November 1st is of course All Saints’ Day – perhaps we should have a Southampton post in celebration, but there is an interesting one coming soon.
There is instead an argument that the date as written in figure form – 1-11 – should be a chance to pay homage to the days before squad numbers. Or, in this case, the instances in the squad-numbers era when teams took to the field in the traditional format.
The headline is a bit misleading, because we are focused here on examples from 1994-95 onwards – the second season of squad numbers in the Premier League. That is because we have a series of articles planned on 1993-94 and the introduction of the new system.
A few sides lined out 1-11 in 1993-94, which isn’t hugely surprising as most managers gave low numbers to first-choice players. Perhaps in that regard it’s odd that newly promoted sides didn’t ever line out 1-11 in those early years as, apart from a brief, optional trial in 1993-94 and 1994-95, few of the clubs in the Football League chose to go with squad numbers.
Instead, the first post-1993-94 example of a top-flight team in 1-11 was Queens Park Rangers in the opening three games of 1995-96. Ray Wilkins, appointed as player-manager during 1994-95, undertook a satisfying clean-up in the summer of 1995, with Rufus Brevett (15 to 3), Simon Barker (14 to 4), Danny Maddix (16 to 6), Danny Dichio (24 to 9) and Kevin Gallen (20 to 10) all moving down.
Incidentally, Wilkins, who had worn 4 for QPR in 1993-94 before leaving for Crystal Palace, where he was assigned 8, took 26 when he returned to Loftus Road as boss and then switched to 20 for 1995-96. Unfortunately for QPR, they lost 1-0 to champions Blackburn Rovers in their opener – the game illustrated – and then 3-0 at home to Wimbledon. While they beat Manchester City 1-0 in the third match, the 1-11 never appeared together after that and the Rs ended up being relegated.
It would take until 1998-99 for another team to field 1-11 and this time it would be a promoted side. Having come up with a penalty-shootout play-off final win over Sunderland, Charlton were away to Newcastle United on the first day and manager Alan Curbishley gave his first-choice 11 the logical numbers.
They drew 0-0 and then briefly topped the table after a 5-0 victory at home to Southampton.
The 1-11 featured again in the sixth league match, a 3-3 draw away to Liverpool, but as the Addicks began to struggle, panic buys were made and there were no gaps in the numbering.
In their final match of the season, their team included John Barnes wearing number 37, Martin Pringle 39 and Graham Stuart 40.
Unfortunately, that would be it for more than two decades in terms of organic 1-11s but there would be two occasions where teams wore classic kits for commemorative reasons and maintained authentic numbering too.
To mark the 50th anniversary of the 1958 Munich air disaster, for Manchester United wore a strip in the same style as that used by the Busby Babes.
Six of the starting team had squad numbers in the 1-11 bracket and five of them retained them – the exception was right-back West Brown, who wore 2 rather than 6.
United lost 2-1 to neighbours Manchester City but would end the season as champions, ending the pattern of teams fielding 1-11 and ending up relegated.
Seven years later, West Bromwich Albion honoured their former star Jeff Astle for a home game against Leicester City.
West Brom wore a kit that was a replica of that used when Astle scored the winner against Everton in the 1968 FA Cup final.
Like Manchester United, they had six 1-11 players but half of them changed: left-back Chris Brunt (11) wore a more suitable 3 while Argentinian midfielder Claudio Yacob swapped his the 5 that suited his position at home for a more British 4.
The other switch saw striker Brown Ideye wear 10 rather than his assigned 9 – this was because manager Tony Pulis wanted to reward Saido Berahino with the 9 that Astle used to wear.
“Saido is a good player, that is why I gave him that number 9 jersey, because he has been so good for us,” he said. “He has been very good for us. The significance was not lost on him – we had a chat before and I thought Saido did well.”
Unfortunately for Berahino, he couldn’t score in a 3-2 defeat. Albion goalkeeper Boaz Myhill wore a numberless shirt, something also accurate for the time, but the effect was ruined somewhat with a mismatching undershirt.
In the near-decade between Charlton and Manchester United’s 1-11s, there was a close call as Blackburn Rovers had ten such players when they took on Liverpool in 2001-02.
Only the number 9, Marcus Bent, was missing from their starting lineup for the 1-1 but, while he did see action as a substitute, it was as a replacement for Damien Duff rather than Keith Gillespie.
In the years that followed West Brom’s nod to the past, there were more close shaves. In 2018-19, Liverpool started their home game against Manchester United with nine of the 1-11 and one of the higher numbers was goalkeeper Alisson Becker, who would switch from 13 to 1 the following summer.
Southampton had a big tidy-up in the summer of 2020 and began their opener at Crystal Palace with nine of the 1-11. At half-time, number 4 Jannik Vestergaard replaced Jan Bednarek (35) to give them ten. However, the fact that the missing number 7 belonged to striker Shane Long meant that a full house was never a realistic prospect.
Later that season, Palace would again provide the opposition for a case of so near but yet so far.
For the Eagles’ trip to face Tottenham Hotspur in March, the hosts had a 1-10 with number 27 Lucas Moura completing the line-up.
While the missing number 11, Erik Lamela, did come on, it was for Gareth Bale.
There would not be long to wait, however. Under Sean Dyche, Burnley had gone close a few times in 2020-21 but in their second league game of the 2021-22 campaign, they managed to bridge what had become a 23-year gap.
Fittingly, it happened at Anfield, just as the last ‘proper’ 1-11 had occurred and, to further please the traditionalists, the team was laid out in the most familiar British format.
Unfortunately for Burnley, they lost 2-0 and would end the season being relegated. Still, they had secured a place in numbers history and that was more important, wasn’t it?