I read an article recently suggesting that the time was right to bring Bobby Moore’s No.6 shirt out of retirement.
I have to admit this whole business of shirt retirement is somewhat strange, but as a gesture you can see why it is such a big deal.
After all, it has to be done for a very good reason otherwise our team will all have squad numbers from 30 upwards.
Indeed the whole process is only really possible since the inception of the Premier League and the concept of squad numbers rather than an allocation of one to 11 depending on the position played.
Younger readers, for example, may not be aware that traditionally our right back was number 2 and left back number 3.
But the one to 11 system was in itself flawed since the general abandonment for five forwards following the World Cup win in 1966 using 4-4-2.
Number 7 therefore was no longer right wing and 11 no longer left wing. Number 10 was no longer inside right but became this mythical playmaker role.
The whole business of squad numbers, and therefore the ability to know that a particular player will wear the same number of the back of their shirt for the whole season, opened up the market for putting names on the backs of shirts, which of course, generates money.
That means that generally, a particular squad number is usually associated with a particular player – Mark Noble 16 being a case in point.
That makes it easier to retire a squad number, especially if it is higher than 11 because nobody will really notice.
So for example, Chelsea have retired Zola’s Number 25 shirt for example, but it’s not a common occurrence.
Zola’s shirt retirement was due to exceptional service, and only Zola, Moore and, bizarrely Jack Lester’s Number 14 shirt at Chesterfield and Jude Bellingham’s number 22 shirt at Birmingham City have been retired for service.
The latter somewhat controversially, at the “service” related to his sale to Borussia Dortmund allowing the club to survive. Bizarre.
Normally a shirt is retired though of tragedy – for example Norwegian club Fredrikstad retired Dagfinn Enerly’s shirt after an accident on the pitch left him paralysed.
West Ham have also retired Dylan Tombides’ number 38 shirt following his tragic death from cancer. Marc Vivien Foe, another Hammer taken from us far too early, had his No. 17 shirt withdrawn by Lens.
Other former Hammers to have their shirt numbers withdrawn include Yaniv Katan, the Israeli midfielder who made eight appearances in 2005-06, had his number 20 retired by Maccabi Haifa and Clive Charles, had his Number 3 shirt withdrawn by Portland Timers following his death in 2003.
So, having established that shirt retirement is a relatively recent phenomenon, and that it is (generally) in exceptional circumstances, why would we be talking about reinstating Bobby’s number 6?
Well, the article I read suggested that Declan Rice should be given the shirt on the basis that he is the closest thing we have had to Bobby Moore and will be captain for many years to come, he deserves it.
I have two words to say about this which will scupper the whole idea. Transfer Window.
Good as Declan Rice is, and I agree he is (with the possible exception of Rio Ferdinand) the nearest thing we have had to Bobby Moore since he left in 1973.
The reason for retiring the shirt was to honour him. Reinstating it for a player that could potentially leave at any time would not be a good idea.
The number 6 shirt is special, and was worn by Bobby every time he played pretty much between 1958 and 1973.
He did occasionally wear number 5 but it was rare. Since then the shirt has been worn by other legends such as Billy Bonds, Alan Devonshire, Kevin Keen, Ian Bishop, Tony Gale and Frank Lampard Senior.
But for every Frank and Bonzo there has been a Matthew Upson, a Neil Ruddock, Mitchell Thomas, Hayden Foxe and, er, Warren Donald.
So keep the shirt in retirement. For two reasons. First to maintain the purpose of honouring Bobby. And secondly to stop it being worn by someone that might spoil it.