When I came into class with my City shirt on it showed my students I am a serious fan. When you teach in a secondary school and make a bold move it does spark interest. I have the number 10 emblazoned on the back and they asked me why I chose that number. One bright spark said Aguero and with today’s configuration, he scored 100 percent. My response was my hero, Shaun Goater, which met with a tumbleweed moment. Shirt numbers have a significance for fans as it deepens their allegiance to the heroes of the club they support. So, to retire one it might seem like part of the team has gone.
In this global game, there is much fluidity and players move. However, with the high stakes, a player can impact in a season and can be considered a hero to that club and his name associated with the number on his back. It is typically handed on to the person who takes up the position the number is associated with. So I could have said Dzeko or Hartford because they have also been worthy wearers of number 10.
When a club wants to honour a player they can retire his shirt number either temporarily or permanently. With a bold move like that it can have several implications for players and fans. When a player dies it feels like part of the extended family dies so clubs may retire his number as a mark of respect and a fitting tribute.
Who Can We Be More than Moore?
When West Ham decided to retire the number six shirt I wonder what Matthew Upson thought? Was he happy he had the shirt that Bobby Moore wore? The club felt it was a way of honouring the 50th anniversary of his debut. There are many tributes to him, including a statue outside Wembley and that iconic picture of him holding the Jules Rimet will endure but as West Ham’s favourite son the club wanted to recognise it. He did lead them to FA Cup victory in 1964 and proved they deserved it when they won the European Cup Winners Cup the following year. I am guessing Matthew Upson felt it was the right thing to do but felt privileged he was the last number six at West Ham.
Three Times Honoured
Marc Vivien Foe has the unique double honour of having three shirts retired in his honour. He was on loan at Manchester City when he was called up for international duty with Cameroon. He collapsed in the 72nd minute against Columbia and died in hospital. The fact he had an undetected heart condition was truly shocking. Manchester City retired his number 23 shirt permanently and Lyon retired his number 17 temporarily until they signed Jean Makoun, a Cameroon international player, who wore it in his memory. Eventually FC Lens, his original club retired number 17. It seems that he touched the hearts and lives of many fellow players.
Biggest and Best
If we lighten the mood, some shirts are retired out of respect for players’ huge achievements. Are players bigger than the clubs they play for and are they bigger than the numbers they sport? When we think of Pele we think about his achievements at Santos and he played there for the greater part of two decades, scoring over 600 goals for them. Could you retire that number? It seems that New York Cosmos can. And they did. They actually retired number 10 during an exhibition match against his old club, Santos. I guess the fact his season in New York did something unprecedented. He inspired many Americans to start following football. Can you imagine what would have happened if he had played for longer?
Number 10 Strikes Again
Number 10 is a big number and Diego Maradona made it his own. He certainly was a one-man inspiration at Napoli. They thanked him by retiring that number. He had given them two Serie A league titles, a UEFA Cup and a Coppa Cup so it may be something you can do in the Italian league. The Argentinians felt his number should be retired for his outstanding contributions to the national squad. FIFA thought differently and rejected the request. When it reached the back of Lionel Messi, Maradona felt it had reached a worthy player and the number 10 shirt had found a home.
Three’s A Crowd
Nepotism is not something that is admired and in sport, it is hard to do as skill plays a vital role in success. Paulo Maldini was part of the legendary “Immortals” and also the “Invincibles”. He was part of a dominant AC Milan winning major trophies in his number three shirt. He won five Seria A trophies amongst other prizes in his fourteen-year senior career with them. I mean who would not like to try and emulate him? Well, it seems as if his sons are the only ones entitled to do so. Maybe they will and it will be three generations who play for AC Milan. Paulo requested that his number should be reserved for them. It is very unusual for extreme success to be passed down from father to son and as this would make it three generations of greatness the odds are against them. Looks like number three is staying in the cupboard for some time.
Cheeky Sneaky Shirt
If you want to retire a number and feel that you can’t, why not play it Chelsea‘s way and just not give it to anyone? Gianfranco Zola played with 25 on his back and his performances at Stamford Bridge were impeccable. You don’t get voted Writer’s Player of the Year when you haven’t played a full season for no reason. Zola was an outstanding player and no one has been offered that number since. I wonder if he will give that number to anyone now he is an assistant manager at Chelsea.
From an era where politics did control sport, we have a tale of restorative justice. Gyula Grosics was the goalkeeper in the “Match of the Century” when England lost 3-6 and it was the first home defeat. He was the first “sweeper keeper” and played in defence when needed allowing for a more attacking style of play. After the communist revolution of 1956, he became politically active in opposing the government and as a result, the Ministry of Sport would not approve his transfer to Ferencvárosi TC in 1962. He was left with no option but to retire.
In 2008 the 82-year-old Grosics played for Ferencvárosi TC in a friendly against Sheffield Wednesday. He was substituted after a few minutes and his number one shirt was retired as a mark of respect. His name is now on the annual register of players which is submitted to the Ministry of Sport each year. I do think that tale deserves a standing ovation just like the one Gyula Grosics received.
In a world of trophies and big market play, it is the players who make a mark on the game and it is with their number that we associate them. I guess some players are bigger than their number. Going back to my opening paragraph, all the heroes of my club are equal in my mind. What made me go for Goaters 10 over Kinkladze’s seven or Dickov’s nine is the fact I was born on the 10th.