Essendon by the Numbers – Number Two

There are two distinguishing features that identify an AFL player when they take the field:


The Colours

In years gone by, these pigments were dyed into the wool and emblazoned across the chest of a player with the utmost pride, representing the football club in which those colours symbolise. Today, those same colours are sublimated into the modern polyesters that make up a scientifically designed uniform that is specifically created and tailored to achieve optimum comfort, aerodynamics, breathability and numerous other key factors.

Whilst an argument can be fairly mounted that the sentimentality behind wearing your club’s colours has long dwindled in comparison to yesteryear, there is no question that in a generation where various media rule over our existence, a club’s colours are as more a part of their individual identity and branding today as they have ever been.


The Number

Whilst the colours signify which team a player represents and quite often symbolise a core part of that club’s history, it’s the numbers across a player’s back that identify them as an individual. Even though Australian Rules is a team sport by every definition of the term, there always has and always will be an individual element to the sport. Some numbers are held in high esteem for clubs because of who has worn them in the past, some clubs have dedicated numbers for specific types of players, or positions within the club’s leadership group. Although the colours make you the player that you are for that particular team, your number is what makes you who you are as an individual within that team.

Funnily enough, having numbers on guernseys was opposed by many within the sport for a number of years. The only time jumper numbers were ever widely accepted was when an interstate side toured for a sports carnival or promotion.

In fact, it wasn’t until 1903 in a promotional match held in Sydney that Fitzroy and Collingwood would become the first side to have numbers allocated to each player in a game for premiership points. The League distributed cards to all 18,000 mostly first-time spectators with the rules of the game and numbers to help identify players.

In what was initially a financial decision, two sporting goods companies that provided the guernseys to clubs decided that wearing a small number on each player’s breast would aid spectators in identifying lesser-known players, and also aid the coffers of the football clubs that could then sell a program at the gates with each player’s numbers for fans to identify.

After some trial and error was met with a generally negative response from fans being unable to read the small numbers on the jumpers’ fronts, the decision to try larger numbers across the player’s backs was made and well received. It wouldn’t be until the 1912 season that the VFL would mandate numbers on players’ backs and assign regulation sizes and colours, after much reluctance from clubs in seasons prior.

With that being said, the Essendon Football Club is an old team with a rich, proud history spanning back into the 1870’s. They are one of the most successful and well-known sporting clubs in Australia and over the years have fielded some of the greatest players to have ever played the game. In this series, I will look at each individual guernsey number within the club and profile some of the best players to have represented the club whilst wearing it.




Currently Worn By


Sam Draper

Games Played – 37

Goals Kicked – 11

Original Number/s – 38


Bio – The Bombers pinned their future ruck hopes on the number one pick in the 2016 Rookie Draft, giving the soccer convert three seasons at VFL level to adjust his game and adapt to the rigours of AFL football. A serious knee injury hampered Draper’s debut, but after knocking back a lucrative contract offer from St. Kilda before he had even played a senior game, the 205cm big man has now taken the mantle as the club’s number one ruckman. At only 23 years old, Draper’s best football is still ahead of him. Already having shown that his infectious attitude and energy are catching at the Bombers, his celebrations and excitement are a breath of fresh air, as supporters can’t help but smile at the energetic vibes that Draper provides. 


Notable Former Players


Mark Mercuri

Games Played – 207

Goals Kicked – 242

Original Number/s – 45 (worn for one season)

Years Active – 1992-2004


Bio – A player that carved out a terrific career, despite being ravaged by injuries across numerous seasons early and late in his career, at his best Mark Mercuri was a brilliantly skilled on-baller and half-forward flanker that possessed a deadly field kick to rival any other player in the League. Mercuri became an integral part of the ‘Baby Bombers’ side that won a Grand Final in just his second season. Some would go as far as to say that his three-goal effort from half forward that day was the deserved winner of the Norm Smith Medal eventually awarded to Michael Long. 1999 was a blistering year for Mercuri, he would finish second to Shane Crawford in the 1999 Brownlow Medal count, made the All Australian side and won the Bombers Best & Fairest that year as well as being awarded the Anzac Medal. A funny one to think of these days, he was also one of the few players of the early 90’s to be awarded with a five-year contract, a very rare occurrence in those days. After playing in the 2000 Grand Final win and their loss in the big game the following season, Mark’s career would ultimately be shortened by injuries, deciding to hang up the boots at the end of the 2004 season. Mercuri will be remembered by Essendon fans as a terrific ball winner and a highly reliable kick that had a keen sense for the goals and entertained fans during one of the Bombers’ best periods in recent decades.


Tom Bellchambers

Games Played – 136

Goals Kicked – 77

Original Number/s – 44

Years Active – 2008-2020


Bio – Tom Bellchambers began his career as Essendon’s understudy ruckman working directly under experienced duo David Hille and Paddy Ryder when he first arrived at the club in 2008. Bellchambers had a ripping set of hands, able to go forward and clunk big pack marks, kicking multiple goals frequently when tasked as a forward. He quickly became an underrated favourite amongst fans for his inclusive, mate-first nature both on and off the field, always the first player to fly the flag for his teammates whenever a fracas would break out on the field, or a teammate was handled unfairly by his opposition. Tom assumed full ruck duties when both Paddy Ryder and David Hille departed the club and became an unofficial leader to the younger players. Injuries ultimately hampered the big man’s time in the game, sitting out extended stints with numerous ailments. When he announced his retirement at the end of the 2020 season, the club quickly signed him back on as a ruck and development coach.


Clyde Donaldson

Games Played – 144

Goals Kicked – 28

Original Number/s – 3

Years Active – 1913-1914, 1919-1926


Bio – The Name Clyde Donaldson isn’t one that resonates in the mind of every AFL fan, nor every Essendon fan for that matter. But as a dual premiership player and a member of the armed forces, his story is one of resilience and fortitude. Clyde began playing at Essendon in 1913 and established a promising playing career. After enlisting in September of 1914, Donaldson would embark on the HMAT Wiltshire in October, which landed at Gallipoli on what would be ANZAC Day (25/04/1915). Spending four years overseas with the Australian Expeditionary Force, he was a stretcher bearer with the Field Ambulance and was wounded with a gunshot to his right shoulder in October of 1917. Clyde took part in the Pioneer Exhibition Game of Australian Rules Football in London (1916)  which was a game comprising two sides featuring Australian servicemen, representing the Australian Training Units side. Playing out of the centre, he was applauded in the official records for his “outstanding efforts”.

Returning to Australia in 1919, Clyde resumed playing at Essendon, becoming a renowned permanent back pocket specialist who’s aerial leap made him a tough match up, paired with his precise kicking to throw off even the best defensive rovers that came his way out of the centre, and a thumping long kick of the ball. Going on to play in both the 1923 and 1924 premiership sides, Donaldson also represented Victoria on many occasions before retiring at the end of 1926.

Post-football, Clyde Donaldson became a well-known correspondent for the Truth newspaper.


Keith Rawle

Games Played – 111

Goals Kicked – 98

Original Number/s – 2

Years Active – 1942-1943, 1946-1949


Bio – Keith Rawle is a dual premiership player that also featured in three losing Grand Finals for the Bombers, who played predominantly as a forward pocket with a booming drop kick, but also served as a roving understudy to the great Bill Hutchinson. His father George Rawle also played 19 games for the Bombers after debuting in the 1923 Grand Final at the ripe age of 33, and played again in the side’s Grand Final appearance the following season. Keith missed a number of years of football due to his service as a Leading Aircraftman in the Royal Australian Air Force during World War II. During his second stint at Essendon, Keith would finish second in the club’s best and fairest in 1947 behind champion Bill Hutchinson – an impressive feat given the level of talent around him in this legendary side. Rawle also played a first class cricket match for Victoria in 1948.


Howard Okey

Games Played – 109

Goals Kicked – 52

Original Number/s – 2

Years Active – 1928–1934


Bio – Initially playing as a flashy half-forward with burst pace and a knack for finding space in front of his opponent, Howard Okey would go on to become one of Essendon’s best midfielders during a time of little success for the club. Okey would represent Victoria on three separate occasions and was named as Essendon’s best and fairest player for the 1929 season. After retiring from football in 1934, the pocket dynamo would serve as a committee member at the club for 27 years, and later the chairman of selectors for 15 years.


Fred McIntosh

Games Played – 14

Goals Kicked – 1

Original Number/s – 2 (17 & 23 at University)

Years Active – 1915


Bio – Fred McIntosh excelled at sports whilst attending Scotch College, representing the school team admirably in all matches against other school sides. He would sign on with University in the VFL as an amateur until the club disbanded in 1914, then transferring to Essendon for the 1915 season. Records from the time, including newspaper articles aren’t forthcoming with many details about the sort of player that McIntosh was, most books and literature from the club highlight his military career over his playing career, however, I was able to find that he kicked 1 goal for Essendon from his 14 games in a loss to South Melbourne, with a playing record of 3-11 in his one season at the club.

Fred enlisted in the Australian war effort after WWI broke out and did a year’s training at Broadmeadows, Castlemaine and Seymour, before receiving a commission to leave Melbourne aboard HMAT Nestor on October 2nd, 1916 in charge of the 6th Reinforcements of the 59th Battalion. He would spend three months in England before landing in France in February, facing a great offensive on the Somme and taking part in battles at Bullecourt and Bapaume. Some time in late September, Fred received severe wounds whilst fighting at Polygon Woods in Belgium and died two days later, aged 24. His body is buried at Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery in Belgium.


Keith Gent

Games Played – 7

Goals Kicked – 0

Original Number/s – 2

Years Active – 1965-1966


Bio – A tall half forward with a lot of promise, Keith Gent played brilliantly for Essendon’s under-19’s in 1964, won the club’s best and fairest award and also represented Victoria. Gent managed only seven games across his two seasons at the club before he was drafted to serve in the Vietnam War at the age of 21. Stationed at Nui Day and later Saigon, Keith received shrapnel sounds from a surprise attack whilst on patrol, injuring both of his legs and an arm. After somehow coming out of the engagement, Gent was lifted out by helicopter and taken to a Saigon hospital, where he was treated for a week and later operated on to repair a cut sciatic nerve, causing him to lose feeling in his right side for 15 months.

After returning home, Keith realised that his dreams of playing for Essendon were no longer a reality due to his lingering injuries, instead playing in the VFA, coaching football and also playing over 100 games of district cricket.

His dream of returning to Essendon became a reality in later years when he would become an assistant coach under Kevin Sheedy and then an under-19’s coach for the club.




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