How do they allocate numbers on football jerseys and other team sports?


It always seems as though the numbers are all over the place. I get that they can’t just be numbered 1 – 11 as the team is often much larger and will differ per starting lineup but who delegates who wears the ‘number 40’ shirt and does the team even have that much players with reserves & substitutes taken into account?

Who decides who gets to inherit a number from a retired legend for example?

In: 8

Not sure about other sports, but the NFL has rules about what positions can wear which numbers. For example, an offensive lineman can only wear numbers between 50-79. LB are usually in the 50s, DB are usually in the 20s. QB wear numbers 1-20.

In rugby, the numbers actually do correspond to individual positions on the pitch in the starting lineup. Individual players do not necessarily keep their numbers between matches.

In fact the person at the back middle of the scrum is called the “number 8” and some other positions, especially in the backs, are sometimes referred to as their numbers rather than their named positions.

In football (the version played with feet), which it sounds like you’re asking about, there’s a history of just playing with 11 players and no substitutes with the players wearing 1-11 based on who was chosen for that match. Within the 11, there are historical roles associated with the numbers, generally assigning 1-11 from front to back. 1 is the GK, 2-5 are defenders, 6 and 8 are central midfielders, 7 and 11 are wingers, 9 is the primary striker, and 10 is the primary playmaker.

With modern clubs having huge squads, generally the first team have the lowest numbers, then the youth teams get increasing numbers as you go down through the age groups. Some players who break into the first team from the youth teams will stick with their original youth numbers from when they broke in — Trent Alexander-Arnold at Liverpool wears 66 for this reason, for example.

In terms of who gets famous or important numbers, there’s a lot of politicking involved, and giving an important number can be an incentive to lure a player to the team or to show them how important they are within the team. Most numbers are just assigned based on what’s available and player preference, but “who takes the 9 shirt after our star striker leaves?” would likely be addressed by the primary decision makers at the club.

In European Football, the kit numbers were originally based on the position of the player, starting with the Keeper, who wore #1.

#2 Right back

#3 Left back

#4 Central midfielder (defensive)

#5 Centre back

#6 Centre back

#7 Right wing

#8 Central midfielder (attacking)

#9 Striker

#10 Centre forward

#11 Left wing

Originally, when they implemented numbers on jerseys, they were given in a match by match basis, using the numbers 1 to 11. When subs were allowed, they used numbers from 12 onwards, depending on how many subs were allowed on the bench.

But at one point, competitions started to request a specific number to be used in the entire tournament, so they had to allocate numbers for the entire squad. Because of this, players started to ask for the same number in all competitions, as a sort of personal brand. And this is why there are more and more high numbers, because they’re less likely to clash with other player’s.