Can you imagine what it must have been like living hundreds of years ago? Think of all the things that you enjoy now that just weren’t around.
Certainly no game of footie on a Saturday afternoon. No Internet. No Fish and Chips. Not a cold beer in sight. But the most bizarre one, if you go back far enough, has to be no number “zero“.
I assume the concept of zero must have been there, just no way of communicating it. Otherwise you’d go off in the morning to feed the pig and would never be able to recognise that it had wandered off and been killed by a speeding Ox cart. You would just carry on trying to feed…..well….. less than one pig. Presumably, if it had been run over by an Ox cart you would actually be trying to feed less than one deaf pig?
I find the possibility of a lack of a number zero to be an astonishing concept, when you consider how much importance we place on numbers. Numbers have so much significance. Third time lucky, Lucky Seven, Unlucky 13. Seven Of Nine, 666 , 999, Babylon 5, 42, 28, 10 Downing Street, 69, your 21st Birthday, 6 and two 3s. The Chinese think 8 is a lucky number while other Asian countries prefer 6. The list is endless.
By the way – number 28 was the bus that got me to work every morning when I worked in a lens grinding factory in Bodmin.
In Newcastle, for some unfathomable reason, we seem to be completely obsessed with the number 9. OK – we’ve had a couple of capable strikers wear the shirt but that hardly makes it a tradition.
60 something years ago, according to some sources, the great Albert Stubbins managed more than a goal a game. I suggested to a friend that this makes him a World War 2 version of Ronaldo, but my alcohol associate pointed out that Ronaldo did it over a couple of season whereas Albert did it over 10 years. So think of Ronaldo as a modern day Albert Stubbins.
OK. It was during the war so chances are the average age of the defences he was playing against was touching 70 and limbs were probably at a premium, but even if it was jumpers for goalposts on the common, it was impressive.
With a ratio of 3 goals every 4 games, our best scoring modern day number 9 by far was Andy Cole. Watch the videos of him – he was stunning. Get the ball to him in the box and he scored. Full stop.
Our last number 9, a certain Andy Carroll managed less than 1 in 3. In the Championship he couldn’t even manage that. In the Championship for gods sake!! OK he’s still a young guy, but this number 9 stuff is starting to look a bit shakey.
There was a time recently when Shola Ameobi declared himself to be a 20 a season man. Like many of you I assumed he was talking cigarettes, but no – apparently he was actually talking goals. 20 a season is not a bad tally but it’s hardly the stuff of the golden boot. For the sake of argument – OK, THIS argument, lets call it one every two games.
Since 1892 we have had 31 number 9s who have played 60 games or more. I chose 60 games as a number large enough to give stats that could be considered consistent, cancelling out the odd lucky hat trick against Alnwick or non productive hangovers. In all honesty I can’t remember seeing all 31 number 9s playing, so I have to take the word of the statisticians here. In a court of law it’s called “hearsay”.
Of those 31, 15 didn’t even manage one goal in 2 games, hardly prolific, so let’s just forget about them. By the way these 15 include the likes of Chris Waddle, Mirandinha and Imre Varadi. The DemiGod himself, Alan Shearer only just managed 1 in 2.
Of the discarded 15, six couldn’t even manage 1 in 3, hell, Wynn Davies, who was a hero when I first discovered the Toon, didn’t even make 1 in 4.
We rant on about it as if it is something special, but the truth is that 4 of our top 10 goalscorers didn’t even wear the number 9. Do we want our number 9s to score goals? Of course we do. Is it the be all and end all of everything? No.
Give me the choice between another Andy Carroll or another Peter Beardsley, I’d take Beardsley every time.
20 years ago players started a game on the hallowed turf wearing only the numbers 1 to 11. There were no 47s or 23s. 1 to 11. That was it. It was quite straight forward. The keeper got number 1, then, reading left to right the defence were 2 to 5, midfielders 6 and 7, and then forwards 8 to 11.
This was a simple time. It seems that at the time a managers options were generally considered either a 4-2-4 formation, or, if he found himself in a fix, as an alternative he could always switch to ……… 4-2-4.
Numbers 9 and 10 were referred to as “centre forwards”. There was none of this “playing off the forward” or “playing in the hole“ . It was a couple of 200lb six footers trying to put the ball and the goalie into the net.
There was a time in 1991 when Ossie Ardilles was thought to be using the 4-3-3 formation, but turns out it was unintentional and Micky Quinn had just had a couple of extra Weetabix for breakfast and couldn’t keep up.
Being a number 9 was significant. As was being a number 10. Does it mean the same today when we have a 25 strong squad? Hardly. Does it mean the same when you have strikers coming on the pitch wearing 49? Hardly. At this moment in time the striker we expect most from wears 19.
Things have changed.
We need to get beyond the obsession with a simple number. Shearer and Cole don’t make it a tradition.
We need to move on. To say that our number 9 shirt carries a special burden hardly encourages the wearer. As if the pressure of being a striker for Newcastle United isn’t enough. It’s not just about goals.
I therefore propose that as a sign of respect to Shearer, Cole, MacDonald, Stubbins and Co, Ashley and Llambias should do the decent thing and retire the number 9 shirt.
I don’t think there’s a striker out there who can fill the shoes of our number 9 shirt (WTF????)
A fantastic effort from Archie Brand.