Half a century of Brownlow medallists – how do they stack up?

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BROWNLOW MEDAL SPECIAL: You see a lot of champion footballers in 50 years – especially on Brownlow medal night. Chief Writer RON REED and his colleagues have seen more than most and are willing to put their opinions of them on the line:

WHEREVER HE IS, former St Kilda rover Ross Smith is probably looking forward to Brownlow Medal night. To him, it will be a mighty milestone, one worthy of a quiet celebratory toast – it is 50 years since he claimed footy’s most esteemed individual award in 1967. Here at Sportshounds, we remember it like it was yesterday – well, some of us do.

In that half-century, there have been precisely 50 medallists. That, happily, is a neat arithmetical outcome given that some of them have “taken Charlie home” more than once and some years there has been more than one winner, or even more than two. So, 50 years, 50 Brownlow medallists – and countless opinions on how they stack up against each other. By definition, they’re all champions – if not necessarily on a career-long basis in a few cases, then certainly for the season in which they out-performed everyone else in the eyes of the umpires.

Other than being superb players, many of them have very little in common with each other. Tony Lockett and Tony Liberatore share a name but couldn’t be more different in every other way. Jim Stynes wasn’t an Australian and didn’t grow up playing footy so how can he possibly be compared to, say, James Hird, the son and grandson of men who played for one of the great traditional clubs and a natural-born genius of the game? Adam Goodes is an indigenous role model who became Australian of the Year for his community work off the field, which is in stark, sad contrast to Ben Cousins, whose long battle with drug addiction and its consequences need no elaboration here. Footy is like life in general, it takes all types.

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That’s why comparing great footballers – or champions of any other sport – is such a popular pastime. Everybody has an opinion and more often than not nobody is either unequivocally right or definitely wrong. Like any other form of beauty, it is in the eye of the beholder. It does help, though, if you have lived through all the arguments, in the pub, around the barbecue and at work, for a very long time. And if you’ve been doing that professionally, with your opinions and judgments constantly under scrutiny from the world at large, then you’re possibly slightly ahead of the game.

Here’s hoping so, anyway, because I have been joined by five colleagues – Greg Hobbs, Scot Palmer, Rod Nicholson, Geoff Poulter and Ken Piesse – to tackle the impossible task: we are attempting to rank the past 50 Brownlow medallists in order, with one to be nominated as the best and most valuable of them all. Between us, we have about 600 years of dirt on our boots as sportswriters with Melbourne newspapers and we have all seen every one of the 50 play, in most cases for their entire careers. Even so, it is a daunting assignment. “This exercise is treacherous. It will be unfair to some and maybe too kind to others,” writes Hobbs, a former editor of the old Sporting Globe and chief football writer of the evening daily, The Herald. “I shudder when I look at the players with lowly ratings. They are too good to be treated in this manner.” I concur wholeheartedly.

There are no rules in place in making the assessments. We have considered their overall careers, how well they played in their winning years, the degree of difficulty of the position they held down, the impact their Brownlow form had on their team’s fortunes, their consistency in polling votes year after year – and, as often as not, our simple personal preference and clarity of recall over so many years. Perhaps even club allegiances have intruded slightly. As a Carlton supporter, I confess to having a soft spot for both Greg Williams and Chris Judd, who each won their second medals playing with the Blues, where they were constantly under my appreciative gaze.

Ian Stewart and Bob Skilton each have three medals, two of which, in each case, were won before 1967, our cut-off point. That’s a grey area, but we have allowed the voters to take a positive view of this rather than a negative one – in other words, they are regarded as triple medallists not one-offs. There are seven dual medallists – Williams, Judd, Gary Ablett junior, Keith Greig, Robert Harvey, Goodes and Peter Moore – who obviously demand keen consideration. And in another statistical quirk which has little or nothing to do with the rankings, exactly half the winners, 25 of them, played with more than one club – indeed, one of them, Brian Wilson, played with four, Footscray, North Melbourne, Melbourne (where he won the medal) and St Kilda.

Each writer will present his list, 1 to 50, over the next six days and we will then apply a points formula to declare an overall result, which will be unveiled next Monday, Brownlow Medal day.

50 years of Brownlow Medal Winners

VFL/AFL Brownlow Medal winners from 1967-2016
YearWinner(s)
1967Ross Smith (St Kilda)
1968Bob Skilton (South Melbourne)
1969Kevin Murray (Fitzroy)
1970Peter Bedford (South Melbourne)
1971Ian Stewart (Richmond)
1972Len Thompson (Collingwood)
1973Keith Greig (North Melbourne)
1974Keith Greig (North Melbourne)
1975Gary Dempsey (Footscray)
1976Graham Moss (Essendon)
1977Graham Teasdale (South Melbourne)
1978Malcolm Blight (North Melbourne)
1979Peter Moore (Collingwood)
1980Kelvin Templeton (Footscray)
1981Bernie Quinlan (Fitzroy) Barry Round (Sydney)
1982Brian Wilson (Melbourne)
1983Ross Glendinning (North Melbourne)
1984Peter Moore (Melbourne)
1985Brad Hardie (Footscray)
1986Robert DiPierdomenico (Hawthorn), Greg Williams (Sydney)
1987Tony Lockett (St Kilda), John Platten (Hawthorn)
1988Gerard Healy (Sydney)
1989Paul Couch (Geelong)
1990Tony Liberatore (Footscray)
1991Jim Stynes (Melbourne)
1992Scott Wynd (Footscray)
1993Gavan Wanganeen (Essendon)
1994Greg Williams (Carlton)
1995Paul Kelly (Sydney)
1996James Hird (Essendon), Michael Voss (Brisbane)
1997Robert Harvey (St Kilda)
1998Robert Harvey (St Kilda)
1999Shane Crawford (Hawthorn)
2000Shane Woewodin (Melbourne)
2001Jason Akermanis (Brisbane)
2002Simon Black (Brisbane)
2003Nathan Buckley (Collingwood), Adam Goodes (Sydney), Mark Ricciuto (Adelaide)
2004Chris Judd (West Coast)
2005Ben Cousins (West Coast)
2006Adam Goodes (Sydney)
2007Jimmy Bartel (Geelong)
2008Adam Cooney (Western Bulldogs)
2009Gary Ablett (Geelong)
2010Chris Judd (Carlton)
2011Dane Swan (Collingwood)
2012Trent Cotchin (Richmond), Sam Mitchell (Hawthorn)
2013Gary Ablett (Gold Coast)
2014Matt Priddis (West Coast)
2015Nat Fyfe (Fremantle)
2016Patrick Dangerfield (Geelong)

Read Greg Hobbs pick of the top fifty

 

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Author: Ron Reed

RON REED has spent more than 50 years as a sportswriter or sports editor, mainly at The Herald and Herald Sun. He has covered just about every sport at local, national and international level, including multiple assignments at the Olympic and Commonwealth games, cricket tours, the Tour de France, America’s Cup yachting, tennis and golf majors and world title fights.

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