The Odd Unevens

During my main footballing days from about the age of 12 through to 32, I had a certain preference for which shirt number I wore.

At school and college, I was a goalkeeper.  The traditional goalkeeper number is number 1, so that was my number.  When I started to play Sunday League football, I played in a  number of positions and did, in fact, play all positions it was possible to play in one season which I saw as a fair achievement.  This was despite the fact that I classed myself as “substitute” above all else in my later even when that seemed to be when I played most often!

In Sunday League, you get those who don’t care which shirt they wear because they’ve more than likely just turned up still drunk from the night before so putting on something clean is quite nice.  But there are also those of us who are fussy.

I had always worn odd numbers, so that was start.  However, back when football shirts were always 1 to 11, the numbers would be synonymous with a position – 2 was right back, 5 and 6 were the central defenders, 4 was the defensive midfielder, 9 the striker, and so on.  Because I wasn’t usually a starting player, I wanted a higher number.  I would usually try for 15 and used 17 as my back up.  I didn’t want 19 because I never knew any good 19s.

One season I got my own shirt rather than using one of the team ones which always seemed to go missing, but with 15 and 17 already taken I had a quandary.  I couldn’t use any number in the 20s because that would contain a two, and that’s an even number.  I didn’t want to use a number in the 30s because that was too high for a Sunday squad and would suggest I cared a little too much and, in that game, if you care too much people will notice you for the wrong reason.

So number 13 it was.

Nothing wrong with 13.

A photo posted by Michael Herbert (@83unsungheroes) on


“Ooh, that’s an unlucky number,” I was told.  No doubt it is to some people for me it felt right because, going back to my days as a goalkeeper, if you weren’t number 1 you were number 13.  It felt like kind of completing the circle.

I know that some people prefer particular numbers over others.  Apparently 7 is the world’s most popular.  However, it’s not actually people’s favourite numbers that I found most interesting when thinking about it.  What got me thinking was why we don’t call them even and uneven, but do call them even and odd.  I’m still not sure I like the answers found on t’interweb.

The first one I found was that if you try to create two rows and evenly distribute that number of things in to two rows, you get an odd one.  So, number 6 for example:


Whereas number 7:


This kind of fits with the second thing I found in its etymology where something is odd if it is unpaired.  It comes from the Norse “oddi” meaning “third or additional number,” as in odda-maðr “third man, odd man (who gives the casting vote),” and odda-tala “odd number.”

Still feels a little bit, well, odd, given that even has a perfectly acceptable opposite in uneven.

Bad luck wind been blowing at my back
I was born to bring trouble to wherever
I’m at Got the number thirteen tattooed on my neck
When the ink starts to itch, then the black will turn to red

I was born in the soul of misery
Never had me a name
They just gave me the number when I was young

Got a long line of heartache
I carry it well
The list of lives
I’ve broken reach from here to hell
Back luck been blowing at my back
I pray you don’t look at me, I pray I don’t look back

I was born in the soul of misery
Never had me a name
They just gave me the number when I was young

I was born in the soul of misery
Never had me a name
They just gave me the number when I was young
They just gave me the number when I was young

Thirteen by Johnny Cash

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A child of the 80's with all my teeth and appendix. Big fan of Liverpool FC, coffee and loud rock music. Inherent distrust of Volkswagen Passats and peas.

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