The bottom of the record

This is a tribute to all the players who have played a senior VFL/AFL game wearing a guernsey number of 50 and above.  The players whose names appear just above the omnipresent Mr “Rushed” at the foot of the player list in the Record, and who have used (in some cases temporarily) a locker that is bereft of the names of past champions and is usually situated at the far end of the home ground change rooms.

Since first going to watch Geelong play in the late-1970s, I have seen several Geelong players wearing 50 plus on their backs and have been interested in their progress.  This article is the first in a series that discusses some of the players who were privileged enough to wear a half-century number on their Geelong jumper, and it also mentions some examples from opposition clubs that spring to mind.

This is an invitation to readers to recall players from other clubs who sported a 50 plus number at senior level, whether that number was allocated to the relevant player at the time or was a replacement guernsey.

Unfortunately, with the reduction in senior lists over the last 10 years or so, the appearance of a 50 plus guernsey at the elite level is becoming increasingly rare.

Number 50 – Tony Malakellis and Robert Scott

After his older brother Spiro debuted for the Cats midway through the 1989 season, Tony Malakellis first appeared for the Cats in round 13, 1990.  He was recruited from local club Geelong Amateurs and made his way up through the Geelong Under 19s and Reserves ranks.  Sporting a half-century, Malakellis made his debut against Carlton at Princes Park in a remarkable game that the Cats lost by 19 points after leading by 41 points at half time.  Malakellis played a slashing game in the midfield pushing forward, kicking two neat goals and earning a Brownlow vote.  His form as a midfielder or small forward was a bright spot in what was a dismal second half of the 1990 season for the Cats.  He appeared in nine out of the last 10 games in 1990, adding another Brownlow vote in round 15 when Geelong upset Melbourne at Kardinia Park, a performance in which Malakellis Mach 2 netted 26 disposals and three goals.

Following Darren Morgan’s departure after the 1990 season, Malakellis was given the number 11 jumper for season 1991.  With the return of Mark Bairstow from his farm in Lake Grace, the recruitment of Sean Simpson from St Kilda and the emergence of Andrew Wills, Geelong had a glut of midfield types which resulted in Malakellis battling to hold his spot.  He played another five games early in 1991 and was unable to win back his senior spot for the rest of 1991 and for the whole of 1992.  He was recruited by the Sydney Swans for the 1993 season, moving up to the number 33 jumper and losing a wrestling battle with Tony Lockett at Waverley Park.  After his AFL career was over, Malakellis was reunited with Spiro at Port Adelaide in the SANFL, where he played from 1994 to 1998, including the 1994 and 1995 premierships.

Number 50 was also briefly worn by dynamic rover and small forward Robert Scott.  Scott wore number 50 in his debut season of 1986 and number 45 in 1987, as number 8 was occupied by Shane Williams.  Scott moved down to number 8 and became a Geelong regular, playing 132 games from 1986-1994, including the 1989 and 1992 Grand Finals.  He was fleet of foot and a handy goal contributor whilst at Kardinia Park, kicking 164 goals, including returns of 42 goals in both the 1989 and 1992 seasons, and he appeared in five State of Origin matches for Victoria. He was traded to North Melbourne after the 1994 season, a deal which was a win-win for both clubs as Geelong received the steady Brad Sholl in return.  Scott added 113 games at the Kangaroos from 1995 to 2000, wearing the number 8 jumper and often playing as an accountable, run-with player, a significant shift from his roles at Geelong.  Scott played in North’s 1996 premiership, the losing 1998 Grand Final and he was unlucky to not be selected for the 1999 flag side.

Number 51 – Garry Hocking and David Clarke Junior

An obscure fact is that the legendary Garry “Buddha” Hocking wore 51 in his first two games for the Cats in his debut season of 1987.  G Hocking debuted in round 3, 1987 when the Cats hosted Melbourne at Kardinia Park.  Jim Stynes also debuted that day, wearing 37 before reverting to 11 the next season.  Early in the season, number 32 was allocated to Michael Lenaghan, who last played at senior level in round 22, 1986.  Following his debut, Hocking was then given the number 32, which he wore in his remaining 1987 appearances in rounds 6, 7, 10 and 22.

David Clarke Junior was a father-son selection for Geelong in the 1998 national draft.  Recruited from Torquay, he was a pacy midfielder, frequently playing on the wing, with very good stamina.  Although Clarke was a handy player, he was not a star player like his father was.  His kicking lacked penetration and frequently let him down, which often caused frustration among Geelong fans.  Clarke debuted in the number 51 in round 13, 1999 in the midst of an awful nine game losing streak, which followed a 5-0 start to the year.  His performances were solid in his first season and he played 13 out of the remaining 14 games of that season.  Following the delisting of Brett Spinks after the 1999 season ended, the number 14 jumper became available and Clarke was granted it.  He became a midfield regular from 2000 and played in all but one of Geelong’s matches from 2000 to 2002.  He struggled with patchy form and injuries in 2003 and ended his Geelong career on 89 games.  As his father did more than 20 years previously, he moved to Carlton.  Clarke was traded as part of a deal that saw Simon Beaumont move from Carlton to Hawthorn and ruckman David Loats from Hawthorn to Geelong.  Clarke added 12 games to his tally over the 2004-2005 seasons at Carlton, this time wearing the number 9 that former Cat Adrian Hickmott had vacated on his retirement.  Clarke was delisted after the 2005 season.  He played in the SANFL from 2006 to 2008, with stints at South Adelaide (2006-2007) and North Adelaide (2008), before returning to Geelong to play with St Joseph’s in 2009.

Number 52 – Peter Whyte

Recruited from local club Barwon, which merged with Belmont in the 1989-1990 to become the South Barwon Football Club, a recent powerhouse in the Geelong Football League, Peter Whyte was a mid-sized utility who played mainly in the midfield, usually as a winger.

Whyte wore 52 in the six games of his debut season of 1986, a poor season for the Cats under the fire and brimstone of new coach John Devine.  He elected to leave the high number club and was allocated the number 33 previously made famous by Bruce Nankervis.  Whyte made 14 senior appearances in 1987, a season in which Geelong narrowly missed out on the finals after being pipped by Hawthorn at Kardinia Park in the last round.  Whyte had a difficult time of it during the 1988 season, being dogged by hamstring injuries.  He managed to play more than half of the 1988 home and away rounds in the reserves and returned to senior company in rounds 2 and 15, which were to be the last two appearances in his senior career of 22 games.

In his final game at senior level, against West Coast at Subiaco Oval in round 15, he sported a goatee beard that he said was motivated by comedian Billy Connolly and pro-wrestler Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart[1].

Whyte remained on Geelong’s list in 1989.  However, he elected to return to Barwon, where he played several games before being enticed by an attractive offer from VFA club Werribee mid-season.  Barwon were unable to match the offer and Whyte went on to play with the VFA’s Tigers.

Number 53 – Ron Watt and Barry Stoneham

Ron Watt was another local recruit in this list, from Geelong West, who made his two appearances in the hoops in the number 53.  He appeared in two games in mid-1984: an exciting win over Richmond at the MCG in round 11 and a loss to Footscray in the wet at the Western Oval the following week.  After his VFL days ended, Watt was a very good player and coach in the Geelong Football League.  He coached North Shore from 1993 to 1997, including four flags in the club’s stellar run from 1990 to 2000, which yielded seven premierships.

Watt joined the Geelong Football Club in 1999 as coach of its VFL side.  His charges went on to claim a memorable VFL premiership in 2002, winning the Grand Final in a come-from-behind performance over Port Melbourne at Princes Park.  The VFL side on that day boasted some of Geelong’s great players in the current run of success, such as Gary Ablett Junior, Jimmy Bartel, Steve Johnson, Paul Chapman and James Kelly, plus veterans Tim McGrath, David Mensch and Mitchell White.  Since 2005, Watt has been the development coach at Geelong and has established a fine reputation in this role.

A surprise member of the Fifties club is former Geelong champion Barry Stoneham, who was given the nickname “Rhubarb” in his 1990 Stimorol football card.  Stoneham wore 53 in his debut game against Footscray in round 6, 1986 at Kardinia Park, which resulted in a breakthrough victory to Geelong after five losses to open the season.  Stoneham moved to his customary number 26 jumper the following week against Melbourne at Waverley Park and stayed with that number for the remainder of his senior career.  In his first season, Stoneham joined the ranks of the Geelong “rangas”, which included the legendary Robert “Scratcher” Neal and Neville Bruns.

Recruited from local football nursery St Joseph’s, Stoneham had a very good career, playing 241 matches from 1986-2000 and captaining the club in 1996 (co-captain with Gary Ablett) and 1997-1998[2].  He played at centre-half forward, in the ruck and sometimes at centre-half back.  He was arguably at the peak of his powers from 1989 to 1992 as a mobile centre-half forward and relief ruckman, playing several State games in this period, winning the Geelong best and fairest in 1990 and All-Australian selection in 1992.  Off the field, Stoneham made forays into the food industry, in 1993 operating the short-lived Kebazza’s on Shannon Avenue, Geelong West, a stall that served kebabs and Middle Eastern cuisine, and going into business with Billy Brownless in 1994 with Geelong CBD cafe/restaurant Players on Malop.

Stoneham suffered a shocking injury in August 1994, breaking his leg after landing awkwardly from a marking contest in a game against Fitzroy at Princes Park.  The injury and complications kept Stoneham out of action for the whole of the 1995 season.  He made his comeback in round 1, 1996 and gradually improved his form.  Stoneham was never the same after his leg injury, although his performances were of a sound standard and his leadership on the ground was well respected.  He called it a day after Geelong’s narrow loss to Hawthorn at the Docklands in the 2000 Elimination Final, the first finals match played at the Docklands.

Stoneham has again joined forces with Brownless to form the Brownless Stoneham Club in 2012, a club that will hold functions for Geelong supporters.  Stoneham can frequently be found walking along Collins Street or Bourke Street in the Melbourne CBD, dressed in a suit and standing out from the masses with his athletic stature and red hair.

Number 54 – No cases at senior level since 1980

Number 55 – Austin McCrabb and Mark Neeld

Colac farmer Austin McCrabb was a cult figure with Geelong supporters who stepped out in the number 55 jumper for the final two home and away matches of 1987.  He moved to number 38 in 1988, the number he wore for the remainder of his senior career.  In 1987, number 38 was taken by Peter Zychla, always the final name in an alphabetical list of AFL footballers, who played for the seniors in the early- to mid-1980s.

McCrabb and Sean Denham (who is covered later in this article) made their first senior appearances together in round 21, 1987 against the powerful Sydney Swans side at the SCG.  This was a memorable game for a number of reasons.  Primarily, it was memorable because the Cats, clinging onto a hotly contested 5thspot on the ladder, went in as underdogs, trailed by 27 points at the last change and steamrolled the Swans in the final stanza to win by 8 points.  Bruce “the Pres” Lindner kicked a mammoth torpedo goal from the centre square in the last quarter to help the Cats to win.  I happened to be at the game, which was the first VFL/AFL match I attended interstate, and the gargantuan frame of John Ironmonger filled a seat or two in the row in front of us!

McCrabb played for the Fitzroy Under 19s in 1983-1984 before returning to Colac in 1985.  A broken arm put paid to his 1985 season.  After plying his trade in the Reserves and playing some early matches at senior level, Gary Ablett spotted him at training one night and, in his inimitable style, asked Tim Darcy “Who is this bloke?”  McCrabb was a character at the club and anecdotes about him abound, some of which are covered in Geoff Davie’s humorous book Cats on the Prowl.  McCrabb had a liking for long bicycle rides, including one memorable journey from Colac to Perth to Darwin[3].  On this trek, McCrabb hung a spare tyre around his neck and suffered a puncture approximately 500 km from Perth.  At that moment, he realised that the spare was the wrong size.  Undaunted by this misfortune, McCrabb left his bike behind a tree and hitchhiked to the nearest town.  The town’s bike shop did not have his tyre size, so McCrabb caught a tour bus back to the area, asking the driver to stop because “I think this is my tree”.  McCrabb alighted the bus and repaired his tyre, something he could have done in the first place!

McCrabb was an old-fashioned footballer who played mainly as a dour defender, with some stints in the midfield or on the forward line.  He played 36 games for the Cats from 1987 to 1991.  His career highlight was against Carlton in round 5, 1991 where he played against key forward Jon Dorotich at Kardinia Park.  McCrabb kept Dorotich goalless and restricted his influence on the game greatly, as well as providing some drive from half-back.  McCrabb was awarded with three Brownlow Votes for this game, which prompted hearty laughs from Paul Couch and a few others at the Geelong table at the 1991 Brownlow count.  McCrabb’s undoubted lowlight came in Geelong’s inglorious loss to Hawthorn in round 14, 1990 at Waverley Park.  McCrabb broke a team rule in the first term and kicked across goal, which lead to a Hawthorn major and subsequent avalanche.  Coach Malcolm Blight was incensed with McCrabb’s error and excluded him from the quarter-time huddle.  Poor old Austin was left standing on his own in the middle of VFL Park, while Blight gave his charges one of his famous sprays and fired off long distance bakes to the banished McCrabb.

After finishing his time at Geelong in 1991, McCrabb was drafted by Hawthorn where he added 9 games in the number 38 guernsey, including a homecoming at Kardinia Park in round 16 when the Hawks (yet again in the mid-1980s to mid-1990s) proved too strong for the Cats.

McCrabb, who boasted a superb moustache at some stages during his time at Geelong, was a much loved clubman by teammates and supporters alike.  At a gathering of past Geelong players in 2009 to celebrate their time under Blight, McCrabb was given a standing ovation by his former colleagues when he approached the lectern to deliver a speech of dry wit and great humour[4].

A Geelong supporter may readily associate the number 22 with Mark Neeld, although it’s worth noting that Neeld started out at senior level in the number 55 jumper.

A mid-sized utility, who played roles in both defence and attack, Neeld was another St Joseph’s recruit who worked his way up through the Geelong Under 19s and Reserves.  He wore 55 on his debut against North Melbourne at Kardinia Park in round 17, 1990, aged 19, and continued in that guernsey in all six games of his debut season, which resulted in only one Geelong win.  After being allocated the number 22 for the 1991 season, Neeld was a senior regular in 1991, playing in 21 matches in Geelong’s solid season that yielded a 3rd place finish.  Neeld impressed in Geelong’s Second Semi-Final loss to Hawthorn, contributing three goals and providing a lively option up forward.  Neeld was sometimes used as a key defender, including a pre-season cup match against West Coast in 1992 at Waverley Park which resulted in Peter Sumich punching Neeld in the head, knocking him out cold.  Neeld found the going more difficult in 1992 and 1993 and he was a fringe player in those seasons, managing 21 games across the two seasons.  After 48 matches for Geelong, Neeld was traded to Richmond following the 1993 season, where he added 26 games in the number 19 from 1994 to 1996.

Although he was not a star player, Neeld managed to play a reasonable number of games for the Cats while they were a strong side at stages in the early 1990s.  He showed versatility, although he often seemed hurried in his disposal and decision making.

After he finished his university studies, Neeld combined top flight football with his work as a teacher.  After his AFL career ended, Neeld became the coach of Ocean Grove in the Bellarine Football League, piloting the club to four successive flags from 2000 to 2003.  Neeld then worked as the senior coach of the Western Jets in the TAC Cup for three seasons.  He continued his progress through the coaching ranks, serving as Collingwood’s defensive coach in 2008-2009 and being in charge of the team’s midfield in 2010-2011.  In the week leading up to the 2011 Preliminary Finals, Neeld was appointed coach of Melbourne.  Although it is early days in his time at the Demons, Neeld has been an eloquent communicator and straight shooter during difficult times.

Number 56 – David Simpson and Gerard Toohey

Recruited from Numurkah, not far from Shepparton, David “Harry” Simpson was a tall player (190 cm) who played three games for the Cats in the number 56 guernsey at the tail end of the 1984 season.

Simpson arrived at Kardinia Park in 1981 and showed early promise as a centre-half forward with a good pair of hands[5].  He found the going difficult in attack in the early days and was tried at centre-half back[6].  His 1984 campaign had a rocky start: a shoulder injury and, in a separate incident, two cracked ribs resulted from a collision with rugged utility Damian Drum at match practice training[7].

Late in the 1984 season, numerous senior players were injured and on the eve of the Cats’ round 21 clash against Fitzroy at the Junction Oval, Mark Yeates injured his hamstring at training on the Thursday night[8].  As “Yeater” was earmarked to match up against former St Kilda and Geelong forward Gary Sidebottom, who managed to find transport to this game, the selectors elevated Simpson from the Reserves to play at centre half-back against Sidebottom[9].

On debut, Simpson managed a handy 16 disposals, plus three hit outs, in Geelong’s loss.  He replicated that possession count in Geelong’s big win over Richmond at Kardinia Park the following week.  In his final senior appearance against Hawthorn at Waverley Park in round 22, a game that Geelong had to win to qualify for the finals, Simpson had a reasonably quiet game in a heavy defeat.

Simpson retained his spot on the Geelong list in 1985, moving down to number 46, his number 56 guernsey being allocated to Gerard Toohey.

Toohey was described in early editions of the Encyclopedia of AFL Footballers simply as “Bernard’s brother”.  Like Bernard, G Toohey was recruited from Barooga.  A photograph from the Geelong Advertiser on the day of Toohey’s senior debut[10] showed him working as an electrician at a building site in Clifton Springs, near Geelong, and his facial features are similar to Bernard’s.  However, Gerard is 12 cm shorter than his elder brother, who could fill a key position when required.  Gerard Toohey played two seasons at senior level with Barooga as a teenager and, aged 18, he started 1985 in the Geelong Under 19s, playing mainly as a centre[11].

In the week prior to his debut, Toohey played against high profile Hawthorn recruit Stephen Malaxos in the Reserves at Princes Park, the curtain raiser for the Hawthorn vs Geelong senior match in round 12, 1985 which featured the Leigh Matthews-Neville Bruns-Steven Hocking incident.  Hit by injuries and suspensions from the Hawks clash, including the suspension of B Toohey, Geelong made five changes to the team, which included bringing in Toohey the younger, for the round 13 game against Collingwood at Victoria Park.  Toohey was selected with a plan for him to play as a rover, changing with Andrew Bews[12].

Toohey, stepping out in number 56 on debut, spent time on the ball in this match and gathered nine disposals.  Despite having key players Ablett, B Toohey and Jackson out of the side, the Cats stunned the Magpies and raced to a 45 lead at half time, with Greg Williams and “Scratcher” Neal finding plenty of the ball.  Collingwood fought back hard in the second half and were a chance to steal the game in the last quarter.  A late steadier from tall forward Craig Alderdice sealed the issue for Geelong, resulting in a six point win.

Unfortunately, this game was to be Toohey’s sole appearance at senior level.  He was retained on Geelong’s list in the 1985 and 1986 seasons and spent more time in the Reserves.  After leaving Kardinia Park, he moved to Adelaide where he carved out a good career with West Torrens in the SANFL.

Number 57 – Russell Mitchell

Donning the rare number 57, mid-sized player Russell Mitchell was recruited from Geelong club Bell Post Hill and played two games for Geelong in 1985-1986.

At the beginning of 1985, Mitchell was playing with Bell Post Hill and thought he would try out for Geelong at the end of the year[13].  In a meteoric rise, he played three games for the Geelong Reserves before surprisingly being called up to senior action against eventual finalist North Melbourne in a clash at the MCG in round 16, 1985[14].  The game resulted in a very good Geelong win, featuring eight goals straight from Gary Ablett and another diligent 30-plus possession performance from “Diesel” Williams, who would go on to win the club best and fairest before being enticed to the Harbour City by Dr Edelsten and company.  In this match, Mitchell was statless.  He moved to the number 13 guernsey in 1986 and played in Geelong’s first round loss to Hawthorn in the night series at Waverley Park.  Shortly after, Mitchell was selected for the 1986 season opener against Fitzroy at Kardinia Park.  He collected 14 disposals in Geelong’s hiding at the hands of the Roy Boys.

Mitchell carved out a successful cricket career on the Geelong club scene, representing the Newtown-Chilwell Cricket Club.  He represented his club in more than 300 matches and played in several premierships in various elevens, primarily as a batsman[15].  Mitchell was the club’s Second XI captain in the 2011/12 season[16].

Number 58 – Sean Denham

Recruited from Melton South, midfielder Sean Denham started out in senior company in number 58 in the last two home and away rounds of 1987.  Col Hutchison, formerly the long-serving statistician at the AFL, found that Denham wore the highest guernsey number for Geelong at the top level, excluding replacement jumpers.

During his time at Geelong, Denham was predominantly a rover who sometimes played in the forward pocket.  Denham transitioned to number 18 in 1988 where he enjoyed his best season in the hoops, running third in Geelong’s best and fairest award and being included in the Victorian squad, although he was ultimately not selected for the Big V.  Denham played all 22 home and away games in 1988 and managed an impressive 515 disposals.  Denham played in Geelong’s first six games in 1989 and played several games in the Reserves before a foot injury sidelined him from round 16 onwards.  In 1990 and 1991, he was troubled by injuries and spent more time in the seconds.  Denham was called on for Geelong’s last three home and away games and the Elimination and Second-Semi Finals.

After limited senior opportunities in 1990 and 1991, Denham was traded to Essendon after the 1991 season in exchange for John Barnes, a deal which was a definite “win-win” for the clubs.  Denham excelled at Windy Hill in his midfield role in the number 38 jumper, where he played as a rover or as an attacking run-with player.  Denham displayed a strong aptitude for winning the ball and generating clearances.  He was often given the task of curbing the opposition’s best midfielder.  After taking time to find his feet at Essendon in 1992, he became a regular senior player in 1993, playing in Essendon’s premiership side and pre-season premiership side.  He had a spiteful battle with Greg Williams in the 1993 Grand Final which led to Denham suffering a broken nose.  Denham seemed to get under Diesel’s skin more than most and his close-checking tactics contributed to Williams brushing aside umpire Andrew Coates in anger in round 1, 1997, resulting in Williams being given a nine week ban that was ultimately upheld on appeal to the Victorian Supreme Court of Appeal.

Denham enjoyed strong seasons in 1994 and 1995 where he accumulated in excess of 450 disposals in both seasons. Despite Essendon’s poor 14th place result in 1997, Denham performed very well and claimed his first best and fairest award.  In 1998, Denham suffered a back injury and his senior appearances in 1998-2000 became less frequent as young midfielders came through the ranks at Essendon.  Denham played in Essendon’s Reserves premiership side in 1999, persevering with a broken nose and injured shoulder.  Incidentally, 1999 was the final season of the Reserves competition.  Denham ended up playing 144 matches in the red and black, which followed his 42 appearances at Geelong.

Denham is an accountant, heading up Sean Denham & Associates in Moonee Ponds, and he can be spotted at lunch time in various eateries on Puckle Street.

Replacement jumper number 85 – Harry Taylor

Dependable Geelong key defender Harry Taylor, who has worn the number 7 guernsey with distinction since his debut in round 2, 2008, wore a very unusual number 85 replacement jumper in Geelong’s big win over Melbourne at the MCG in round 19, 2008.  Taylor was under heavy fire in this game, suffering both a bloodied lip and a cut above his eye.  In the process, Taylor went through both of his allocated special edition Geelong 150th anniversary celebration jumpers.  The property staff had to dig deep and had to resort to pulling out the number 85 from Geelong’s special edition guernseys for Taylor to use from midway in the third quarter.

Some 50 plus players from other clubs

Here are a few names from each club that readily came to mind or, in some case, I was able to quickly unearth through research.  This is by no means intended to be an exhaustive list.

AdelaideShaun Rehn is comfortably the most accomplished member of the 50 club, wearing 52 in his entire senior career of 167 matches, which included two premierships and a stint at Hawthorn (2001-2002).  Burly forward Randall Bone wore 51 at the Crows in 1992-1993 before crossing to the Hawks.

Brisbane Bears – notably, legend Michael Voss wore number 56 in 1992, his first season at the Bears.  Ian Kidgell wore 53 in his three senior games in 1991.

Brisbane Lions – no player appears to have worn 50 or more in a senior match.

CarltonAng Christou wore 56 in his debut game in round 24, 1991, before settling into number 39 for the rest of his stellar career.  Simon Minton-Connell started out in 53 in 1989.  The most recent case of a half-century jumper for the Blues was Heath Culpitt, who wore 52 in the 1999 season.

CollingwoodAndrew Witts holds the record for wearing the highest jumper number at VFL/AFL level, other than replacement jumpers, with 65 when he played seven matches in 1985.  Pocket sized Stephen Anderson rolled out the number 60 in 1991.  Terry Keays also wore 60 in his early games in 1987, before moving down to number 14.  “The Glove” Michael Gayfer started in 51 in 1986 before transitioning to number 3 for the rest of his career.

Essendon – defender Peter Berbakov wore number 51 in 1996, his first season at senior level, before changing to number 20.  Long-serving midfielder Joe Misiti was in 52 in his early matches in 1992 before moving to his customary number 24 in the premiership season of 1993.

Fitzroy – tenacious rover/forward Mark Dwyer wore number 58 is his debut season of 1986, including the Lions’ three finals appearances.  Mercurial forward Darren “Doc” Wheildon began in number 50 at senior level in 1989.  Durable veteran John Blakey (359 games over 18 seasons) wore 54 in season 1985.

FremantleNeil Mildenhall, number 50 in 1995, is the only Docker who has worn a half-century.

Gold Coast – After an absence from AFL ranks of nearly four years, Nathan Ablett made his long-awaited return in 2011 with the Suns in the number 55.

GWS Giants – no players on the 2012 list have a number of 50 or above.

HawthornGlenn Nugent wore 55 in 1990 before taking over 21 in 1991.  Premiership midfielder Peter Schwab sported 54 in 1980.  Shane McGrath played a solitary match in 1984 in the number 52.

Melbourne – 250 game veteran and GWS recruit James McDonald began with the Demons in number 54 in 1997.  Small forward Brent Heaver wore 54 in 1990, his first season at Melbourne, including kicking five goals on debut against Carlton.

North Melbourne – Close checking full-back Mick Martyn began with the Roos in 1988 wearing number 50.  Alastair Clarkson wore the number 57 in his first season in 1987, which included kicking a goal after the siren to sink Melbourne.  Clarkson wore 57 at the Oval when he king hit Carlton’s Ian Aitken in a spiteful post-season exhibition game in October 1987.  Darren Steele wore 59 in his first year of 1984.

Port Adelaide – no player appears to have worn 50 or more in a senior match.

RichmondBarry Young wore 53 in 1989-1990, whilst Chris Pym wore number 51 in 1988, including booting three goals in the Tigers’ major upset over reigning premiers Carlton at the MCG in a Friday night clash in June 1988.  Dean Notting wore 58 in all 28 of his senior matches from 1985 to 1987.

St KildaNicky Winmar famously wore the number 60 jumper for part of the 1991 Elimination Final against Geelong after his regular number 7 had been ripped from his body in a ferocious tackle from ruckman Stephen Hooper.  Irish recruit Dermot McNicholl wore 60 in his three games in 1990.  Five club journeyman Dale Kickett donned number 52 in 1992, his only season at Moorabbin.

Sydney – after four seasons out of VFL action, Craig Davis (formerly of Carlton, North Melbourne and Collingwood) made a comeback with the Swans in round 1, 1988 in the number 60, playing nine games for a return of 17 goals.  In reference to his unusual jumper number, one opposition supporter called out “Is that your age, Davis?”, to which Davis retorted “No, it’s your IQ”.  Gary Frangalas started his senior career in 50.  Prolific Sheffield Shield batsman Jamie Siddons appeared in two games for the Swans in 1984 in number 50.

West Coast – ruckman Ryan Turnbull was a long-serving member of the 50 club, wearing 50 in 129 games from 1991 to 2001, including the 1994 premiership.  Ashley McIntosh wore 53 in his first year of 1991, including the unsuccessful Grand Final appearance.

Western Bulldogs/FootscrayMichael McLean was a trailblazer in the number 51, playing 95 high class games for the Doggies from 1983 to 1989, before he was recruited by Brisbane.  Exciting player Stephen Koops also wore the number 51 in 2004 after leaving the Dockers.  Tackling machine and 1990 Brownlow Medallist Tony Liberatore wore 60 in his debut year of 1986.


[1] Geelong Advertiser, Saturday, 20 July 1985.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Geelong Advertiser, Friday, 21 November 2008, Russell Mitchell is a cricket legend, by Daniel Breen.

[4] Newtown-Chilwell Cricket Club website.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Geelong Advertiser, Friday, 17 August 1984.

[7] Geelong Advertiser, Saturday, 22 June 1985.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Geelong Advertiser, Saturday, 18 August 1984.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Anecdote is set out in Cats on the Prowl and in Dwayne Russell’s Inside Story column in the Geelong Advertiser on Wednesday, 18 September 1991 titled ‘Aussie’ McCrabb: larger than life character.

[14] Recounted to me by Sean Simpson in April 2009.

[15] After Garry Hocking resigned the captaincy after round 6, 1995, Stoneham, Gary Ablett and Ken Hinkley were named as co-captains for the rest of the 1995 season.  I have not listed Stoneham as a Geelong captain for 1995 because he did not play a senior game that year because he was recovering from a broken leg.

[16] Geelong Advertiser, Saturday, 9 July 1988.

Leave a Comment