Why were numbered shirts banned in English football (and other funny events).

By Tony Attwood

In tracing the history of Arsenal FC I often find myself asking one simple question: “why?”

Today’s anniversaries provide a perfect example of this, for on this day in 1939 the Football League voted to allow numbered shirts, having previously forbidden their use.  You’ll find this change of mind mentioned in many football history books, but what I can’t find out is why.   As in, “Why were numbered shirts banned in the first place?”  What possible reason could there be for not helping supporters (and indeed the referee) identify players.  Most particularly I wonder about this, because this was before matches were played under floodlight, and although kick offs were earlier than is normal today, many games did end in fairly gloomy conditions.

I’d love to know what the justification was for the ban – if you have any insight please do let me know.

Here are the anniversaries…

5 July 1910: Harry Logan signed for from Sunderland, having previously played for Shettleston, in the East End of Glasgow.  His first match was on 3 September against Bury (although some sources quote a later date), in a 1-1 draw, playing initially at inside left, and later in the season at inside right.  After 11 league games ending in March 1911 he seems to have stopped playing football.

5 July 1920: Amidst floods and insurrection, the first airmail service between London and Amsterdam was launched.

5 July 1939: Football League finally allowed numbered shirts having previously outlawed them as Herbert Chapman and others tried to introduce the concept.  See also here

5 July 1978: Paul Barron joined from Plymouth as cover for Pat Jennings and went on to play eight games before moving on to Crystal Palace.  In all he played over 400 games before retiring and becoming a coach in the USA.

5 July 2001: Richard Wright was transferred to Arsenal for £2m from Ipswich as deputy to David Seaman.  He stayed for one year playing 12 games before moving on to Everton

5 July 2011, Jérémie Aliadière signed a deal for Lorient, and played 76 games over the next three seasons.  After retiring from football in 2017 he made the comment that during his playing days Arsène Wenger, was like a father to him and that they continued to remain in touch.

5 July 2013:  Terry Burton became the reserve-team manager at Arsenal.   Having captained the 1971 Youth Cup team he had worked at Arsenal as a coach, before moving through various clubs, and returning to Arsenal in 2013.    He was last heard of a technical director at WBA, a post he left in 2015.

5 July 2013: In a move that surprised a few, Francis Coquelin, having signed a long term contract went to Freiburg on a season long loan.  He played just 16 times for the club and had difficulties with the manager, before returning in June 2014.

5 July 2013: Johan Djourou completed a loan move to Hamburg following a loan period at Hannover.  He later signed permanently for Hamburg. His final club was Serie A team S.P.A.L. whom he left in January 2019


“Woolwich Arsenal, the club that changed football” and “Making the Arsenal” are now available as printed books, and on Kindle.    Please see here for more details.

Elsewhere on the site…

Henry Norris at the Arsenal:  There is a full index to the series here.

Arsenal in the 1930s: The most comprehensive series on the decade ever

Arsenal in the 1970s: Every match and every intrigue reviewed in detail.

A full index of our series can be found on the home page.

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