The Roar
The Roar


Time to throw the Brownlow open to all comers

13th August, 2015
1163 Reads

For years I defended the purity of the Brownlow medal. I waxed lyrical about its sacredness and fawned over the word ‘fairest’ in its description.

I particularly liked the way the word ‘fairest’ came before the word ‘best’, setting it apart from most other awards. Like a gigantic moral compass it swung its needle towards scrupulously fair players such as Dick Reynolds and little Bobby Skilton.

There was the odd glitch of course, like when Dipper won it in ’86, but for the most part uncouth villains like Dyer, Whitten or Brereton were never in the hunt.

I must admit I wavered slightly in my holy belief when Chris Grant was denied in 1997. If ever someone deserved the accolade of being lauded as the competition’s ‘fairest and best’ player it was him.

Instead he was ineligible after being found guilty of an offence that was little more than incidental contact.

Grant was one of football’s gentlemen, and I was devastated for him. But I also felt sorry for Robert Harvey who was forced to accept the award that night despite not polling the most votes.

His interview with Bruce McAvaney post count was awkward and flat. It was a horrible situation. While the rules stated that Harvey had won the Brownlow, it didn’t feel as though he was the rightful winner. Even the man himself acknowledged that it felt more like a consolation prize than the real thing.

Just a year earlier, Corey McKernan also missed out on taking Charlie home after being found guilty of an indiscretion, but the fact that he would have been an equal winner and not an outright winner, lessened the overall impact of the situation.


James Hird and Michael Voss were able to step forward and accept their medals with the knowledge that they would have been there anyway, regardless of McKernan’s eligibility status, an honour that was denied the hapless Harvey in 1997.

Fortunately for Harvey he did poll the most votes a year later, winning by eight from Nathan Buckley. It was as if the Footy Gods were trying to put things right.

But the Footy Gods can only do so much. As time passed and players began to get reported and suspended for incidents that would have barely earned a free kick historically, some of the games greatest stars suddenly found themselves ineligible to win due to being involved in negligent rather than unfair play or because of incidental contact.

Where once players were only suspended for hardcore offences, now they could find themselves in hot water because of an accident.

The dreaded asterisk, that symbol of doom which appears next to ineligible players’ names on Brownlow night rendering their votes worthless, began to make its presence felt at the top of the leader boards.

Time and again the footy world would hold its collective breath as ineligible players raced to an early lead or made a late surge during the count.

Thankfully the cleanskins have prevailed and we haven’t had a repeat of the 1997 debacle, but it is more through luck than good management despite the AFL tinkering with the eligibility rules.


Now a player can be found guilty of an offence but still win the Brownlow, depending upon the charge. While this is a step forward from the previous blanket ban on any player suspended, it can cause confusion, and cries of bias are not uncommon if a hot favourite suddenly finds himself free to play after a contentious incident.

So finally, after 40 years of following this great game and holding the Brownlow medal voting criteria in high esteem, I have changed my mind.

The time is right to finally open up the medal to everyone, whether they have been suspended or not. You wouldn’t even have to change the description of the award.

Fairest and best would still suffice because the days of outright thuggery on a football field are over and deliberate acts of violence are thankfully few and far between. As such it would be highly unlikely that a grossly ‘unfair’ player would win the medal anyway.

The AFL coaches agree. In a recent survey more than half of them thought that suspended players should still be eligible to win and it would be interesting to find out what the players themselves think.

I’m all for it.

What do my fellow Roarers think?