Old Woollen Footy Jumpers: Battlescars and Wonderful Wanganeen

Ged McMahon Ess jumper



Inspired by the recent series of woollen footy jumpers being honoured by the Footy Almanac this season, I pulled this jumper down from the rafters of my man cave where it proudly hangs. Of all the Essendon jumpers that I have owned over the years, it is a clear favourite. Looking at it up close, so many memories come flooding back, many of them etched into this well-worn but equally well-loved woollen construction.

Like all of my first few footy jumpers as a kid, this one is a hand-me-down from my older brother. The easiest sign of it being a hand-me-down is the remains of the number 27 that my brother used to wear on the back. Those damn iron on numbers! I used to peel carefully at the remnants of the 27 but eventually ceded to the higher power. My brother Greg was a Simon Madden fan. But when the jumper was passed on to me, I had to make it my own. I had to find a favourite player who could carry this jumper into a new era. For a footy mad 10-year-old, this was about as a big a decision as there was. Right up there with how you would spend your allocated $20 at the Royal Melbourne Show. It required careful consideration and research.

In 1992, coincidentally when Madden was almost finished with his career, I chose Gavin Wanganeen: a young acrobat from South Australia. With a flowing mullet, silky skills and a penchant for throwing himself into packs where others feared to tread, Wanganeen was an obvious choice. So the number four was purchased and mum sewed it on, complete with red stitching for that extra Essendon touch. I wore it proudly and Wanganeen became my first real footy idol.

1992 was also the year that the jumper suffered its most significant trauma. Before the traditional Essendon vs Collingwood Anzac Day clash had been established, Melbourne met Essendon at the MCG on an otherwise nondescript day – it just happened to be that Anzac Day had fallen on a Saturday. There was nowhere near the sense of occasion and reverence that exists these days. Just over 41,000 watched Melbourne dominate the opening three quarters of the match. My dad, my brother and I were perched high in the recently opened Great Southern Stand. I was proudly wearing my old woollen jumper with the number four freshly sewn onto the back. An uninspiring first three quarters looked like continuing in the last when the Dees took a 47 point lead just four minutes into the final quarter. But then Essendon starting kicking goals and the unthinkable started to become a possibility.

With only a couple of minutes left, the Bombers were just five points down when my man Wanganeen laid a desperate tackle on our 50-metre line and was awarded a holding the ball free kick. He seemed to be out of his range. So much so that even I put my hero worship aside and decided that it was beyond him. But he went back and calmly slotted the goal from beyond the arc. We hit the lead.

The Bombers still had their one point lead when the final siren went. Buoyed by an incredible comeback, and a match winning goal from hero, I ran down for the aftermatch kick with unrivalled zest. As I jumped the fence, the back of my jumper caught on the top of one of those iconic metal rails that stick up around the MCG. I went cannoning back into the advertising hoardings and fell heavily on the hallowed turf. When I eventually stood up, I turned around to see that the fence had ripped the back of my jumper. At the time I was horrified. But now I know that it just adds character to the jumper, and is a permanent reminder of the huge comeback and Wanganeen’s brilliant goal.

The jumper did eventually meet the man who it proudly honoured. Crowding around outside the Waverley Park rooms after a game one day, the great man signed the number on the back. Naturally I was ecstatic, and vowed to never wash it. However, the jumper was a staple in my wardrobe, so necessity dictated that it needed to be washed from time to time. The signature is now pretty much gone, but I can still see it if I squint hard enough.

It seems odd to place such significance on a simple piece of clothing. But this old jumper is so much more than that. It is a window into my childhood, and each little aspect of it holds a different memory that easily makes me smile. Like the smell of stale beer reminds me of the outer at Windy Hill, the touch of this woollen jumper transports me back to hot jam donuts, kick to kicks after the second siren, and watching a young Gavin Wanganeen forge a towering reputation. I rile at the name ‘jerseys’, and grudgingly accept ‘guernseys’. To me, no matter what they are made of, footy jumpers will always be ‘jumpers’.


Ged McMahon Wanganeen

About Ged McMahon

Ged McMahon has been a Bombers fan for as long as he can remember. With a Grandpa who grew up just a spiralling torpedo punt from Windy Hill he didn't have much choice. When his junior football career resulted in almost as many possessions as games he eventually had to bite the bullet and give up his dream of captaining the Bombers to a Premiership. So his weekly footy fix became confined to the stands. He yearns for the next Premiership.


  1. what a legend

  2. Pamela Sherpa says

    Agreed Ged , old footy jumpers represent such significant childhood memories.

Leave a Comment