shirt numbers


FC Weirdo
New designs
Time Out


Many people don't notice that different football teams use different shirt numbers. But when I show them some examples and tell about the differences, most of them can no longer look at a football match without paying attention to shirt numbers. When they are used in an appropriate way, shirt numbers have branding power.

Companies and teams are experimenting with shirt numbers. But most experiments are started without any knowledge about typography and type history. First, in many cases the figures of an existing typeface are used. Because these figures are too wide —with a minimum height of 25 cm two figures of an average typeface measure more than 33 cm. in width— they have to be squeezed. The resulting figures are ugly and can easily be copied.
Second, a common fallacy is that bold or heavy figures are better legible than figures with a normal or medium weight. Shirt numbers should have the same appearance as football players: robust and certainly not too fat.
Thirdly, the nationality of typefaces seems to be irrelevant. From 2004 till 2006 the national team of Italy was playing with numbers based on an French typeface (Cochin). The English Premier League is characterised by shirt numbers based on a German design (Palatino). And Nike (USA) recently used numbers that are heirs of the typeface DIN (Deutsche Industrie Norm). For national football teams I propose to study the national typographic tradition, before choosing a 'hostile' typeface as the basis for shirt numbers.

Fortunately, there also are some recent examples of shirt numbering where the helping hand of a typographer can be traced. They show that original designs can be made that are characteristic and improve legibility.