What’s in a number?

The world in numbers.
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.

About toonsy

A lifelong Newcastle fan and current webmaster of this very 'blog who has the sole aim of creating a place by Newcastle United fans, for Newcastle United fans.

49 thoughts on “What’s in a number?

  1. There are 2 not mentioned above who i loved watching at St James, Peter Withe for his sheer power and work ethic and Micky Quinn who was the most unlikely looking footballer ever but who scored goals for fun. But add these 2 to the players mentioned above and our current strikers dont deserve to be on the same page as them.


  2. Micky Quinn was a 1 in 2 although mostly in old 1st division whilst Peter Withe was a 1 in 3 striker – Think this post hits the nail on the head when it comes to the ‘special no9’ we’ve mostly had ****e filling it


  3. Toonsy – that is the best bit of writing I have ever read on a footie blog. Absolute top class, man. Even my wife (an editor) was impressed – and that doesn’t often happen!

    I don’t actually agree with retiring the number but I do think it should be reserved for the first striker to come through the academy to be a first pick in the first team. That would make it quite an incentive to the younguns and even more of a legendary thing. Pressure on the wearer yes – but great for the club’s whole culture (and marketing for that matter)


  4. Robert – your right mate Mickey Quinn just didnt look the part did he, but what a player. Years ago I knew a lad who was once described as looking like a fat tortoise with the shell missing, but he was probably one of the best footballers I ever played with. Its not about the goals and its not about looks.Thats why I think Crouch would be a good purchase.
    By the way – Quinn – 1 in 2, Withe – 1 in 3.


  5. Whumpie – I’d love to take credit for this, but it was Archie Brand who wrote it. I feel the same and think this is quality.

    As I said to Archie though people will generally ignore it despite of how good and well written it is as its not berating the club or giving people a chance to 😉


  6. Whumpie – excellent idea about the shirt. Giving it to someone like Vukic could be the start of a real tradition.


  7. Soo, that final bit is sarcasm right? Otherwise it just doesn’t make sense. Sorry, it’s just hard to tell thru the way it’s written


  8. Alternatively make it Newcastles “Golden Boot” to be worn by the top scorer from the previous season. Which would mean this season it would not be available as the winner has moved on.

    At least this way it would be earned


  9. The whole article talks about how the number 9 really isn’t that great of a tradition and basically shouldn’t be focused on too much, but then u end by saying that the club should over react by making it so sacred that nobody should wear it again


  10. Andrew, not sarcasm mate, the number 9 shirt thing has become a monster that we, the fans, have have created with our expectations.

    Personally it makes no difference to me if the scorer wears number 9 or number 23 (now maybe THAT was sarcasm) just as long as we get the goals. The thinking was that if we killed the monster, by retiring the shirt, then perhaps we could move on.


  11. Just a mention of a No9 who is hardly talked of; Barrie Thomas in the early 60.s averaged well over 1 goal every 2 games.Not the most elegant footballer but knew where the net was.


  12. The numbering actually went from right to left, ie right back was number 2, left back 3, right half 4, centre half 5, left half 6, outside right 7, inside right 8, centre forward 9, inside left 10, outside left 11.

    That was in the 235 line up.

    The reality was, though, they played 433


  13. Just thinking about what system was played when I first started watching football in the early 60s. I think it was more 343, or a WM formation. I remember the Brazilians playing a revolutionary 424 system.

    My first Newcastle hero was Ron McGarry – Number 9.


  14. Great article archie; have to say toonsy have some talented writers you have groomed for the blog 😆 😆 😆


  15. Didn’t Alan Shearer ask for the Number 9 shirt as part of the deal in coming to the Toon? Now, that was a real man!


  16. Shearer, a Geordie lad, obviously saw the prestige in having that shirt. And he carried it well.
    Now, we’re demanding MA give it to that **** Sturridge.


  17. very unusual but interesting reading, I for one wouldn’t dream of retiring the no9 shirt and give the judas the honour of being our last no9.
    I think its a good thing to have a No that means something special.


  18. Ice you make a good point there me old bean.
    Re the No9 puts extra pressure etc on the player to wear the shirt imo that is part of the tradition of the shirt, we dont want a shrinking violet, if the player is the right type to wear it the presureof the shirt should bring out the best in him.
    If the player thinks it adds to much pressure well I dint think he would be the right kind of player to wear it we want someone that will thrive with the No and what it means.


  19. Very good article Toonsy,

    I agree with most when I don’t really care what number the goal scorer wears if he’s banging in 20-30 goals a season.

    Maybe it’s because we’ve won nowt for so long that we have to idolise players that sometimes carried the team like Shearer did for long spells with the Toon.

    I’m not old enough to remember the 70’s, but was Supermac like that? Did he make an decent side that bit better as a standout player in the team?

    Also goals don’t just make a number 9, the blood, sweat, and hard graft all add to it, and we all like to see the opposing defence get smashed about a bit.

    My all time Toon great is Beardo, by far the best player I have ever seen and there will be no one like him again. Not a number 9, but he’s still up there with the best 9’s we ever had.


  20. Lads i am going to go out on a limb and say that erdinc isnt going to sign for us. I think pardew has another striker lined up. Erdinc seems to want to stay at PSG and didnt pardew say he didnt want him if he isnt bothered?
    I could be completely wrong but I think it could be someone completey out of the blue.


  21. Batty i will hold you personally responsible! 😆
    Think it could be rondon or remy someone or that ilk


  22. Interesting article-but for me, the end sums it up. We need to get beyond the numbers…and therefore we shouldn’t place such emphasis on the number 9, and from that we simply shouldn’t retire it. Maybe it will never be as special, but declaring that it will never be as special is way too premature for me. Whilst Carroll may well have been a thieving little c*nt, many more young lads including all of us at a time presumably wanted to be the Newcastle number 9 once upon a time? Keep faith. HWTL!


  23. Agree with Liam – if we end up with Carlton Cole Batty should step up and take responsibility.

    Personally I cant see anyone called Carlton doing th job for us.

    Would have to say the same for Jermaine!


  24. Wouldnt it be lovely if pardew signed a striker out the blue like say tevez? 😀

    I wouldnt mind erdinc but just cant see it


  25. DAVE did guys turn up to do your flooring mate,if not batty will fix it up for you,hes not cheap like 😀


  26. Ice all done mate, Batty said he wouldn’t lower himself to do the flooring, he is doing private detective work and was on a big case 😉


  27. DAVE pleased its done mate,aye heard aboot batty think hes watching toonsy,mind he doesnt suit that big white mack and sunnys 😀


  28. what a fantastic little piece of writing, props to Archie – I enjoyed that very much!

    Wonder if we’ll sign Erding soon? Anyone else starting to worry about Le’Arse? The prospect of Mata, Gervinho & Nasri et al is distinctly unsettling. Plus they always seem to fly out the blocks at the start of the season… Don’t get me wrong, I’m excited…just worried. Would be over the moon with a draw and no injuries. Incidentally, I’m so relieved that we play the scum at their place – massive, massive pressure on them to get the result. If we played them at St James’ second game of the season I’d be pretty anxious…


  29. Cracking article Archie, you must be learning off the master……Jobey 😉 😆

    Q..What’s in the number 35,000,000? :mrgreen: A….undersoil heating 😆


  30. Ritchie – glad you enjoyed it mate.

    Hope a few people who are obsessed with the number 9 thing might move on a bit.

    Liked Whumpie’s idea about giving it to the youngsters coming through from the academy.

    I’ll be very surprised if we end up with Erdinc. It has all the signs of him playing us to improve his deal elsewhere. Just like Enrique seems to be doing


  31. Great article Toonsy. I wouldn’t retire the shirt but I think whoever wears it needs to have a proven record as a goal scorer before they get it and they need to be a big enough character to wear it. I was disappointed it was given to Carroll so early – surprised his record in the Championship wasn’t better than that as well.
    I am still hoping we can find an another great no 9 someday in the mold of Wyn Davies, MacDonald, Cole, Ferdinand and Shearer but I guess as long as we have a player that is scoring goals the number doesn’t really matter in the end


  32. Not too worried about Tiote missing it, he’s probably the most important player to have for the start of the season, he looks fully fit anyway and he’s got a good engine on him so its alright. As much as I would love to see our full team, I think its worth switching gosling in and seing what he can do there..


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