THERE is something deeply moving about seeing your little boy running out for football training wearing a new Arsenal shirt with his name and a number nine emblazoned on the back.

BARRON looks good on the back of an Arsenal shirt, I thought to myself dreamily...

Grandma, who'd brainwashed me into supporting Arsenal when I was just a little 'un, had bought him the shirt for his birthday.

She wanted me to find out which number he would prefer to have on the back because numbers are very important to little boys fantasising about becoming famous footballers.

"Who's your favourite player?" I asked him, nonchalantly, over breakfast.

"Thierry Henry - he's fantastic," he replied.

"Who's yours, Dad?"

"Thierry Henry - he's brilliant," I agreed.

Convinced that Thierry Henry wore number nine because he is Arsenal's centre-forward, the information was relayed back to Grandma.

On the eve of the big day, we were halfway through our Saturday night ritual: Mum is sent off to bed at 10.30pm to read a book while I watch The Premiership and eat crisps with football-mad Jack.

Suddenly, in the middle of another glorious Arsenal victory, I noticed something which made me choke on a cheese and onion crisp. Thierry Henry wasn't wearing number nine - he was number 14.

Surely some mistake. I jumped up from the settee to get a closer look at the screen so I could see who was number nine. Oh no! It was Francis Jeffers - an Arsenal reserve who's rumoured to be on the verge of leaving because he's hardly scored a goal.

Disaster! But it was too late...

Jack's face lit up brighter than a set of floodlights when he unwrapped Grandma's birthday present the following morning: "Wow," he whispered. "Look, Dad, it's got my name on the back and a number nine. Who's number nine for Arsenal, Dad?"

"Er...Francis Jeffers," I mumbled.


"Francis Jeffers."


The floodlights dimmed noticeably. Then I had the kind of brainwave dads have to have from time to time: "I told Grandma to get you number nine because it's your ninth birthday," I blurted out.

It was a gamble but it did the trick. "Cool," he nodded.

The smile was back to full power and he couldn't wait for football training the following Saturday, especially when the rest of his presents included Arsenal socks, Arsenal shorts and shinpads.

Like I said, it was a moving moment of lump in the throat proportions, watching him run out. BARRON really does look good on the back of an Arsenal shirt.

His friend Ben jogged past in his Manchester United shirt, with GIGGS on the back.

"Ryan Giggs eh?" I remarked to his mum who was stood next to me on the touchline. "Yeah, but he had to be talked into it," she replied. "It's a pound a letter and he wanted to be Van Nistelrooy!"

Jack wants an Arsenal away shirt for Christmas: "Can I have HENRY on the back, Dad?" he asked.

"Course you can, son," I replied. "It's only five letters."

He'll be getting the number 14 as well...

This little episode got me thinking that there are probably mums and dads all over the country trying to persuade their kids to idolise players with the shortest names possible, so here's a guide on how to save money...


EDU (Arsenal)

JOB (Middlesbrough)

FLO (Sunderland)

FOE (Manchester City)

DYER (Newcastle United)

OWEN (Liverpool).


WRIGHT-PHILLIPS (Manchester City)



VAN NISTELROOY (Manchester United).



Did you know? There was a gifted young Brazilian called ARANTES DO NASCIMENTO, PEROLA NEGRA. Imagine how relieved his parents were when he decided to call himself PELE.


THE Dad At Large Roadshow chugged along to Yarm WI where Maureen Keddie recalled how she'd taken granddaughter Emma, five, to an adventure playground.

"Ooh, Emma, you've got a lovely Grandma," said another little girl she'd found to play with.

"Yes, but she dyes her hair," replied Emma.

With marriage break-ups so commonplace these days, you can't blame children for thinking about it even when it's not going to happen.

Take Joseph Necus, ten, who turned to his Grandad, Yarm vet David McCabe, and said: "If Mum and Dad split up and I live with Mum I'll be able to have a dog. And if I live with Dad I can have Sky television."

Published: 10/10/2002