly signed from Tottenham Hotspur – apparently a nod to his fee of £2.5m – while David Burrows departed early in the season but in a swap deal that included West Ham United left-back Julian Dicks, who slotted into the number 3 jersey.
On the opening day of the season, Liverpool hosted Sheffield Wednesday and the new owner of the fabled number 7 shirt, Nigel Clough, scored twice in a 2-0 win. He was one of seven in the 1-11 bracket to start that game.
Number 15 Jamie Redknapp and number 17 Steve McManaman were the two outfield substitutes that day and, given that they had played quite a bit in 1992-93, they could perhaps be considered unlucky not to be given 1-11 numbers.
Both would feature prominently again in 1993-94 while it was also the season that saw the emergence of young striker Robbie Fowler, who was assigned number 23.
That trio and Ruddock were the most notable movers in the revised list for 1994-95 that appeared in Match – Ruddock taking 6 from Don Hutchison, Redknapp 8 instead of Paul Stewart, McManaman 11 rather than Mark Walters and Fowler in the 12 freed up by the departure of Ronnie Whelan (who was of course unhappy that he hadn’t been given 5 in the first place).
And yet, come the opening day of the FA Carling Premiership season, a 6-1 win for Liverpool away to Crystal Palace, the changes hadn’t materialised – the only difference from 1993-94 was that David James now had the number 1 shirt with Bruce Grobbelaar’s time at Anfield having come to an end, with the new back-up goalkeeper, the Dane Michael Stensgaard, allocated 13.
On the left below is the starting team at Selhurst Park, while on the right is how it would have looked with the new numbers.
Friend of the site Andrew Hoare has a theory around the whole episode:
Based on the names given such as ‘Robbie’ Jones, ‘Stig’ Bjornebye and ‘Mike’ Thomas, I’d say this list was probably given to Match by someone at the club over the phone in an informal manner.
I’d place the phone call somewhere prior to the July 26, 1994 (pre-season kick-off date). The list (if genuine and not made up at the Match magazine office on speculation) offers a good insight into Roy Evans’ plans for 1994-95.
All players bumped higher (Stewart, Walters, Hutchison) ended up either moving (Hutchison) or not finding a buyer and going on loan (Stewart/Walters). This suggests that as early as June 1994, Evans had already earmarked them for disposal.
Julian Dicks is number 3 and would remain so until his departure in October of 1994. I’d say this list would surely have been done prior to the pre-season game at Bolton (26-7-94) as it was Dicks’ last game for club and was told he had no future after it.
If the list was done after this date, I’m sure Bjørnebye would have been given the number 3 shirt. This indicates there must have been some plans for Dicks at Liverpool in 94-95 or that Evans didn’t have enough faith in Bjørnebye to be his first choice left-back.
Moving Ruddock directly to 6 suggests that the purchase of Babb/Scales in September 1994 must have been a re-assesment of the squad’s needs after analysing the pre-season and first few games of the season.
Overall I think the inability to find buying clubs for Walters, Stewart and Hutchison before the season kicked-off was the reason for the abandonment of the re-jigged numbers project along with the cost.
Roy Evans has suggested that in the past that around this time period the club would be issued with around six to eight shirts for each player for the entire season (two seasons in this case). Knowing Hutchison might not move to West Ham and no clubs willing to buy Walters/Stewart, it would be safer to stick with the status quo than re-jig the numbers.
Walters retuned to the side as a squad player in December 1994 after a spell on loan at Wolves wearing 11; Stewart, who didn’t play the entire season, featured on the bench towards the end of the season wearing 8.
Certainly very sound logic from Andrew – another factor might have been that the kits for 1994-95 were the same as in 1993-94 and they didn’t want to inconvenience fans with the previous numbers on their shirts.
Some supporters did buy shirts and got them numbered according to the new list – according to a Liverpool Echo article of September 3, 1994, anyone inconvenienced in such a way would receive a replacement.
As Andrew mentions, Don Hutchison joined West Ham United in August, meaning that number 6 was free for Phil Babb to take when he joined in September. John Scales arrived at the same time as his fellow centre-back and it was he rather than Fowler who ended up wearing Whelan’s old 12.
Dicks returned to West Ham in October (Burrows had moved on to Everton by that point) while Steve Nicol’s long spell at Liverpool would come to an end in January 1995 as he joined Notts County. Jason McAteer was the next player to wear 4 while 3 would remain empty all through 1995-96 – it was assigned to Scales for 1996-97 but he only played seven games wearing it before joining Tottenham Hotspur.
Later in the season, there was one further numbers oddity, albeit a cosmetic one. For the Coca-Cola Cup final in April – a 2-1 win over Bolton Wanderers with McManaman scoring both goals – the players had squad numbers but their shirts were devoid of names.
The big numbers reshuffle would finally happen in 1996 – something we shall look at at a later date.