Bryan Robson.

Why did Robbo wear the no.7 shirt?

Tuesday 26 October 2021 08:25

Bryan Robson is a huge reason why the Manchester United no.7 shirt is so iconic - but how did he come to wear it?

In the past, the number was probably more associated with wingers in the days when 4-4-2 or even 4-2-4 was often the formation of choice. The no.11 would be on the left with the no.7 on the right yet Robbo, of course, was always in the engine room in the middle.

The shirt became synonymous with 'Captain Marvel', for United and England, even if he wore no.16 at the 1982 World Cup, because Kevin Keegan was allocated his favourite jersey and, aside from the keepers, the squad order was decided by alphabetical order on manager Ron Greenwood's instruction.

So how did Robbo end up with the no.7? He takes up the story while discussing a brand-new exhibition at the Old Trafford Museum to mark 40 years since his arrival from West Brom in 1981.

"For me, when I was at West Brom, whenever I got the no.7 shirt, I always seemed to stay in the team," he told us. "So it just became a lucky number for me at West Brom.

"I played with Stevie Coppell with England, and Ray Wilkins of course, and, when I joined United, I said to Steve, straight away: 'Do you mind if I have the no.7?' Steve said: 'I'm not bothered, Bryan, as long as I get the no.11'.

"He was quite happy to get the no.11 and Ron Atkinson said: 'Yeah, no problem lads.' So I wore the no.7.

"For me, it all started with George Best but I tell you what - some people don't seem to remember what a great player Stevie Coppell was.

"I played with him for England and he was a terrific footballer. He was so unfortunate to get a really bad injury. I played in the game against Hungary and it was a shocking tackle from the Hungarian player that injured him and did his cruciate-knee ligament. Steve never really came back as the same player."

The incident occurred in a World Cup qualifier at Wembley in November, 1981. Just past the hour mark, Coppell collected a pass from Paul Mariner and beat his marker Jozsef Toth for pace. However, the Hungary captain was guilty of a late challenge that, somehow did not even result in a yellow card. 

Aston Villa's Tony Morley came on as substitute when Coppell was lifted off the pitch and, for the record, England won 1-0, thanks to a Mariner goal, with Robson wearing no.6, Coppell 8 and Keegan in the no.7 jersey in the international clash.

Bryan Robson, Ray Wilkins and Steve Coppell representing England.

The history of this particular shirt is one that will always be respected at United and Robson is adamant that his former team-mate should be part of the conversation when it is being discussed.

"I do think that, with the no.7, Manchester United should put Stevie Coppell in there as well," he insisted.

"George Best, Steve Coppell, me, Eric Cantona, David Beckham, Cristiano Ronaldo, Edinson Cavani and now Ronaldo again. For me, Stevie should always get in that no.7 shirt discussion as well."