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Socceroos Centenary: How the Pacific Pioneered Numbered Football Shirts | Australia

Jhe match between New Zealand and Australia at Carisbrook in 1922 offered so many firsts in sporting competitions that its claim to mark a milestone in the history of international football was overlooked. It was the first full international match featuring two national teams wearing numbered shirts. Twenty-eight years before Fifa insisted on squad numbers at the 1950 World Cup in Brazil, Trans-Tasman neighbors pioneered an innovation that would become a standard requirement in the global game. But even that historic 1922 decision came long after New Zealand and New South Wales began using numbers on their home and away tours in 1904 and 1905.

The numbers were intended to help fans identify players by matching numbers on players’ backs with corresponding names on a scorecard or game program, which could be purchased or provided on the field. This was particularly useful for international and inter-regional matches where the visiting players were unknown to sight, even to the most avid of home team football fans. Numbered shirts came to football via New Zealand rugby. Australian sports fans saw the All Blacks wearing numbers on their sweaters during their 1897 tour. The idea caught on among the Australian rugby fraternity and was used at least sporadically in representative matches. Rugby and Australian rules football had experimented with numbers as early as the 1880s, but the practice was not fully adopted or retained.

Alex Gibb, Australia’s captain for the country’s full international match. Photograph: State Library of South Australia

Numbers were already commonplace in the early 20th century, but number schemes and systems were still changeable. The connection between numbers and positions on the pitch was not necessarily part of early football culture but evolved over time. A system that gained traction in Australia saw no marks for goalkeepers and outfield players numbered one through 10. New Zealand played their first match in the 1905 tour against Metropolitan, l Sydney District representative team, at what was then known as Epping Stadium in Forest. Lodge in the center-west of the city. An action photo from the match published in the Sydney Mail shows numbers on the backs of both groups of footballers, with a New Zealand outfielder wearing the No.1.

A line-up diagram from the 1904 match between New Zealand and New South Wales in Dunedin shows the teams in a 2-3-5 formation, but with No 1 assigned to the outside right and the rest of the front line completing the 1 to 5 numbers. The numbers go back to the goalkeeper listed as number 11. The Australians in the 1922 tour were allocated squad numbers 1-16. Another match schedule diagram for the tour game against Taranaki at New Plymouth are not giving the Australians a number but start local identification with 17 given to the goalkeeper, the progression ending with the outside left carrying 27.

The Australian team that drew with New Zealand in Wellington in the second Test on June 24, 1922.
The Australian team that drew with New Zealand in Wellington in the second Test on June 24, 1922. Photography: Hocken Collections, University of Otago

A 1928 Canterbury game against Otago has the keeper as the No. 2 and ends with a winger wearing 12. In this case, the listing gives the number 12 to the right winger for Otago and the left winger for Canterbury. On the 1922 trip, Australian players were assigned team numbers in alphabetical order, which they used throughout the tour. Forward Wilf Bratton got number one. Again the numbers helped a host of Kiwis unfamiliar with the visitors identify the players. But they were of no use indicating a position on the pitch, even in the days of rigidly defined positions in a 2-3-5 formation.

Alphabetical team numbers became a curiosity at the World Cups of the 1970s, more than half a century later. The Dutch “total football” squad at the 1974 tournament was listed alphabetically with goalkeeper Jan Jongbloed given number 8. Johan Cruyff was an exception to the rule, retaining his preferred number 14. Cesar Menotti’s Argentina squad at the 1978 World Cup saw goalkeeper Ubaldo Fillol in a No.5 shirt in another alphabetical team. Shirt numbering eventually spread to the English homeland of football. There, the purpose of the numbers was again to tell fans who the players were rather than defining their positions on the pitch.

The program of the first Test.
The program of the first Test. Photography: Provided by Fair Play Publishing

The most common English version of the history of numbers features forward-thinking Arsenal manager Herbert Chapman as the main force for change. He began trialling the innovation in matches in the late 1920s for a cause that took ten years before the British establishment fully embraced it. British rugby players had long encountered numbered players. But one wonders if Chapman’s assistant, Tom Whittaker, played a role in his boss’ enthusiasm. As an Arsenal player, Whittaker took part in the 1925 Australian tour – against many numbered men. England cruised to an easy 8-0 win over Illawarra at Wollongong, but Whittaker was kicked by Tom Thompson just before half-time, cracking his kneecap. The referee’s report notes with restraint that Thompson “was questioned by some of the visitors.” The serious injury not only forced Whittaker off the tour, but meant he never played again. He then trained in physiotherapy and joined Chapman’s coaching staff.

Chapman’s Arsenal first tried using numbers in a loss to Sheffield Wednesday in 1928. The trial was repeated occasionally, with Arsenal using numbered shirts in their friendly with FC Vienna in December 1933. The first major English event with shirt numbers was the 1933 FA Cup Final between Everton and Manchester City. A match line-up diagram of the kind that had already become standard shows Sagar in the Everton goal as 1, full-backs Crook and Cresswell as 2 and 3, down to left outside Stein at 11 After that, he continued to cross the city. forward line as 12, 13, 14, 15 and 16, ending with goalkeeper Longford as No. 22. It was common long before 1933 to assign numbers 1 to 22 to players in programs of match. Yet the players on the pitch did not wear numbered shirts. Perhaps the reasoning behind this was to assign formality to the programs rather than aid in player identification. In the late 1930s, the issue of numbers became a point of contention between the Football Association, in favor of numbers, and the Football League, against. The matter was finally resolved at meetings held in 1938 and 1939. A protocol for the use of numbered shirts was secured at the FA Council thirty-five years after the dawn of the New Zealand initiative. Once again, New Zealand played a role in its lockdown.

Arthur Gibbs’ retirement from the Council ended the era of Australasian representation in London. From that point on, the two countries ran their own course. In 1931, Auckland Football Association President Ernest Davis reported on the state of relations with England at the Auckland Football Association Awards Night. Davis, later Sir Ernest Davis, was a wealthy brewer and anti-prohibition lobbyist who was a major financial backer for the New Zealand Labor Party and would become Mayor of the City of Auckland as well as Chairman of the New Zealand Football Association. He would have held important positions in more than 90 sports bodies. The Auckland Star reported that in his 1931 speech Davis described football as the football of millions and that in England for every game of rugby there were twenty football games. “The time is coming,” he also said, “when the Football Association of New Zealand should arrange for a team to be sent to England.”

It felt like a shift to a more independent stance. He further underlined a national difference when he expressed the view that there was good will in England for New Zealand rugby and cricket teams which did not apply, for example, to cricket teams australian. He told the gathering of his meetings with Sir Frederick Wall of the FA, who he said took a keen interest in the Association’s play in New Zealand and had requested that General William Madocks be appointed as the NZFA’s representative on the Board. of AF. British Brigadier General William Robarts Napier Madocks had no connection with football but had traveled to New Zealand as a military staff officer in 1896, leaving in 1901. He was famous for his deeds of gallantry as he led New Zealand soldiers into battle during the Boer War. . He married New Zealand-born Laura Butler in London in 1903. Despite this somewhat tenuous connection to New Zealand and no direct connection to football, Madocks ended up becoming an unheralded figure in a hugely important development Game.

The 1938 FA Council meeting agreed to a proposal by Madocks that players wear 1-10 with no number assigned to the goalkeeper. The following year, the Football League went along with the general notion, still leaving out the goalkeeper, but with numbers listed from 2 to 11 for the outfielders. The FA, keen to avoid having dual systems, rearranged their position with a new Madocks motion opting for the 2-11 formula. The loop was complete. The numbered jersey movement started with New Zealand and reached its point of international acceptance thanks to a New Zealand appointee.