Last on MOTD: It’s only a number

VERY early on in my journalistic career, David Moyes – then still a few years from the Everton job – taught me an important lesson: Don’t use squad numbers as a guide to team selection.

That might be a statement of the blindingly obvious now, what with Ronaldinho wearing 80 at AC Milan, Nicklas Bendtner sporting 52 at Arsenal and Nicolas Anelka making the No. 39 shirt his own at Chelsea. But in the late 1990s, some of us were still thinking in terms of one to 11.

(On that subject, you may be interested to know that not a single one of the 92 Premier and Football League clubs has had all of the numbers one to 11 on the pitch at any stage of any game this season. Peterborough, Charlton and Barnet have had 10 out of those 11 numbers on the field at various stages of games, but no one has had the complete set. At the other end of the scale, Arsenal put out a side against Olympiakos in the Champions League three weeks ago that featured no players with numbers between one and 11. Am I boring you? I’m sorry.)

Squad numbers, it’s worth remembering, were only introduced into English domestic football in 1993, and initially weren’t compulsory. So when I found myself doing a bit of work for the Preston Citizen newspaper in the summer of 1999, it was still a relatively new thing.

When Preston North End’s squad numbers for the 1999/2000 season came out, the Citizen sensed a bit of a story. Tepi Moilanen, the error-prone Finnish goalkeeper who had somehow established himself as North End’s first choice, had been handed the No. 13 shirt. Young local lad David Lucas had got the No. 1 jersey. And the Citizen wrote a piece asking: “Is Tepi’s number up?”

I was sitting in the office on the Thursday afternoon after that week’s Citizen had come out, probably trying to write a story about parking fines or planning applications, when the phone rang.

“Hello, newsroom?”
“Can I speak to your editor, please?”
“Certainly. Who’s calling, please?”
“It’s David Moyes.”

If it wasn’t Moyes, then it was someone who should set themselves up as a Moyes impersonator. To my ears, it was definitely the Glaswegian tones of the Preston North End manager.

The editor wasn’t around, so after stalling Moyes for a few moments by asking him what he was calling about, then finding a copy of the paper, I put him through to the deputy.

I only heard one end of the conversation. But it was still clear that Moyes wasn’t happy at the article. He seemed to be insisting that the squad numbers shouldn’t be taken too seriously, and that they were no indication that Lucas or Moilanen would be first choice. The deputy editor, for her part, insisted that it was a valid story. After several moments of discussion, both parties agreed to disagree. Moilanen, as it turned out, played most of the games that season.

Moyes manages Everton these days. And whenever I look at their squad list, it’s hard not to think back to the brief phone conversation I had with him 10 years ago. Because Tim Howard, his first-choice keeper, wears No. 24. The No. 1 shirt is the property of Carlo Nash, who has played precisely one game this season. So Moyes was right: You shouldn’t read too much into squad numbers.

Last night’s final match: Everton 2 Burnley 0
Commentator: Steve Bower

Curiously, Burnley are a bit like Everton with their squad numbers, in that they have a goalkeeper with the No. 1 shirt who hardly ever plays. While Nash spends most of his weekends kicking his heels on the bench or going through a few warm-up exercises, so too does Clarets No. 1 Diego Penny.

The Peruvian is second choice to Brian ‘The Beast’ Jensen. And it would seem that he is unlikely to get a lengthy run in the first team any time soon. After arriving from Peruvian club Coronel Bolognesi (mmm, tasty) in 2008, Penny made his debut on the opening day of last season at Sheffield Wednesday. The Clarets were thumped 4-1, and Penny didn’t play again for the rest of the season.

Since then, he has made one start in the Carling Cup, and two substitute appearances. He has yet to keep a clean sheet. I wouldn’t expect to see too much more of him this season.

Jensen has been one of Burnley’s better players this season, from what I’ve seen of them. And he might have helped them to a draw at Goodison Park yesterday, had it not been for Stephen Jordan.

When Jordan was at Manchester City, he used to drive Stuart Pearce mad with the number of unnecessary bookings he got by flying recklessly into challenges he had no hope of winning. It wasn’t that Jordan was a dirty player. He just used to pick up yellow cards for silly fouls all the time.

Inevitably, Jordan would occasionally pick up two yellow cards in the same game. He left Pearce particularly exasperated after doing exactly that during City’s 1-0 defeat at Goodison in February 2006. If Pearce was watching Match of the Day last night, I’m sure the Everton v Burnley highlights would have brought those memories flooding back.

Having already been booked, Jordan was sent off on the hour mark for a shirt tug on Steven Pienaar that was as blatant as it was pointless. The second booking was not a tough decision for referee Howard Webb to make.

And a man short, Burnley were ground down in the final 10 minutes. Clarets boss Owen Coyle was convinced James Vaughan’s opener was offside. TV replays suggested the goal was just about OK. Pienaar’s late second only added to Burnley’s pain.

Jordan, incidentally, is Burnley’s first-choice left-back, despite wearing the No. 23 shirt. He’s good enough to hold on to that role when he returns from suspension. But any more silly sendings off, and he might find himself keeping Penny company for a while.

Unless anything extraordinary happens, this will be my last blog entry for 2009. So I’d like to wish you all a Happy New Year. I can’t wait to see what 2010 brings.

Gubbometer

1. Blackburn: 5 (GD: 1. 2L: 3.)
2=. Everton: 4 (GD: 1. 2L: 0.)
2=. Portsmouth: 4 (GD: 1. 2L: 0.)
4. Stoke: 4 (GD: 0. 2L: 2.)
5. West Ham: 3 (GD: 1. 2L: 1.)
6. Hull: 3 (GD: 0. 2L: 4.)
7. Wigan: 3 (GD: 0. 2L: 1.)
8. Aston Villa: 3 (GD: 0. 2L: 0.)
9. Gubba: 2 (GD: 2. 2L: 3.)
10. Bolton: 2 (GD: 0. 2L: 5.)
11=. Burnley: 2 (GD: 0. 2L: 4.)
11=. Fulham: 2 (GD: 0. 2L: 4.)
13. Wolves: 2 (GD: 0. 2L: 3.)
14. Birmingham: 1 (GD: 0. 2L: 4.)
15. Tottenham: 1 (GD: 0. 2L: 2.)
16. Liverpool: 1 (GD: 0. 2L: 0.)
17. Sunderland: 0 (GD: 0. 2L: 5.)
18=. Arsenal: 0 (GD: 0. 2L: 1.)
18=. Chelsea: 0 (GD: 0. 2L: 1.)
20=. Manchester City: 0 (GD: 0. 2L: 0.)
20=. Manchester United: 0 (GD: 0. 2L: 0.)

GD = Gubba difference
2L = On second last (Last night’s penultimate match was: Blackburn 2 Sunderland 2.)

(NB. Teams will receive one point for every time they appear last on MOTD. Appearances on MOTD2 are not included. Teams level on points will be separated by Gubba difference – the number of times a team is on last with Tony Gubba commentating. Teams still level will then be separated by the number of times they appear second last on MOTD.)

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