I was watching Man Utd vs Porto last week. Benni McCarthy got 2 goals for Porto, but what I’ll remember from that game is the number on his shirt – 77.

Permit me first a curmudgeonly statement of my true feelings – what in the name of all that is holy is a player doing on the pitch with the number 77 on his shirt? This isn’t American Football for god’s sake!

However, there is a more serious point here though over and above a traditionalist cry for the way things used to be in the olden days. We actually used to be more like American Football, as player numbers used to denote a position in the team; the goalie wore 1. The Midfield general tended to wear 7, with the number 9 reserved for the striker, or 10 at some clubs.

That was the thing; there was a culture. At some places – Newcastle for example – the number 9 shirt acquired mythic status; the club owned the number, and players aspired to wear the shirt. They didn’t own the number – they just represented as long as the manager consdidered them good enough to wear it. At Man Utd, Cantona became the number 7, filling the talismanic role of Bryan Robson, who represented the heroic failure of United’s decade of false promise in the 1980s; when the Frenchman retired, in came Beckham to fill the shirt.

Now, the roles are reversed, and conveniently, Beckham is the key figure again who best illustrates this. When he moved to Real Madrid, he struck out; he couldn’t have the 7 with which he was associated; that belonged to another player. He became 23, and so built a new symbol for the Beckham brand, and a symbol that was already conveniently associated with another stratospheric sports star – Michael Jordan.

The role is reversed then – the number is no longer the cherished gift of the club, and the pinnacle of a player’s career; the club is lucky to have Beckham 23 playing there and borrows the sheen from the number. You can see where 77 comes in here – the more memorable, the more marketable. We’re in ad-land now.

In such a world, Coax’s beautiful song will become a relic, not an evocation. Here comes my seventy seven really does sound like it’s about buses.