Soccer Jersey History

To soccer legend Diego Maradona of Argentina, "giving everything for the shirt" is a player's motto. In other words, the soccer jersey is everything a team stands for.

A Numbers Game - What do the Numbers Mean?

In soccer's earliest days you might have been just a number. And you were lucky to be among the top 11. But what did those numbers mean?

Numbers were placed on official soccer jerseys so media, fans, and players themselves could distinguish one from another. Players were initially numbered based on starting formation. Top players were numbered 1-11 beginning with the goalkeeper. It worked kind of like baseball's batter order, one through nine. If you wore the number 12 or over, most likely you were a soccer substitute. Over time, the formation varied from one country to another. With the influx of television and media making soccer more visible and popular, numbers became associated with certain players, which increased marketing of numbered soccer team jerseys. The first 11 players were definitely in the lineup. In more recent decades importance assigned to a number is no longer limited to the first 11 players. But one number stands alone, and that is the "One" belonging only to the goalkeeper.

A brief overview of soccer jersey numbers and what they stand for is as follows:

  1. Goalkeeper
  2. Right back - defender
  3. Defender's defender - center back
  4. Lefty - defender or midfielder. The position historically gets its name from being positioned at the left side of the field.
  5. In the US, it's the Center Half or Midfielder. In England, it's the Center Half or Defender.
  6. Versatile position; In the US and Europe, it's the midfielder. In England, it's the Center Back. In Brazil, generally the Back, but all are versatile.
  7. Attacker, usually right wing. In the US national team, it stands for Left Wing.
  8. Two-way midfielder. The number represents a strong defense and offense player, or a dominant player.
  9. Striker; goal-scorer. It's considered a very important number.
  10. Dominant player who carries a lot of responsibilities on and off the field.
  11. "Slasher". This is an attacker, such as a forward wing or wide midfielder; second most likely to score.

The Changing Jersey

Since the beginning, and despite the absence of any mention of uniform in the 11 points of the Cambridge Rules established in 1848, the soccer uniform has evolved.

By and large, the soccer uniform is pretty basic. It involves only a short-sleeved jersey, soccer shorts, socks, shoes, and shin guards. In its simple design, the soccer uniform keeps players cool during the warm seasons, when the game is most often played. During most of the Victorian age (1837 - 1901) players had no uniforms, just white shirts and pants with colorful caps or scarves to tell teams apart. And often players wore long trousers.

And so it was until about 1870 when the English FA Cup received so much media attention that the public demanded that teams wear clothing that distinguished them from one another.

Team colors were often chosen according to the school or club they represented, such as the white jersey adorning the Shrewbury School's blue Maltese Cross. Often teams not of the rich society opted for a less expensive look. They simply wore white. Wealthy teams could afford to sport its club's colors, but were required to provide alternate colors just in case two teams showed up to a game with the same color. And players were expected to foot the bill until soccer became professional, in which case the team paid for it.

Soccer shirts welcomed the twentieth century with a traditional look that created a giant fashion trend around the world. Players sported a tailored jersey made from durable, natural fibers in a variety of collar designs. Most popular among them were laced crew necks and wide vertical stripes. Horizontal stripes were common also. In the 1930s, collared rugby-style shirts replaced crew necks, most visibly the 1933 Arsenal red shirt with white sleeves, and a wide, white collar. Within a few years' time numbered shirts were introduced in Britain, and after the war the trend began to spread to other parts of the world.

The jersey changed little over the coming decades. It wasn't until World War II that strides were made in the evolution of the soccer uniform.

In the mid-1900s teams began wearing light, synthetic fabrics, creating a look that became the mother of the modern soccer jersey. And so we saw the "continental style" jersey featuring lighter, short-sleeved v-neck designs, although some parts of Europe were already sporting sleek, lightweight looks. Meanwhile, Brazil had a look all its own - a yellow shirt with green collar and cuffs, the brain child of young newspaper illustrator whose handiwork won a national design contest.

The soccer uniform entered the revolutionary 1960s having departed from the long, baggy shorts and button-down shirts of the prior decade, to V-necks and rounded collars. The following 20 years found jerseys becoming more commercial, as teams sought to sell replicas of signature jerseys of notable players complete with team logos, and which were made with lighter, cooler fabrics.

In keeping with the sleek 60s look, shirts came in bold solid colors, making soccer jerseys more visible in under the stadium lights. The next decade found designers including their logos on the sleeves and fronts of European and English soccer jerseys. The 1970s marked a time that returned to traditional colors with circular necks, and striped looks.

By mid-1980s the media began to accept the idea that jerseys worn by professional soccer players should patronize various brands. This kicked off an era of soccer jersey marketing like never seen before. And soccer jerseys were continuing to be made of lighter-weight, durable polyester.

The 1990s marked a time of increasing commercialism for the soccer shirt, with replica shirts baring the logos of professional teams being widely marketed.

No longer made of cotton, technology continues to produce jerseys that are lighter and more breathable than ever, with fabrics made from cotton blends of nylon and polyester.

From the 1800s to the modern age of soccer, jerseys evolved with the times, and ever-changing demands of the player, recreational and professional alike.



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