The Charles Brownlow Trophy, or the Brownlow Medal as it is popularly known, is considered to be the highest individual honour in the Australian Football League (AFL).
Awarded to the player selected as the ‘fairest and best’ over the course of a season, the medal not only celebrates sporting achievement, but also good conduct on the field. It has been awarded every year starting from 1924, with the only gap occurring during the Second World War between 1942 and 1945.
The medal was named after player and administrator Charles Brownlow; it was first awarded the year he passed away.
Brownlow was a celebrated player for the Geelong Football Club, with his career spanning from 1880 – 1891. During his playing years, he became Club Secretary in 1885, holding the position till 1923, a year before his death. He also had the distinction of being caretaker President of the VFL from 1918 to 1919.
At the time the Brownlow Medal was initiated, the Australian Football League was known as the Victorian Football League (VFL).
The league was non-professional in its standards, a fact probably attributed to its lack of funding. Therefore, the Brownlow Medal didn’t bring with it the fame and star value that it does now. Of course, much of that has been due to the rise of AFL as a major sporting force across the length and breadth of Australia.
The first player to receive the award, Edward Greeves of the Geelong Football Club, received his medal without any fanfare or ceremony. All that was done to mark the occasion was to mention the event as part of the minutes of the meeting of the VFL board at the time. Since then, the award has grown in importance and stature, a feat that could not have been envisaged by the people awarding or receiving it during the early years.
In no way was the Brownlow Medal unprecedented in Australian football. Rather, it was the last of the four football leagues functioning at the time to introduce such an award, following in the footsteps of the Magarey Medal (South Australian National Football League), the Sandover Medal (West Australian Football League) and the J. J. Liston Trophy (originally called the Recorder Cup).
Yet, with the passage of time, the rules and criteria governing each award became quite similar.
The News Breaks on Radio
For all its humble beginnings, the Brownlow Medal didn’t take long to capture the attention of the media.
It was in 1956 that the eventual winner of the medal found out that he had won through an unusual source. He did not read about it in the newspaper and even the AFL didn’t inform him. Rather, the winner Peter Box of Footscray Football Club was told by his neighbour that he has been awarded the Brownlow Medal after hearing about the news on the radio.
The Count Goes Live
Every year, the votes cast for the Brownlow Medal are counted on the day on which it is to be awarded. This keeps the suspense regarding who would win till the very end.
Before 1970, the votes were counted secretly and the winner was announced to the media. However, that year, the AFL decided to broadcast the vote count live. Still, it was a far cry from the attention the awards receive at present. Peter Bedford, who won in 1970, described the award ceremony as an ‘all male affair’.
Criteria & Rules
The Voting System
The criteria for judging the player worthy of the Brownlow Medal is quite simple and straightforward.
The field umpires are required to assign votes to the three best players of the match, with three votes going to the best, two votes to the second-best and one vote to the third-best. The votes are then counted the night the award is to be handed out and the winner is decided then and there.
Different methods have been used for voting, but were discontinued after relatively short periods in use –
- From 1924 till 1930, only one vote was cast, that to the best player in the game. However, this was changed to the current 3-2-1 system when a tie occurred in 1930. Three players had received four votes each, which made deciding the winner tough.
- From 1976 till 1978, two field umpires voted after the game. The second field umpire was only introduced in 1976 (later increased to three). This resulted in a high number of votes being cast. Ultimately, this system was disbanded and the umpires are now required to confer on the votes.
Tiebreaker – The Countback
A countback system was in place to be used as a tiebreaker. Till 1930, the player who had participated in the fewest number of games was awarded the Brownlow Medal in case of a tie.
This was changed to award the medal to the player who had received three votes in the highest number of matches. In case this proved insufficient to break the tie, the number of two-vote games is taken into account. Interestingly, an unbroken tie did occur in 1940.
As it turned out, Des Fothergill of Collingwood Football Club and Herbie Matthews of South Melbourne Football Club had identical statistics for the season. The league eventually decided to award them both the medal, but they were presented with replicas only.
A similar situation occurred during 1989 when eight players lost the medal on a countback after a tie had occurred. Eventually, they were awarded retrospective medals.
Before voting, field umpires have to judge the best players in the game keeping in mind that they haven’t committed any offenses. The ‘fairest’ quotient of the award has to be considered as even a minor offense can lead to the suspension of a player, and that ultimately that leads to him being ruled ineligible for the award.
There have been two high-profile instances when the player who received the most votes for the Brownlow Medal was deemed ineligible because of suspensions during the league season.
The first to lose out under this law was Corey McKernan in 1996.
McKernan had tied with two other players for the highest number of votes. He had been suspended for one game after kneeing an opponent. Ironically, he was named the Most Value Player (MVP) by the AFL Players Association, an award given to the players’ choice for the best player in the league that year.
The AFL Players Association MVP does not follow the same rules as the Brownlow Medal.
The same thing happened the very next year when Chris Grant of the Footscray Football Club lost the medal despite having one vote more than eventual winner Robert Harvey.
Like McKernan, Grant had also been suspended for a single game for striking a player.
These two instances have caused the ineligibility law to come under question by players and analysts. Both feel that a one-match suspension should not be enough to rob a player of the prestigious award he deserves.
Many of the most popular players in the AFL have been awarded the Brownlow Medal over the years. This includes the aforementioned Chris Grant who is a legend of the Footscray Football Club, which is now known as the Western Bulldogs.
Four players have won the Brownlow Medal three times, namely Dick Reynolds, Bob Skilton, Haydn Bunton Sr. and Ian Stewart. Excluding Skilton, these players also belong to the select group of players to have won the medal two years in a row.
Nine players have been awarded the medal twice. So far, no player has been able to win it more than twice consecutively. The current holder of the Brownlow Medal is Jobe Watson of the Essendon Football Club.
Despite the prestige it carries, the Brownlow Medal has been criticised for a number of things. The issues with the ineligibility criteria have been highlighted.
The major criticism, however, has been that midfield players have won the award virtually every year. This is not surprising given the fact that midfield players are integral to a team’s performance in any game. This is why it has been suggested on numerous occasions that the voting system be changed from field umpires to experts of the game.
The Brownlow Medal ceremony has become an important date on the AFL calendar over the past few years. The ceremony is held five days before the AFL Grand Final takes place in Melbourne at the Crown Casino and Entertainment Complex.
The ceremony is covered extensively on television, namely the Seven Network and Fox Footy, on the radio and in newspapers.
In the days building up to the event, numerous ex-players, journalists and analysts are called to provide their opinions on which player is likely to walk away with the prize on the big night.
The players initially did not pay much attention to styling when attending the event in the days prior to it being broadcasted nationally.
However, in 1977, the award’s winner Graham Teasdale wore a brown velvet tuxedo at the ceremony. This was the first time that a player’s choice of dress for the occasion came into notice.
An important feature of the event has been the dresses worn by the partners of the players to the awards ceremony. This has become a subject of discussion among the fashion circles with gossip columns spinning rumors regarding the designers they are going to be wearing. In 2003, a four-page feature in the Herald Sun detailed the clothes worn by the wives and girlfriends of the players attending the show.
Impact on Winner
The value of the Brownlow Medal has continued to grow through the years. It brings with it a lot of fame and extensive media coverage for the winner and also for the leading contender.
The news surrounding Jobe Watson and his attempt to get a lucrative deal in the wake of his medal is proof of this.
The media and fan pressure also increases as the winner is expected to outdo himself in the next season or so. In some cases, players have been unable to handle the pressure. However, as has been proven by the repeat winners, achieving even more success after winning the medal is quite possible.
Despite all the criticism directed towards it, there is no doubt that the Brownlow Medal remains the pinnacle of individual achievement in the AFL and is going to stay that way for some time to come.
Past Brownlow Medal Winners
|2014||Matt Priddis||West Coast||26|
|2013||Gary Ablett Jr||Gold Coast||28|
|2009||Gary Ablett Jr||Geelong||30|
|2008||Adam Cooney||Western Bulldogs||24|
|2005||Ben Cousins||West Coast||20|
|2004||Chris Judd||West Coast||30|
|2002||Simon Black||Brisbane Lions||25|
|2001||Jason Akermanis||Brisbane Lions||23|
|1998||Robert Harvey||St Kilda||32|
|1997||Robert Harvey||St Kilda||26|
|1983||Ross Glendinning||North Melbourne||24|
|1978||Malcolm Blight||North Melbourne||22|
|1977||Graham Teasdale||South Melbourne||59|
|1974||Keith Greig||North Melbourne||27|
|1973||Keith Greig||North Melbourne||27|
|1970||Peter Bedford||South Melbourne||25|
|1968||Bob Skilton||South Melbourne||24|
|1967||Ross Smith||St Kilda||24|
|1966||Ian Stewart||St Kilda||21|
|1963||Bob Skilton||South Melbourne||20|
|1958||Neil Roberts||St Kilda||20|
|1957||Brian Gleeson||St Kilda||24|
|1955||Fred Goldsmith||South Melbourne||21|
|1935||Haydn Bunton Sr||Fitzroy||24|
|1932||Haydn Bunton Sr||Fitzroy||23|
|1931||Haydn Bunton Sr||Fitzroy||26|
|1925||Colin Watson||St Kilda||9|
|1924||Edward Greeves, Jr.||Geelong||7|