THERE WAS NO red carpet or WAGs, no ceremony, no fuss, when the Brownlow was handed out in the old days. GEOFF POULTER recounts some of the odd quirks in the history of football’s famous medal:
ALBERT COLLIER was painting the battleship grey Herald building in Flinders Street when he learned he’d won the 1929 Brownlow. A VFL emissary stood at the bottom of the ladder to offer him warm congratulations.
This is just one of the weird quirks in the curious history of the medal, particularly from early times. Its history is full of intrigue, mystique and romance.
Many “certainties” have gone under. Long shots have landed the bacon. Experts have seen their selections vote poorly, some favourites polling barely a vote. Winners sometimes miss club best and fairest awards, even All-Australian team selection.
Upsets are now rarer with umpires having access to stats. And it’s obviously become a midfielders’ medal in the past 25 years.
“Leeter” Collier, the painter, was only 20 when he won in 1929. He made his senior debut aged 15 and co-led an aborted players’ strike at 19 when Collingwood talked of cutting pay.
Jack Dyer said “Leeter” was the best Magpie he opposed. After four straight flags, Collier left to coach Cananore (Hobart) FC. He was paid considerably more down in Tassie, with a brewery labouring job thrown in.
Haydn Bunton stood out of the game for 1930 when Carlton was accused of offering him more than the Coulter (maximum payment) Law permitted. Bunton joined Fitzroy and won a Brownlow in his first year.
He repeated in 1932 and won his third in 1935. He ran second by one vote to Dick Reynolds in 1934. Legend has it he told an umpire after the last game: “Well, that’s another three.” It wasn’t and it may have cost him dearly.
Bunton coached Fitzroy in 1936, missed just six games in his six seasons and never played a final. He moved to Perth for three successive Sandover Medals and returned in 1942 to Fitzroy, on army duties, to play just two more games with the Roys.
Born in Sydney, Ivor Warne-Smith, the 1926 and 1928 Brownlow Medallist, fought at Gallipoli as a 17-year-old. He was lured back to the VFL in 1925 (previously just eight games in 1919) aged 27 from his Latrobe (Tasmania) orchard.
Warne-Smith also fought in WW2 in the Middle East. He was initially rejected for military service because of his age (43) before appealing successfully.
Denis (Dinny) Ryan was then the youngest medallist at 19 in 1936. He was switched to centre half-back that season because of his wayward goal-shooting. Ryan was later wounded at Tobruk.
Dr Don Cordner did not receive his 1946 medal until the following March. After sitting outside a monthly league meeting for half an hour, he was welcomed by the League president, Dr W.M.C. McClelland, CBE, JP.
“Player Cordner, you have been adjudged the … here is your medal, long may your interest in our game continue. Goodnight, Mr Cordner.”
By contrast, when Wilfred “Chicken” Smallhorn won the 1933 medal, it was presented on the ground during the Grand Final at half-time, in those days quaintly called “the interval”.
Hawthorn head trainer Ken Goddard appeared in his pyjamas and dressing gown in the Hawthorn committee room soon after Robert DiPierdomenico (1986) delivered the club’s (then) first Brownlow.
Goddard once confided he used hairspray on Peter Hudson’s injured knee. There was a tight budget on medical supplies. And a joke at Hawthorn during the team-first, tough John Kennedy era was that if a player won a Brownlow, he would be cleared immediately. The same would apply to a player who wore a duffel coat.
Alistair Lord was reported during 1962 for striking Richmond’s Bernie Moloney. He claimed it was a case of mistaken identity with his, twin Stewart. Lord was acquitted – and went on to win that year’s medal by a record nine votes.
Players can be suspended in practice, pre-season, state, final, “seconds”, “thirds” and exhibition games and still be eligible to win the Brownlow. But not in the home-and-away rounds.
Historically, FAIREST has been a strong component. In more recent years some rugged performers have won. But many hard-hitting, back-chatting superstars have missed out.
It paid to bite your lip. It might have helped to have blond or red hair, a distinctive style or gait. Or be continually under the umpires’ nose.
And it didn’t hurt to add: “Well umpired today,” as you left the ground.
Author: Geoff Poulter
GEOFF POULTER, 69, has spent 51 years in sports media. He was the last Melbourne Herald chief football writer. CV: Sports oracle, author, historian, impersonator, raconteur, poet, quiz whiz, philosopher, song-writer, intellectual scholar – and still employable!