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Who is the shortest goalkeeper to play in the English top flight?

The Guardian logo The Guardian 29/04/2020 Guardian sport
a man wearing a yellow shirt: Photograph: Shaun Botterill/Getty Images © Provided by The Guardian Photograph: Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

“Who is the shortest goalkeeper to play in either the old First Division or the Premier League? My guess it was Laurie Sivell who kept goal for Ipswich Town in the 70s,” writes Mitch Mitchell.

Peter Tomlin gets out the tape measure. “Laurie Sivell is 5ft 8in tall (1.73m). There are three goalkeepers who have played in the top division in England that are officially recorded as being shorter than him. Ted Burgin was 5ft 7in (1.70m) and Burgin played three seasons in the top division for Sheffield United in the 1950s and won two caps for England B. He was also in the England squad for the 1954 World Cup although he didn’t play. Steve Death was 5ft 7in (1.70m). He played one top-flight game for West Ham v Manchester City in 1969. He is more famous as a Reading player in the lower divisions where he had a very successful career. He also held the record for the most minutes without conceding a goal (1,074) until 2009.

a man wearing a yellow shirt: Is Clive Baker the shortest keeper to have played in the Premier League? © Photograph: Shaun Botterill/Getty Images Is Clive Baker the shortest keeper to have played in the Premier League?

Related: When was the last time a top-flight goalkeeper played without gloves? | The Knowledge

“Teddy Davison, at 5ft 7in (1.70m), is the shortest goalkeeper to have played for England (one cap v Wales in 1922). He was first choice for Sheffield Wednesday for 12 seasons either side of the first world war and is recorded as saving 24 penalties of 77 in his career. He later managed Sheffield United.”

Richard Worrall points out that Les Green, of Brian Clough’s Derby County team from 1968 to 1971, was 5ft 8in, the same as Sivell.

Fast forward to the Premier League era and Matthew Healey has a couple of contenders, having made the point that “it’s a matter of scientific record that (particularly) men lie about their height generally. And the effect is likely to be magnified where there’s a professional imperative to exaggerate, so there is dearth of accurate information.

“I’m confident-ish that the shortest goalkeeper (at least by their declared height) to play during the Premier League era is Clive Baker, who stood at 5ft 9in and was Ipswich’s first choice for a few seasons in the 90s. I vaguely remember him being a keen sweeper-up and a good reaction keeper – both useful attributes if you can’t touch the crossbar.”

Matthew starts flying without wings at this point. “If you’re willing to count unused subs, however, there may be a better contender. A 16-year-old called Nicky Byrne sat on the bench for Leeds for a game at Southampton in around 1995 (I’ve not been able to pin down the exact fixture, but you can read his own comments on the experience.) Some internet sources list him as being 5ft 8in or 5ft 8.5in though typically he himself claims to be a bit bigger. He was released by Leeds at the end of 1997 but popped back up again in Westlife a few years later.”

a group of football players posing for a picture: Nicky Byrne celebrates with the Leeds team after their FA Youth Cup final win over Crystal Palace in 1997. Photograph: Colorsport/Rex/Shutterstock © Provided by The Guardian Nicky Byrne celebrates with the Leeds team after their FA Youth Cup final win over Crystal Palace in 1997. Photograph: Colorsport/Rex/Shutterstock

Shirts inspired by countries

“Wolves’ Europa League shirt is inspired by the traditional Mexican national team jersey, associated with record signing Raúl Jiménez,” writes Miles Johnson. “Are there any other instances where a club has released a kit to honour a national team or nation itself?”

Robin Tucker suggests Barnsley channeling their inner samba spirit. “I remember when Danny Wilson was manager of Barnsley, their fans would sing ‘It’s just like watching Brazil’.” The chant began during the Tykes’ promotion campaign under Wilson in 1996-97, and still gets an airing every now and then. As Robin points out, this inspired club kit suppliers Admiral to produce a yellow-and-green away kit for the 2001-02 season. They picked a bad year; Barnsley won two away games all season, and were relegated from the second tier.

Birmingham City’s jazzy 1992-93 effort incorporated the colours of the Indian flag on the club badge and socks, reports Spencer Clark. The club were owned by British Asian businessman Samesh Kumar, until “his company then went bust and the kit was replaced by the new owners, David Gold and Sullivan.”

Leeds United’s 2017-18 “#allblack” away kit was modelled by our star Kiwi striker, Chris Wood, and quite strongly resembles the All Blacks rugby shirt,” notes Nat Dufton. I don’t know if it was designed to make him stay, but he left for Burnley after one appearance in the kit.”

a woman holding a football ball on a field: Kalvin Phillips in the all-black Leeds away kit back in 2017. Photograph: BPI/Shutterstock © Provided by The Guardian Kalvin Phillips in the all-black Leeds away kit back in 2017. Photograph: BPI/Shutterstock

“Fulham’s bright orange away kit in the 2012-13 season was a tribute to the Netherlands national team, rolled out with the tagline ‘Orange is the new black’ (in Dutch),” writes Alex Ross. “Our manager, Martin Jol, had won three caps in the early 80s. Sadly, it did not free us from the prison of mid-table mediocrity and Jol was sacked the following season.”

Finally, Pablo Miguez brings us bang up to date: “São Paulo’s current third shirt is sky blue, a tribute to the many Uruguayans who have starred for the club.”

Successful sponsors

“Who are the most successful shirt sponsors, in terms of honours won?” asks Simon Bradley.

Tom Aldous nominates car manufactures Opel, who he reckons have adorned the shirts of 45 trophy-winning teams:

  • Bayern Munich (16) Six Bundesligas, two German Cups, four League Cups, DFB Super Cup, Champions League, Uefa Cup, Intercontinental Cup.

  • Milan (nine) Three Serie A titles, one Coppa Italia, two Supercoppas, one Champions League, two Uefa Super Cups.

  • PSG (six) Two French Cups, two League Cups, Trophée des Champions, European Cup Winners’ Cup

  • Sparta Prague (five) Four Czech league titles, one Czech Cup

  • Bordeaux (four) Ligue 1 title, two French cups, Trophée des Champions

  • Hapoel Haifa (two) Israeli league title, Toto Cup

  • Feyenoord (two) Eredivisie title, Dutch Cup

  • Standard Liège (one) Belgian Cup

Knowledge archive

“We were wondering if anyone had ever committed the unholy trinity of missing a penalty, scoring an own goal and being sent off in the same match?” wrote Richard and Andrew in May 2012.

“Not exactly that, but something very close to that, was achieved by Kenneth Omeruo, playing at ADO Den Haag in the Eredivisie (on loan from Chelsea) on 28 April,” noted Stephan Wijnen. “In the game against VVV Venlo in the first half he first scored a goal, a few minutes later he scored an own goal, and in the second half he received his second yellow card and was sent off. VVV went on to win 2-1.”

Can you help?

“In 1980, a policeman interrupted the Colchester v Millwall match and cautioned Millwall’s Mel Blyth for using strong language and potentially inciting the crowd,” writes Jason Jandu. “Are there any other cases of the police taking similar intervention during a match?”

“In my isolation boredom I’ve been sorting through my old football shirts and packing and labelling them by season (sad but true), begins Michael Pilcher. “On my research I noticed that Gillingham – who usually play in blue – wore a red centenary home shirt in 2012-13, which they then recycled as their away shirt in 2013-14 when they went back to their traditional blue for home games. Are there many other examples of clubs wearing a shirt for home games that was then subsequently used as their official away shirt another season?”

• Send your questions and answers to knowledge@theguardian.com or tweet @TheKnowledge_GU.

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