The practice of Celtic academy graduates rarely downsizing their squad numbers has led to them moving away from the traditional shirt digits – or perhaps it was all part of an ongoing protest against the fact that they had to carry them on their jerseys at all.
As can be seen from their starting 11 against Lazio in the Champions League recently, nature is healing from back to front but the fact that captain Callum McGregor will probably never change from 42 or James Forrest from 49 – just as Kieran Tierney kept 63 until he moved to Arsenal – means that the high numbers are likely to remain a feature for the Bhoys.
McGregor’s predecessor as skipper, Scott Brown, made number 8 his own at Celtic Park, just as Paul McStay did during his long career. For Scotland, the midfielder often wore 8 in ‘normal’ fixtures where they lined out 1-11, but never at a major tournament.
At the 1990 World Cup and 1992 European Championship, McStay wore 5 and 3 respectively as Scotland numbered their squad in order of caps won, while at the 1986 World Cup he donned number 11. It was part of an odd approach overall from interim manager Alex Ferguson – midfielder Eamonn Bannon had number 9 as centre-forwards Frank McAvennie, Steve Archibald, Graham Sharp, Charlie Nicholas and Paul Sturrock wore 16-20 inclusive.
What made it all the more unusual was that it was a team-mate of McStay’s, his predecessor as Celtic captain Roy Aitken, who wore 8 for Scotland in Mexico. For Celtic, Aitken wore 4 – ideal as he alternated between centre-back and midfield.
Number 4 for Scotland at the World Cup, and in most appearances prior to that, was Graeme Souness – he had usually worn 11 for Liverpool of course, though by this stage he was Sampdoria’s number 8.
Twelve years later, Scotland had reverted to more ‘normal’ numbering for the 1998 World Cup but there was still a notable switcheroo of Celtic players.
In France, right wing-back Jackie McNamara wore 2, with centre-back Tom Boyd 3 and left wing-back Tosh McKinlay 6 and all three had featured as Celtic had won the Scottish league title for the first time in nine years.
Boyd had been left-back, wearing number 3, as he captained Motherwell to win the 1991 Scottish Cup, and he also played there during a brief stint at Chelsea that ended with a swap deal for Celtic striker Tony Cascarino.
For his first three years at Parkhead, Boyd played on the left but the November 1994 signing of McKinlay from Heart of Midlothian saw him take number 3. Boyd moved across to right-back and took ownership of the number 2, which he would keep until his retirement in 2003.
With Boyd moving to a centre-back role during the latter part of the 1990s, McNamara took number 4 as he emerged to become a first-teamer.
However, at international level, Boyd stayed at left-back for longer and, when McKinlay made his Scotland debut at the age of 30 in 1995, it was in a five-man defence – Boyd slotted into the middle wearing 3 and McKinlay was a Brazil-style number 6. When McNamara received a call-up in 1996, it was logical that he would wear number 2.
By the time of the World Cup, McKinlay had fallen out of favour at Celtic – he only started the opening two games of the season, both defeats, with new coach Wim Jansen preferring Stephane Mahé at left wing-back. It was the last season of 1-11 in Scotland but Celtic used squad numbers in Europe and McKinlay wore number 18, as he would be allocated domestically the following season.