There are two distinguishing features that identify an AFL player when they take the field:
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.
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 players 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
*recently retired, number soon to be vacated
Games Played – 73
Goals Kicked – 46
Original Number/s – 5
Years Active – 2018-2022
Bio – Recruited from GWS at age 24, Smith was a hard-nosed small forward that spent time running through the midfield. Seeking a fix to their lack of midfield grunt, the Bombers completed a complex trade that also helped them bank the required Draft picks to acquire Jake Stringer and Adam Saad in the same trade period. Smith’s first season at the club was a beauty, with his tackling prowess in the midfield becoming the cornerstone of his games setting the AFL record for most tackles laid in a home and away season whilst claiming the club’s best and fairest award.
At his peak, Smith was a tackling machine and a crafty small forward capable of getting under the skin of his opposition and even negating the opposition’s best defenders in a selfless role. A series of knee injuries and other ailments ultimately cut Smith’s career short, retiring this season at age 29.
Notable Former Players
Games Played – 253
Goals Kicked – 343
Original Number/s – 49
Years Active – 1992-2007
Games Coached – 2011-2013, 2015
Bio – Chances are if you’re reading this that you’re an Essendon fan. If that’s the case, then this section need not even be filled out, but that would make for a pretty baseless article.
James Hird was recruited with Pick #79 in the 1990 National Draft, eventually finishing his career as one of the most decorated Essendon players of all time. His career accolades include: two AFL premierships (one as captain), 1996 Brownlow Medallist, five time All Australian, five time Essendon best and fairest, eight seasons Essendon captain, three time Anzac Medallist, Norm Smith Medallist, two time leading goal kicker, Essendon Team of the Century member, AFL Hall of Fame member and ranked #3 in Essendon’s Champions of Essendon list.
As a player, there wasn’t much Hird couldn’t do. He cut his teeth predominantly in the midfield and across half forward, but was ultimately used wherever he was needed. A brilliantly skilled player, widely regarded as one of the best of his generation, Hird made the impossible seem simple on the field, and did so with a sense of class and poise. Unafraid to get his hands dirty and win his own ball, he had a keen goal sense and was as good as unstoppable when at his peak. Gifted with one of the game’s best football minds, Hird’s ability to read the play and understand the game in front of him was second to none, doing so with enviable leadership skills.
Games Played – 294
Goals Kicked – 447
Original Number/s – 5
Years Active – 1978-1992
Bio – After 19 games across two seasons at South Melbourne, Terry Daniher was traded to Essendon, with his younger brother Neale thrown in as a set of steak knives. Going on to cement a legacy as one of Essendon’s most popular players of all time, Terry was one of four Daniher brothers to play for Essendon, including a home and away game as well as a State of Origin game where all four brothers lined up together.
Captaining the Bombers to their historic back-to-back Grand Final wins over Hawthorn in 1984/1985, Daniher played in four Grand Finals, made the All Australian team on three occasions (once as captain), twice finished the season as Essendon’s leading goal kicker, captained the club for six seasons, won the Leigh Matthews Trophy, is a member of the Essendon Team of the Century and the AFL Hall of Fame.
Originally destined to play as a Full Forward, Terry Daniher began to show his versatility at an early stage of his career, proving to be an indispensable utility for coach Kevin Sheedy, one that was adept when deployed in the forward or back half, kicking 470 goals from his 313 games, a large chunk of which were spent in the back line.
Games Played – 255
Goals Kicked – 158
Original Number/s – 34, 24 (34 was worn in his first season before swapping to 24 for the next three seasons, before eventually inheriting five after the retirement of James Hird)
Years Active – 2004-2017
Bio – Where do you begin with Brent Stanton? Depending which side of the fence you reside, he was either a dependable midfielder that formed a formidable midfield partnership with Jobe Watson, as the outside gut-runner who could just keep going and going and going, or he was the resident whipping boy in an era where the club didn’t see a lot of onfield success, especially after inheriting his jumper number from James Hird.
Compliments of a depleted list after a trying pre-season, Stanton made his debut in Round 1 of his first season (2004), playing 15 games and cementing his spot in a new-look Essendon midfield at the beginning of a new era for the club. The pinnacle of reliability and durability, after his first two seasons, Stanton would play a minimum of 20 games in each of the next ten seasons of his career, up until his retirement year of 2017, whilst also finishing inside the top ten of Essendon’s Crichton Medal for the best and fairest in almost every year of his career, finishing as high as second, as well as third on numerous occasions.
Stanton now holds a coaching position at the club, working predominantly with the VFL and AFL sides.
Games Played – 154
Goals Kicked – 92
Original Number/s – 1, 6 (worn mid-career in 1918 and 1919 respectively)
Years Active – 1910-1924
Bio – Frederick Albert Baring was one of the first superstar players of the Essendon Football Club, playing 154 games for the club between 1910-1924, including four premierships (1911, 1912, 1923, 1924), and kicking the winning goal in dramatic fashion during the 1912 Grand Final, reportedly ducking and weaving his way through numerous opposition players to kick a terrific solo goal on the run. In 1913, Baring won the Holstein Lager Company trophy, as their choice as the best League player of the year.
Beginning his football career in the ruck, Baring was regarded as one of the toughest and more athletic, jumping ruckmen of his generation, before finishing his career post-WWI as a rugged and dependable defender, playing many state carnival games. Standing at 185cm, Baring would also go on to play 30 First Class cricket matches in the Sheffield Shield for Victoria, regarded as the country’s best batsman on poor pitches after the death of Victor Trumper, Baring was named in the Australian Test squad to tour South Africa in 1914/1915, a tour that was unfortunately cancelled due to the war.
The Weekly Times of 1918 would say: “Fred Baring is one of Victoria’s greatest athletes. Besides being a champion League footballer he is also one of the most brilliant cricketers in Australia. In discussing an all round athlete like Baring one is immediately tempted to inquire, At which is he greater – at football or at cricket? The answer will depend, to some extent, upon the company to whom the question is addressed. Ask Essendon and expect to learn that football is his masterpiece. Try East Melbourne and discover that cricket is his trump card. If both seem right in their way, then Baring’s relative greatness may be said to depend upon which is the greater game.”
Games Played – 177
Goals Kicked – 55
Original Number/s – 5, 4 (worn only for the 1965 season)
Years Active – 1959-1968
Bio – Playing in four Grand Finals for two premiership wins in 1962 and 1965 respectively, David Shaw was the epitome of versatility, playing in literally every position on the ground at times throughout his career. Defined as dashing, exceptionally talented and robust, Shaw played 177 games in only 10 seasons for the club, including 15 finals.
Shaw excelled as a ruck rover and wingman, but became an accomplished back pocket because he could outreach the rovers while matching their pace and agility.
Shaw would go on to be Essendon Chairman from 1993-1996, and AFL Commissioner from 1997-1998.
In 2021, he was awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia for service to community health, and to Australian rules football. Serving on the board of directors for the APC (Australian Prostate Centre).
Shaw is the father-in-law of Western Bulldogs great and current AFL commentator Luke Darcy, making him the maternal Grandfather of Bulldogs prodigy Sam Darcy.
Games Played – 101
Goals Kicked – 80
Original Number/s – 15 (worn only in 1931)
Years Active – 1925-1932, 1935
Bio – Known as ‘the tall musician’ for his delicately composed, elegant and stylish style of play, much like his musical talent, Jack Vosti started his career at Essendon as a Full Forward, kicking nine goals across two finals in 1926 and being kept goalless only once for the entire season, winning the club’s goal kicking record in 1927 (kicking hauls of seven and five in his two games against Footscray that season) before a switch to the back line proved to be a masterstroke, with Vosti possessing the natural talents of classy kicking, aerial prowess and lightning pace to excel as a defender.
Vosti was a regular feature in State representative football and finished second in Essendon’s best and fairest of 1928, noted for his terrific high marking ability and tactful football mind. Named as Vice-Captain in 1929 and noted as being one of the league’s best defenders before suffering a serious knee injury in 1929 and missing half of the season. The story goes that Vosti would return to play, forced to tape a penny below his knee when strapping the ligament to hold his cartilage in place.
Unable to rediscover his run and dash post-injury, Vosti left Essendon to play three seasons at Footscray, before rejoining the Bombers for two games in 1935 before succumbing to his troublesome knee and subsequently retiring from football.
After his retirement from League football, Vosti became captain-coach of Pascoe Vale. He later returned to Essendon in 1946 as chairman of selectors for the Seconds for a period of ten years. He joined the Senior committee from 1956 to 1971 and was the Seniors’ chairman of selectors for a period.
Games Played – 96
Goals Kicked – 39
Original Number/s – 48 (worn for one game in his debut season)
Years Active – 1970-1976
Bio – A dashing left-footed wingman, Gary Parks played 96 games at Essendon in the 70’s, known for his strong hands and accurate passes by foot.
After stringing together a handful of sturdy seasons at the club, Parkes would enter a pay dispute with Essendon and opt to leave the club, seeking a clearance to move to Richmond. With Essendon not being forthcoming with a clearance, Parkes sat out of football for 12 months to gain his clearance, eventually finding his way to Richmond, only managing seven games across two seasons before returning to his previous interest of athletics, eventually finishing as a Semi Finalist in the Stawell Gift.
Games Played – 75
Goals Kicked – 15
Original Number/s – 5
Years Active – 1938-1942
Bio – John “Jules” Caesar (Jack) was a fine wingman with an exquisite kick, playing on the wing in the club’s 1942 premiership win. Caesar would leave the club in 1942 to serve in the Pacific Islands for the Australian Army as a sapper.
Rod McGregor wrote in the Sporting Globe of 1939:
“Jack Caesar, Essendon, more
familiarly called “Julius,” might easily have used the words of the original Julius and exclaimed, “Veni, Vidi, Viei” – I Came, – I Saw, – I Conquered – after his game against North on Saturday last.
UNDER conditions that were a severe trial to most players he played as if he were enjoying himself. He crossed crossings with apparent carelessness and slipped through openings fearlessly to play a major part in the success of his team.
Deceptive pace and ability to get the ball and deliver it with a skimming kick were the outstanding features of his game, and it was a wonder to me why so many unsuccessful players who were punting high “floaters” did not take a lesson from his methods. I liked his wing game as well as anything I have seen this season from a flanker, and if he can continue along the same lines there is no reason why he should not go right to the top of the tree as a wing man”
Games Played – 34
Goals Kicked – 15
Original Number/s – 5
Years Active – 1936-1938
Bio – Arnold Maltby was a hotly desired recruit from Port Melbourne (VFA) that had every side in the VFL chasing his services. Essendon were counting their lucky stars when the Half Forward come Wingman signed on for the 1936 season, winning the club’s award for best first year player.
Unfortunately never able to rediscover the fine form that had clubs clambering for his services, Maltby left Essendon to play two games for North Melbourne in 1939 before enlisting in WW2 and serving as Corporal in the Australian Army.
Upon his return, Maltby worked at The Age newspaper for 45 years as a linotype operator.
Like this free content? You could buy Jimmy a beer, or a coffee, or something to trim his nasal hair as a way to say thanks. He’ll be a happy camper.