Early evolutions of formations involved moving specific positions, e.g. moving the centre half back to become a defender rather than a half back. Their numbers went with them, hence central defenders wearing number 5, and remnants of the system remain to this day. For example, in friendly and championship qualifying matches England, when playing the 4-4-2 formation, general number their players (using the standard right to left system of listing football teams) four defenders - 2, 5, 6, 3; four midfielders - 7, 4, 8, 11; two forwards - 9, 10. This system of numbering can also be adapted to a midfield diamond with the holding midfielder wearing 4 and the attacking central midfielder wearing 8. Similarly the Swedish national team number their players: four defenders - 2, 3, 4, 5; four midfielders - 7, 6 (defensive), 8 (attacking), 9; two forwards - 10, 11.
In Brazil, the 4-2-4 formation was developed independently from Europe, thus leading to a different numbering - here shown in the 4-3-3 formation to stress that in Brazil, number ten is midfield:
When in 4-2-4, number 10 passes to the Ponta de Lança (striker), and 4-4-2 formations get this configuration: four defenders - 2 (right wingback), 3, 4, 6 (left wingback); four midfielders - 5 (defensive), 8 ("segundo volante", similar to a central midfielder), 7, 10 (attacking); two strikers - 9, 11
When substitutions were introduced to the game in 1965, the substitute typically took the number 12; when a second substitute was allowed, they wore 14. Players were not compelled to wear the number 13 if they were superstitious. In Britain, the substitute goalkeeper would often be assigned the number 13 shirt, whereas in Italy and Spain, the substitute goalkeeper would be given the number 12, or the number 16 in France.
The move to a fixed number being assigned to each player in a squad was initiated for the 1954 World Cup where each man in a country's 22-man squad wore a specific number for the duration of the tournament. As a result, the numbers 12 to 22 were assigned to different squad players, with no resemblance to their on-field positions. This meant that a team could start a match not necessarily fielding players wearing numbers one to eleven. Although the numbers one to eleven tended to be given to those players deemed to be the "first choice line-up", this was not always the case for a variety of reasons - a famous example was Johan Cruijff, who insisted on wearing the number 14 shirt.
In the 1958 World Cup, the Brazilian Football Confederation forgot to send the player numbers list to the event organization. However, the Uruguyan official Lorenzo Villizzio assigned random numbers to the players. The goalkeeper Gilmar received the number 3, while Pelé was randomly given the number 10, for which he would become famous.
Argentina defied convention by numbering their squads for the 1978 and 1982 World Cups alphabetically, resulting in outfield players (not goalkeepers) wearing the number 1 shirt (although Diego Maradona was given an out-of-sequence number 10 in 1982).) England used a similar alphabetical scheme for the 1982 World Cup, but retained the traditional numbers for the goalkeepers and the team captain, Kevin Keegan. In a practice that ended after the 1998 World Cup, Italy gave low squad numbers to defenders, medium to midfielders, and high ones to forwards. More recently, FIFA tournament regulations have stated that the number 1 jersey must be issued to a goalkeeper.
In 1993, the The Football Association switch to persistent squad numbers, abandoning the mandatory use of 1–11 for the starting line-up. The first league event to feature this was the 1993 Football League Cup Final between Arsenal and Sheffield Wednesday, and it became standard in the FA Premier League the following season, along with names printed above the numbers. Most European top leagues adopted the system over the next five years. Players may now wear any number (as long as it is unique within their squad) between 1 and 99.
To date, the highest number worn by a player in the Premier League is 51, by Chelsea's Sam Hutchinson in their match against Everton on 13 May 2007. It has been suggested the Swindon Town defender Brian Kilcline wore 62 during 1993-94, but he actually wore 31.
Both the Brazilian defender Juan and Spanish midfielder Francesc Fàbregas have both worn 57 for Arsenal, but only in cup matches; in Fabregas' case, he did not appear in league games that season and switched to #15, and more recently to #4. In the Football League, the number 55 has been worn by Ade Akinbiyi (Crystal Palace), Bruce Dyer (Millwall) and Dominik Werling (Barnsley).
When Sunderland signed Cameroon striker Patrick Mboma on loan in 2002, he wanted the number 70 (he was born in 1970), but the Premier League refused, stating that it would create a precedent. He wore 7 instead. Similarly, Tottenham Hotspur's Mido requested 99 but the Premier League once again refused, and he instead wore 11.
Players are not generally allowed to change their number during a season, although a player may change number if he changes clubs mid-season and there is an incumbent player wearing his old number. Players may change numbers between seasons - a move from a high number to a low one may be an indication that the player is likely to be a regular starter for the coming season. Some players, however, will opt to keep the number they start their career at a club with, such as Chelsea's John Terry, who has worn the number 26 since becoming part of the first-team squad. On occasion players have moved numbers to accommodate a new player, for example Arsenal's Paul Merson moved from 10 to 9 to allow the incoming Dennis Bergkamp to take the number when he arrived in 1995. When Alan Smith signed for Newcastle in 2007, the numbers 8, 12 and 15 were available, but he chose the 17 he had worn previously at Leeds United.
Over the years certain shirt numbers have developed a significance for the supporters of some football clubs. This is usually because, as a coincidence, it was the number worn by particularly great players in different eras. (This is a different approach to the practice of retiring numbers.) Prominent examples of this are the number 6 shirt at Arsenal and West Ham United F.C.(worn by Tony Adams and Bobby Moore respectively) the 9 shirt at Newcastle United (worn by Malcolm Macdonald and Alan Shearer) and Liverpool (worn by Ian Rush, Robbie Fowler and Fernando Torres), or the number 7 shirt at Manchester United (worn by George Best, Bryan Robson, Eric Cantona, David Beckham, and Cristiano Ronaldo) and Liverpool (worn by Kevin Keegan and Kenny Dalglish) or the number 7 shirt at Celtic (worn by Jimmy Johnstone, Kenny Dalglish and Henrik Larsson). The number 25 shirt at Celtic has also become significant, having been worn in recent years by Ľubomír Moravčík and Shunsuke Nakamura. In Argentine football the number 10 is held in high regard as this was the legendary Diego Maradona's shirt number. In French and Italian football, the number 10 also has significance, and has been given to important players and captains such as Zinedine Zidane, Michel Platini, Roberto Baggio, Francesco Totti and Alessandro Del Piero, among others. Also, in Romanian soccer, the number 10 was held by big players, such as Gheorghe Hagi or Adrian Mutu. At Steaua Bucharest, the number 7 is of special significance, as it was worn by the club's most notable former player, Marius Lacatus, "The Legend", today's coach.
A system of assignment of jersey numbers was initiated in American football's NFL in 1952; it was updated and made more rigid in 1973. Numbers are always worn on the front and back of a player's jersey, and so-called "TV numbers" are worn on the sleeve or shoulder. The Cincinnati Bengals were the last NFL team to wear jerseys without "TV numbers" on a regular basis in 1980, though since then several NFL teams have worn throwback uniforms that predated "TV numbers" without them, since as of 2008 "TV numbers" are not mandated under current NFL rules. (The same can't be said for players last names on the back of jerseys, which are required to be on all uniforms, even throwbacks that predated the last name rule.) Most recently, the Cleveland Browns, Philadelphia Eagles, and Pittsburgh Steelers wore throwbacks without "TV numbers".
Many uniforms also feature numbers either on the front, back, or sides of the helmet (in pro football, these were most famously worn on the San Diego Chargers "powder-blue" uniforms). Players have often asked the NFL for an exception to the rule. In 2006, New Orleans Saints running back Reggie Bush requested to keep the number 5 he wore in college. His request was declined, and he was assigned number 25 by the team.
Below is the numbering system established by the NFL, and in place since 1973:
It should be noted that this NFL numbering system is based on a player's primary position. Any player wearing any number may play at any position on the field at any time (though players wearing numbers 50-79 must let the referee know that they are playing out of position by reporting as an "ineligible number in an eligible position"). It is not uncommon for running backs to line up at wide receiver on certain plays, or to have a large lineman play at fullback or tight end in short yardage situations. Also, in preseason games, when teams have expanded rosters, players may wear numbers that are outside of the above rules. When the final 53-player roster is established, they are reissued numbers within the above guidelines.
This numbering system originated in football's past when all teams were using some variation of the single wing formation on offense. When teams switched to the T-formation in the 30s and 40s, the numbers were taken with them to whatever position evolved from the old single wing position. This numbering system originated in college football and was used only informally in the NFL until 1952; under the original somewhat informal system, the backs were numbered 1-4, and the line 5-8. Tailbacks, left halfbacks or flankers (1-back) were given 10's, Blocking backs or quarterbacks (2 backs) were given numbers in the 20s, fullbacks or 3-backs) were given numbers in the 30s, and right halfbacks, what would become simple the halfback or running back (4-backs) in the 40's, centers in the 50's, guards in the 60's, tackles in the 70's, and ends in the 80's. In earlier times, defensive players would wear a number that reflected their offensive position as many players played both offense and defense. For example, quarterbacks and halfback would usually play in the defensive back field and so had numbers in the 10s, 20s and 40s. Fullbacks were linebackers and had numbers in the 30s; Centers and guards were linebackers as well and has numbers in the 50s and 60s respectively. Guards and tackles played the defensive guard and tackle positions and had numbers in the 60s and 70s respectively. Ends had numbers in the 80s. Split ends (e.g. Emlen Tunnell) would be cornerbacks and tight ends (e.g. Fred Dryer, Buck Buchanan} would be defensive ends but all would have numbers in the 80s. The original numbering system was based on the single wing offense and went as follows: Tailback or left halfback (e.g. Frank Gifford) had a number in the 10s. The blocking back, which evolved into the quarterback in the T formation, had a number in the 20s (e.g. Bobby Layne and John Hadl, and Doug Flutie during his college career). The fullback had a number in the 30s and the right halfback had a number in the 40s. One the line the center was in the 50s, the gurards were in the 60s, the tackles were in the 70s and the ends were in the 80s. The CFL had a very different number system with the ends in the 70s, making wide receivers up until recent times having 70s numbers. The AAFC had a different numbering system with quarterback in the 60s (Otto Graham), fullbacks in the 70s (Marion Motley), halfbacks in the 80s, ends in the 50s (Mac Speedie), tackles in the 40s (Lou Groza), guards in the 30s and centers in the 20s. When the AAFC merged with the NFL in 1950, the AAFC players kept their old uniform numbers which caused confusion and resulted in the NFL going to a standard numbering system in 1952. This resulted in many star players having to change their numbers in mid-career. Examples are Otto Graham going from 60 to 14, Norm Van Brocklin going from 25 to 11 and Tom Fears going from 55 to 80.
In college football, a less rigid numbering system is employed. The only rule is that members of the offensive line (centers, guards, and tackles) that play in ineligible positions must wear numbers between 50-79. Informally, certain conventions still hold, and players often wear numbers in the ranges similar to their NFL counterparts; though the lowest numbers are often the highest prestige, and thus are often worn by players at any position. Kickers and punters are frequently numbered in the 40's or 90's, which are the least in-demand numbers on a college roster. The increased flexibility in numbering of NCAA rosters is needed since NCAA rules allow 85-player rosters; thus teams would frequently exhaust the available numbers for a position under the NFL rules.
Individual schools often have superstitions or traditions involving certain numbers. It may be a great honor to be given the number "1" uniform, for example, at the University of Michigan, or to be linebacker #55 at the University of Southern California. Perhaps most famously, Syracuse University historically reserved number "44" for its best running backs, including Jim Brown, Ernie Davis, and Floyd Little, finally retiring the number permanently in 2005.
On high school and other lower youth teams, jerseys with different number ranges are different sizes, and since many of these teams don't reorder jerseys every year, players are often assigned numbers based more on jerseys that fit them rather than specific position (though the rules on numbering the offensive line still apply).
When included in the starting lineup, a player's rugby shirt number determines their position rigidly in both codes of rugby football (except in the Super League competition, which uses unique squad numbering in the same way as the soccer examples cited above). Indeed, rugby union has a position named simply for the shirt normally worn by that player, the "Number 8", although it is not necessary for the player in the "Number 8" position to be wearing the number eight on his shirt. Several clubs (Leicester and Bristol particularly) used letters instead of numbers on shirts, although have now fallen into line with the rest of the clubs.
The 1995-96 World Series Cup in Australia saw the first use of shirt numbers in international cricket, with most players assigned their number and some players getting to choose their number, most notably Shane Warne wearing 23 as it was his number when he played junior Aussie Rules for St Kilda Football Club. Other countries soon adopted the practice, although players would typically have different numbers from tournament to tournament, and it wasn't until several years later that players would consistently wear the same number year-round. Ricky Ponting (14) still uses the same number as in that initial season.
Player numbering was first used in the Cricket World Cup in 1999, where the captains wore the number 1 jersey and the rest of the squad was numbered between 2 and 14. An exception was that South African captain Hansie Cronje retained his usual number 5 with opener Gary Kirsten wearing the number 1 which he had also done previously.
Shirt numbers remains exclusive to the short forms of the game, and is not used in Test cricket. However, a recent fashion that has been taken up by several nations is the process of giving a player making his Test debut an appearance number, along with his Test cap, for reasons of historical continuity. The number is in the order a player makes his Test debut. If two or more players make their debut in the same match, they are given numbers alphabetically based on surname. For example, Thomas Armitage is Test player #1 for England. He made his debut in the very first Test Match, against Australia, on March 15, 1877, and was first in alphabetical order amongst that England XI. Darren Pattinson is the most recent debutant for England, making his debut on July 18, 2008 against South Africa. He is Test player #640 for England. These numbers can be found on a player's Test uniform, but it is always in discreet small type on the front, and never displayed prominently.
American basketball leagues at all levels traditionally use single and double digits between 0 and 5 (i.e. 0, 00, 1-5, 10-15, 20-25, 30-35, 40-45, and 50-55). The NCAA and most amateur competitions mandate that only these numbers be used. This eases non-verbal communication between referees, who use fingers to denote a player's number, and the official scorer. In college basketball, single-digit players' numbers are officially recorded as having a leading zero. Teams can have either a "0" or "00" but not both. The National Basketball Association has always allowed other numbers between 0 and 99, but numbers outside the traditional ranges are somewhat unusual. Customarily, especially at high school and lower levels, uniform numbers are higher on physically larger uniforms (except 0 and 00, which are usually worn by centers), so centers and power forwards, typically the tallest players on their teams, tend to wear higher uniform numbers, but this is by no means an infallible rule. Players in FIBA-sanctioned contests, including the Olympic Games wear numbers between 4 and 15, inclusive. Leagues that operate under FIBA rules but are not directly sanctioned by FIBA, such as the Euroleague, allow all numbers between 0 and 99. Following the legendary career of Michael Jordan the jersey number 23 (or 9, which Jordan wore in the 1984 and 1992 Olympic Games) took on a special significance. Basketball players, and indeed athletes in a vast array of sports, tend to wear this number in honor of the iconic Jordan. The number 23 (or 9) is often displayed by athletes to indicate an exceptional level of talent and/or athleticism. (Tony Parker wears #9 because of this.)
Even to this day, low numbers are generally associated with being an everyday player, and many players try to get one, no matter what it is. This is also due to the fact that in Spring Training, minor league players unlikely to make the roster are usually given very high numbers, and many players feel that the higher the number, the less likely you are to make the team after Spring Training.
Notable exceptions to this rule are Manny Ramirez with the LA Dodgers, and So Taguchi, the Philadelphia Phillies left fielder who both wear #99. Former Toronto Blue Jays designated hitter, Cliff Johnson and former Philadelphia Phillies pitcher, Mitch Williams, also wore number 99. Many regular Yankees players now have higher than usual uniform numbers because the team has retired more numbers than any other.
Other players have become attached to a specific number, for whatever reason (including superstition), try to acquire it as they go from club to club, sometimes needing to "bribe" the number's current owner on his new team, a practice Rickey Henderson often did to obtain his favoured 24. Sometimes they will use a variant. Carlton Fisk wore number 27 when he was a catcher with the Boston Red Sox, and upon being traded to the Chicago White Sox, switched his number to the highly-unusual baseball uniform number 72. Former Red Sox pitcher Eric Gagné, who once wore #38, wore #83. The #38 is not available with the Red Sox because longtime pitcher Curt Schilling has it. Before joining Toronto, Roger Clemens had always worn #21 with the Red Sox, but Carlos Delgado used that same number with the Blue Jays, so The Rocket gave Delgado a $15,000 Rolex watch for it (Delgado then switched to #23).
There are also several cases where a player seeks out a number in tribute to someone else. David Ortiz after leaving the Minnesota Twins as a free-agent to sign with the Boston Red Sox, chose #34 in honor of longtime Twins center fielder Kirby Puckett. In 2006, J.T. Snow wore #84 in tribute to his father, Jack (who wore #84 as an NFL player), who died in the previous off-season.
Major League Baseball has not reissued number 42, because the number has been retired in honor of Jackie Robinson, although all players who currently had the number upon the mass retirement of #42, such as Mo Vaughn were allowed to keep the number under a grandfather clause, if they were wearing the number in honor of Jackie Robinson. However, some players voluntarily switched to other numbers, others retired, and still others were denied the number when they switched teams. The only player left wearing number 42 is Mariano Rivera, the closer for the Yankees.
In recent years, it has become more common for players to wear numbers in the 30s and above. This is due, in part, to many teams having retired lower numbers (the Montreal Canadiens, for example, have only three single-digit numbers left un-retired).
A number of players have worn higher numbers up through #99 (though #99 itself is now retired league-wide in the NHL to honor Wayne Gretzky). For example, Jaromir Jagr wears #68 in honor of the year of the Prague Spring and his grandfather's death; Alexander Mogilny wore #89 to honor the year he defected to the United States from the Soviet Union; and Sidney Crosby wears #87, as his birth date is August 7 1987, written "8/7/87" in the U.S. date format. Doubling of a single digit number has occasionally been used for players whose numbers were unavailable. Phil Esposito switched to #77 when he moved to the New York Rangers where #7 was worn by Rod Gilbert; Ray Bourque, who succeeded Esposito in wearing #7 for the Boston Bruins, switched to #77 to allow the Bruins to retire Esposito's original #7; the same season, Paul Coffey switched to #77 when he was traded from Edmonton to Pittsburgh. Gretzky wore #99 because #9, which he wore in tribute to Gordie Howe, was taken on his junior team. Going the other way, Todd Bertuzzi, who wore #44 for many years, switched to #4 when he was traded to the Anaheim Ducks in 2007, since #44 was already in use by alternate captain Rob Niedermayer.
#84 was the final number to have never been worn NHL, until Canadiens forward Guillaume Latendresse first wore the number on September 29, 2006. The last player to wear a form of zero in the NHL was Martin Biron, who wore 00 with the Buffalo Sabres in three games in 1995-96. By the time he returned to the Sabres in 1998, the NHL had changed its rules to disallow the number and he was not allowed to grandfather his previous jersey number. He instead changed to 43, which he wears to this day.
Because of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the ECHL's South Carolina Stingrays retired #12 for Mark Bavis' death. Bavis had played from 1994-96 and wore #12 for the majority of his time. When the Stingrays retired #12, Ryan Brindley, who had worn #12 during the 2001 Kelly Cup season, switched from #12 to #55 for the rest of his time with the Stingrays with the start of the 2001-02 season.
In most auto racing leagues, cars are assigned numbers. The configuration of stock cars, however, makes the numbers much more prominent. (Aerodynamic open-wheel cars don't have nearly the amount of flat surface that a stock car has.) Numbers are often synonymous with the drivers that carry them. Dale Earnhardt, Sr. will always be associated with the number 3, while Richard Petty is associated with #43, Wood Brothers Racing with #21, and Jeff Gordon to the #24.
In NASCAR, numbers are assigned to owners and not specific drivers. Drivers that spend a long time on a single race team often keep their numbers as long as they drive for the same owners. When drivers change teams, however, they take a new number that is owned by that team. Jeff Burton, for example, has raced for 3 different teams, and had 4 different numbers in that time. In 1994 and 1995 he raced the #8 car, then owned by the Stavola Brothers. From 1996 to mid-2004 he raced for Roush Racing, and drove the #99 car. After leaving Roush Racing for Richard Childress Racing, he changed to car #30 (for the rest of the 2004 season) and now races #31 (also an RCR car). The #99 car he used to drive for Roush is now driven by Carl Edwards.
Formula One car numbers started to be permanently allocated for the whole season in 1974. Prior to this numbers were allocated on a race-by-race basis by individual organisers. From 1974 to the mid 1990s, the numbers 1 and 2 would be allocated to the reigning world champion and his team mate, swapping with the previous year's champions. Numbers were reallocated occasionally as teams departed and joined the series, but this scheme persisted until the late 1990s.
Numbers are assigned annually now, first to the reigning World Champion (who receives number 1) and then his team-mate (who receives number 2); after that the numbers are assigned to constructors sequentially according to their position in the previous season's Constructors' Championship, so that numbers are allocated (if the reigning champion is not driving for the reigning constructor's champion team) from 3 and 4, 5 and 6, and so on (skipping 13 with the seventh-placed team using 14 and 15). The only stipulation is that the World Drivers' Champion is entitled to the number 1 car regardless of the constructor's results; this is relevant when the winning driver's team failed to win the Constructors Championship, or if the winning driver changes teams after winning the championship for example, when Damon Hill moved to the Arrows team for the 1997 season. This situation happened again in 2007 when 2006 champion Fernando Alonso left Renault to join McLaren, earning him and his rookie teammate, Lewis Hamilton, the numbers 1 and 2. Previously, teams had been assigned the same numbers from year-to-year, only exchanging for 1 and 2 when the championship was won. As a result Ferrari are infamous for having carried 27 and 28 for many years.
If the winning driver retires, nowadays rules states that car number 1 is traditionally not allocated; the winning constructor then receives numbers 0 and 2. Damon Hill received car number 0 in 1993 due to Nigel Mansell's move to the CART series in the U.S., and again in 1994, this time due to Alain Prost's retirement. Ronnie Peterson received number 1 in 1974, although he didn't win the championship the previous year, due to Jackie Stewart's retirement, the team was allowed to keep #1. Raul Boesel drove for Team Green in 1996 after the team won the 1995 CART championship, and the team chose to keep the #1.
In the Indy Racing League, #1 has not been used by a majority of champions in the 2000's because of team or sponsor requests to keep their normal numbers in order to keep their team identity, similar to NASCAR. Buddy Lazier, who won the 2000 championship for Hemelgarn Racing, kept the #91 after fans voted to keep the traditional #91 identity. Sam Hornish, Jr. never wore #1 after any of his three championships -- after the 2001 and 2002 seasons, Panther Racing kept its #4 (Jim Harbaugh is one of the co-owners), and after the 2006 season, the Penske Racing #6 stayed as the #6. In 2004, Tony Kannan, driver for Andretti Green Racing's #11 7-Eleven sponsored car, won the championship and kept the #11 to keep the sponsor's identity with the #11.
Other sports which feature players with numbered shirts, but where the number that may be worn is not relevant to the player's position and role are:
Retiring a player's number is an honor bestowed on a successful player, usually after the player has left the team or retires from the game. In fact, with players changing teams more recently than in the past due to trades and free agency, many players and fans feel that having your number retired is an even greater honor than being inducted into the Hall of Fame. Their club or franchise will retire the shirt number that the player wore during their time there, meaning no other player is permitted to use that number in the future. The first number retired by a team in a major league sport was the number 1, retired by the New York Giants in honor of Ray Flaherty. In rare cases the number may be retired because of the player's endeavours in other fields; for instance, former college football star and U.S. President Gerald Ford's number 48 was retired by the University of Michigan football squad.
It is also a common practice for teams to take certain numbers out of circulation without formally retiring them. However, it is generally understood in these cases that these numbers will not be worn again. For example, the Pittsburgh Steelers have not issued the jersey numbers of several of their greatest players (most notably, Terry Bradshaw, Franco Harris and Joe Greene) since they retired. Although the Steelers have only retired one number in their history — Ernie Stautner's number 70 — it is generally understood that no Steeler will ever wear these numbers again. Similarly, with the exception of a pair of quarterbacks in the mid 1980s, the Green Bay Packers have not issued Paul Hornung's number 5 since his departure from the team following the 1966 season. In NASCAR only once has a number been officially retired; that is in the Whelen Modified Tour, where #61 is retired for Richie Evans after his death in 1985. It is generally understood that NASCAR will probably never issue the number 3 again in deference to Dale Earnhardt Sr. It is rumored that one day his son, Dale Earnhardt Jr. will want to drive a 3 car, but that is only speculation. However, Austin Dillon, a Richard Childress Racing developmental driver for his grandfather, has aspirations of using #3, since it was the number used by Childress in his NASCAR era from the 1970's until 2001.
Although the practice originated in and is still mostly restricted to North American sports, some football (soccer) clubs have started doing this as squad numbers have become common. A.S. Roma, A.C. Milan, Internazionale, Napoli, Manchester City, Lens and Lyon have all recently retired shirt numbers. The last three of these clubs all retired the shirt number of Marc-Vivien Foé after his death on the field in the 2003 Confederations Cup; the Cameroon national team also attempted to retire Foé's number, but FIFA prevented them from doing so. FIFA also rejected an attempt by Argentina to retire the number of Diego Maradona. Some teams have also retired the number 12 in honor of their fans; see 12th Man (football).
Jackie Robinson, the first African American player in the modern era of Major League Baseball, had his number retired for every franchise in 1997 (although those players who were wearing the number at the time were permitted to retain it for the duration of their careers — as of the 2007 season, Mariano Rivera is the only remaining active player wearing the number). In 1999 Wayne Gretzky's number 99 was likewise retired league-wide by the National Hockey League on his retirement from the game (in this case, no other NHL player had worn #99 at the time).
In Finnish ice hockey, if a player's number is retired, family members (most notably his son, or son-in-law) can use the retired number if he plays for the same organization. Timo Nummelin had his #3 retired by TPS, and later his son Petteri Nummelin wore the #3 on the team.
In Australian Rules Football, a player's number may be retired for the first season of their retirement before being used again. Due to the high amount of players in a single season squad (44), it would be nearly impossible to permanently retire numbers.