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AFL top 100: What number is that?

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Roar Rookie
13th May, 2020

In my article about Carlton’s champions, I incorrectly stated that Bruce Doull, one of my champion players of all time, had worn the number 11 jumper in all of the 356 games he played for the club because I had no recollection of him wearing any other number.

Some of my fellow scribes kindly pointed out to me that he had worn the number four jumper in his first three years (1969-1971) at the Blues and therefore played only 329 games in the famous 11. With no current player wearing 11 for any team within cooee (100-plus games) of this total, his record of wearing this number in the most VFL/AFL games even at the lower number would appear safe until well into the 21st century at least.

However, it did make me ponder the attitude of the player to the number that he wore on his back throughout his career, and how deeply he was attached to that number.

The number one jumper was worn by Fitzroy great Paul Roos in every game he played for the club, and after his move to Sydney he donned the same number for the remainder of his illustrious career at the Swans. Those 87 extra games at Sydney meant that he finished well clear of Stephen Silvagni at Carlton, who started his career three years after Roos and finished it three years after Roos in 2001.

What were the circumstances that resulted in Roos being given the number one guernsey at his new club? Was it in the psyche of Roos to the extent that he demanded or just requested the number to finish the final years of his career in it? Or was it the decision of the club to offer it as part of the recruitment package? Or was that number simply available in 1995?

At least Stephen Silvagni – who wore the number one jumper for the second most number of AFL games – can console himself with the family history of the guernsey at the Blues. His father, Sergio, wore the same number and the jumper is now worn by his son Jack.

Jack Silvagni

(Photo by Michael Dodge/Getty Images)

Interestingly, although Stephen played in it in every game he played, both his father Sergio and his son Jack spent the first year of their careers at the club in a different numbered jumper. As a result, Jack still needs to play another eight games as number one for the family to claim the impressive record of 600 games in the same number at the same club over three generations.

The games/jumpers record holders for the two, three and four jumpers are John Nicholls (Carlton, 328 games, number two), Jarrad McVeigh (Sydney, 325 games, number three) and Andrew Mackie (Geelong, 280 games, number four).

They played all their games in their given number, but things would have been different if the most famous number three, Leigh Matthews, considered by many as the greatest player of all time, had not started his career in jumper 32 and played in that number for three years and 44 games before taking over the three jumper. From then on – except for Round 14 in 1973 when he forgot to pack his number three jumper and played in number 53 – he wore number three. But the total of 45 games in different jumpers was enough to prevent him from taking the mantle as the greatest game-player in the three guernsey.

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Many other jumper numbers have stories attached to them and three current players have already reached the top of the tree in relation to the record number of games played in their jumper number: Jack Riewoldt (Richmond, 263 games, number eight), Joel Selwood (Geelong, 296 games, number 14), Mark Blicavs (Geelong, 159 games, number 46).

Two Collingwood players, Mark Perkins and Andrew Witts, played one of their handful of games for the Magpies in numbers 63 and 65 respectively and are the only two players to do so.

And the famous round in 2017 saw many Indigenous players wear the number 67 jumper to celebrate their heritage.