Brian Wilson – 1982 Australian Rules Brownlow Medal Winner
Brian Wilson, the 1982 Brownlow Medal winner for the Melbourne Demons, resembles the 1980 winner, Kelvin Templeton, for the regard that Wilson was another player who, over the course of his career, seldom attracted much Brownlow attention.
When he did win the Charlie in 1982, his 23 vote total was five better than the 18 votes North Melbourne’s Ross Glendinning received, seven ahead of 1975 Brownlow winner Gary Dempsey of North Melbourne, and eight more than South Melbourne’s Barry Round, who shared the Brownlow with Bernie Quinlan of Fitzroy in 1981. Wilson was the first player to win the Brownlow on his third club. He is believed to be the only player to do so and he was, at 20 years of age, the youngest player to win the Brownlow since Bob Skilton in 1959.
Yet, despite being in fine company and deserving when he won the Brownlow in 1982, in the season prior, playing for the Roos of North Melbourne, he received only a solitary vote and during the 1983 season, his second with the Demons, he attracted only two. That is quite a rise, followed by quite a drop, in the perception of his contributions, even though his playing time was roughly equivalent.
Wilson (30 September 1961) was an early bloomer, making his debut with Footscray two months before his 17th birthday in a Round 5 game against the Essendon Bombers on 29 April 1978 at the Western Oval. Footscray won that game; Wilson kicked his first goal. He would have expressed the honour he felt playing alongside Gary Dempsey and Kelvin Templeton, who kicked two and four goals respectively.
Unfortunately for Wilson and the rest of the Footscray side, that win was the only one they experienced with Wilson on the ground. He played in Rounds 6 and 7, and then did not get back on until Round 19, when it was obvious that Footscray’s prospects for the finals were nonexistent. The side finished 11th on what was at the time a 12-team ladder, narrowly avoiding a wooden spoon thanks to Melbourne’s even greater ineptitude. Wilson kicked two more goals, not awful given the position he played, but the statistic that jumps out is that his free kicks for versus his free kicks against was disproportionately skewed towards the latter, even making allowances for his limited appearances.
His time on the ground did not improve for the 1979 season. He played in five games and kicked two goals, had 7 marks and 50 disposals. He played in Rounds 1, 6, 7, 8 and 18. The side won only once in those five games, but they did improve to ninth on the ladder ahead of South Melbourne, Melbourne and St. Kilda.
It seems as though Wilson was bothered by weight issues and did not live up to the potential Footscray had placed upon him. Footscray delisted him, making way for him to join on with the North Melbourne Kangaroos for the 1980 season. It was quite a promotion for him, as the Roos finished second in 1979 and won a qualifying final over Collingwood, and then made it to the Grand Final, but lost to Carlton.
Wilson may have had a wake-up call in being delisted by Footscray and the arguments could certainly be put forward that being out of condition, along with being so young to be playing senior football, contributed to his demotion, but more positively resulted in his treating his opportunity with the Roos as a true boon. He showed up in much better form for the 1980 season and his statistics bear that out. He played 21 games that year and tallied 12 goals, 69 marks and 430 disposals, which averages to over 20 per game.
He would truly have enjoyed the feeling of playing on a strong side, which is not in any way meant to suggest that he dogged it with Footscray, for the Roos finished 4th, qualifying for the finals. Wilson certainly acquitted himself in the elimination final with Collingwood, but the Roos went down to the Tigers in an 8-point squeaker that was in play all the way from the first bounce until the siren.
North Melbourne slipped to eighth in 1981. Wilson’s 1981 season compares equally to 1980, but he only got one Brownlow vote after three in 1980.
It came as a surprise when Wilson again switched clubs for the 1982 season. He signed on with the Demons in what was a lateral move in terms of team standing, but it was a good personal move for him, gauging by his Brownlow recognition. He did set his career marks across the board and his 582 disposals was a career number. He played in all but Round 19 and kicked 27 goals. The leap in his play must have been phenomenal considering his jump from one to 23 Brownlow votes. Even though the Melbourne side was not relevant, Wilson managed to better his decent 1981 numbers by a factor of two or more.
It would almost appear, based on Brownlow votes that Wilson dropped completely off the radar in 1983. He received only two votes, despite playing in the same number of games. His marks and disposals were only slightly off from the year prior and he kicked 39 goals, an all-time high to that point and just one less than the 40 he kicked in 1985 as Melbourne’s leader in that category. It is almost enough to make one suspect that Best and Fairest are highly subjective attributes.
Wilson’s next finals appearance came in a 1987 elimination finals thrashing of North, and then semifinal win against the recently relocated South Melbourne Swans to Sydney, followed by a preliminary final lost to Hawthorn in which he kicked two goals.
He nearly realised team glory in 1988, as the Roos made it to the Grand Final. After tight games in the first three rounds, Melbourne had earned the chance to play, who else, Hawthorn in the Grand Final, where the Hawks outscored the Roos nearly three-to-one. Wilson was not especially visible in the game statistically, but then, neither was anyone else from his side.
Two more seasons with Melbourne followed, but Wilson was limited to 13 appearances in 1990.
He chose to try to stay in the league with St. Kilda in 1991, even though morally that would have been a letdown. The Saints apparently felt that his better days were behind him, playing him only seven times. Five of those seven resulted in losses on a Saints side that was good enough to make the finals at fourth. They then lost an elimination final to Geelong where the Saints were actually in the lead at the half before surrendering the third by one and the fourth by seven, resulting in a seven-point margin for the Cats. Wilson did not get on for that.
The final highlight of his career would have been the six goals he kicked in a Round 3 win over his old Demons side.
In his 14 seasons, he got on 209 times and averaged just under 20 disposals per. He was recognised with a state guernsey in 1982, 83 and 88.