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THE BOOK OF NUMBERS - NUMBER EIGHT by Whispering Jack

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The sudden departure earlier this month of Heritier Lumumba who retired from the game after incurring a number of concussions to the head during 2016 has left the club without a custodian for guernsey number eight, worn with pride by champion players and some interesting characters over more than 100 years since Fred Harris donned the jumper in 1912.

Harris played 25 games for the Saints between 1903 and 1905 and joined Melbourne in 1907 as a defender. He played 61 games (3 goals) and also wore number 29 in 1912.  Jack A "Dodger" Evans, another defender, also played 61 games for the club and donned number 8 in 1913 and again in 1915. In between, Albert "Bert" Trahair from South Bendigo wore the number for 18 games during the 1914 season.

When the club returned from its recess during the Great War, Charlie Lilley who had worn 6 in 1913 and 1915 and 11 in 1914 when he represented Victoria, took command and carried eight on his back for seven seasons  as Melbourne rose from the bottom to being a near contender. The clever midfielder from Elsternwick had an abundance of pace and was also used to great effect in defence in his 132 games (5 goals).

Diminutive Herbert White was a 168cm rover from Northcote and wore the number eight in Melbourne's second premiership in 1926. He played 67 games and booted 27 goals to 1929.

The number came out of recess in 1931 and was worn for two years by William "Bull" Adams from South Fremantle. Adams had been with Fitzroy from 1924 to 1926 and later carved out a coaching career where he coached the losing South Melbourne team in the 1945 "bloodbath" grand final against Carlton. He played 16 games and kicked 12 goals at Melbourne.

The burley Rowley Fischer was a late starter arriving from the Wimmera League at age 23 in 1933 at the height of the Great Depression when he claimed the number eight guernsey. He wore it with great distinction for nine seasons and was in the back pocket in the club's 1939 premiership. Fischer also played in the ruck and at centre half forward and also represented Victoria in 1937 and 1939. In all he played 137 games and kicked 34 goals for Melbourne.

Late in the 20th century, John Hewson and Mark Latham both unsuccessfully contested the Prime Ministership of the country. Another thing they have in common is that they had namesakes who wore the number eight for short periods during the war years at the Melbourne Football Club. Don Hewson from University Blacks was its bearer in 1942-3 and he was followed by Ralph Latham in 1945. Like the politicians, neither had a great impact. Both played only 16 games. Former Magpie Roy Stabb who carried number 22 in 1945 took on eight in 1946 and 1947. He played a total of 29 games in his career. 

Doug Heywood, later known as a sports commentator on both radio and television, wore 25 in 1943 and 26 in 1944 before his career was interrupted first by service and then by tennis. He was plucked out of amateur football by Denis Cordner to fill in a Demon side that was wracked by injury and wore the number eight in the 1948 preliminary final and the tied grand final. He was dropped for the grand final replay to make way for Bob McKenzie who returned from injury. His career continued until the 1951 season by which time he had played 54 games for 30 goals. 

The jumper changed hands in each of the next five seasons including twice in 1952 when Ian Toyne from Geelong had it for one game and Maurie Lehmann for six while Don Cameron played 2 games in the following season. Half back flanker, Geoff Collins, who wore the number three from his debut season of 1948 (and won a premiership flag) to 1952 and represented his state during that time, missed 1953 while serving in Korea as an Air Force pilot. He came back to captain the side in 1954 and wore eight in the year when the club rose from second last  to runner up against the Bulldogs. After one season as skipper, Collins retired and handed the jumper to Kevin Clarke who played only one game in 1955 before heading off to Carlton.

Jim "Little Bull" Sandral wore the number for two years. He joined the club in 1956 in time to play in a big premiership win over Collingwood but played only one more season before bowing out with 22 goals to his name. 

Season 1959 was a great year for the Demons. They won a flag and recruited some star players in Bob "Tassie" Johnson, Harold "Hassa" Mann and Bryan Kenneally. The former took the vacant number eight guernsey and wore it with distinction throughout the next decade in a career spanning to 1969 (when he was skipper) and including premierships in 1959, 1960 and 1964. Johnson stood out of football waiting for a clearance from North Launceston but immediately stepped into the team at full back. He had a magnificent drop kick that often saw the ball travel to the centre from his kick offs and was a regular state representative. Although only 189cm "Tassie" also was used as a fill in ruckman in a career that spanned 202 games.

Late AFL great Robert "Tassie" Johnson lives on in enduring love affair on the Sunshine Coast.

With the retirement of Johnson and the advent of a new decade, the club passed the jumper on to 198cm tall Assumption College schoolboy ruck prodigy Peter "Crackers" Keenan. The youngster could play but he was also something of a character and the club parted ways with him after six seasons when he joined North Melbourne in search of premiership glory. After a further stint at Essendon, he came back and wore the number 10 in 1981-1982 where he teamed up with some other left of field teammates in Brent Crosswell (who wore 8) and Mark Jackson. In all Keenan played 131 games for the Demons for 88 goals.

The club recruited key forward from Tasmania and perhaps hoping that Peter Johnston would emulate "Tassie's" career, awarded him the honour of jumper number eight on his arrival in 1976. However, Johnston's form was inconsistent and his kicking was unreliable and this saw him off to Geelong after three seasons including 42 games and 56 goals. 

Star St Kilda midfielder Glenn Elliott was lured out of retirement in 1979 after a knee injury had seemingly ended his career. A true professional, he managed 15 games in his only season at Melbourne. 
The next owner of the number eight guernsey was another former Tasmanian in the flamboyant Brent Crosswell who came to the club in 1980 after a decorated career with Carlton and North Melbourne. A protege of Ron Barassi, his was reunited with his old coach in the following season and finished his three seasons at the club with 48 games for 54 goals. 

Teenager, Les "Lally" Bamblett, arrived at Melbourne in 1982 as a prodigious talent from the club's country zone in the Goulburn Valley. He starred in the Under 19s under legendary junior coach Ray "Slug" Jordan, winning the Morrish Medal. The following year, he took over the number 8 but things simply didn't work out for the talented young forward who was cleared to Footscray after only one season in which he played 11 games for 12 goals. Another former junior in Peter Thorne took over from Bamblett in 1984. Thorne played in number 40 in 1978 and 1979 before moving to Perth for four years. He played 26 games and kicked 35 goals for the club.

The time had come for another long term wearer of the number eight. Graeme Yeats  who wore 45 in 1984 was handed the number eight in 1985 and wore it until 1995. Recruited from Prahran, Yeats was a reliable small defender who could also play on a wing. After playing 182 games (45 goals) he retired from AFL and moved on to play in a premiership with Springvale (kicking the winning goal just before the siren) and also coached Sandringham VFL to a flag before taking the coaching job with the Dandenong Stingrays in the TAC Cup Under 18's competition. 

West Coast Eagle Craig Turley moved to the club in 1996 and played 16 games for eight goals. 

The number barely saw the light of day for some time after Turley's departure. Jeff Farmer who wore 33 for most of his career at the club wore it fleetingly in 1999 but quickly reverted to his original number. Eight then went to another former Tasmanian and another interesting character in James Cook who by now was at his third club and battling weight issues. He kicked eight goals in his three games.

Defender Alistair Nicholson who came to the club in 1997 switched from 44 to eight at the start of 2001 and wore the jumper for the remainder of his career. When he retired at the end of 2003, Nicholson had featured in 73 games for 4 goals.

The mantle of the number eight went to first round draft selection James Frawley in 2007 and he wore it proudly for eight seasons before seeking greener pastures at Hawthorn at the end of 2014. Frawley was an All Australian defender in 2010 and played 139 games and kicking 18 goals at the club.

Collingwood's Heritier Lumumba was recruited to the club in 2015, an All Australian defender, premiership player and an altogether different cat. He looked a million dollars in his first pre season but  he struggled to get it altogether once the season started, hit the wall early in 2016 and left the club in uncomfortable circumstances earlier this month.

If history is a guide, the next number eight is likely to be a defender and a real character to boot.

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