In 1903, guernsey numbers were used for the first time in a VFL match. In an attempt to promote the code interstate, the VFL/AFL scheduled a Round 4 game between reigning premiers Collingwood and Fitzroy at the SCG. To help the novice spectators, the VFL/AFL allocated numbers to each player and distributed double-sided cards with player lists and rules to the 18,000 spectators as they came through the turnstiles.

The following season VFA club Port Melbourne permanently introduced guernsey numbers. While Melbourne in the VFL sought to follow suit in 1905 only to meet resistance from the players.  

In 1912 the VFL/AFL mandated that all players had to wear guernsey numbers. Not only that, but the VFL/AFL also instructed the clubs what size and colours those numbers had to be. In that same season the Football Record was born, and players numbers were used to help with the policing of rules and the reporting of foul play.  

For the supporter, the guernsey numbers made it easier for the fans to identified who their favourite player maybe thus the cult heroes of the day were to emerge. Over time some numbers became more significant than others, given the ongoing lineage of players wearing these numbers.

Below are the stories behind some of Hawthorn’s significant guernsey numbers.

View guernsey number history (.xls)

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Guernsey number history provided by Andre’ Belterman.