The Bananarama Brownlow: It ain’t what you do, it’s the way that you do it. Keeping the Fairest in the B&F.

The perennial debate about eligibility for the Brownlow medal is gathering momentum, as Gary Ablett’s injury meets Nate Fyfe’s stellar form. The ghosts of McKernan and Grant are being revived and pundits are bellowing out the for-and-against arguments.

Often, the argument posed that the Brownlow become purely a Best award is based on us moving with the times and modernising the game. The Fairest aspect some say is a historical anachronism, a sign of more innocent times when the award was first struck, and we should not be beholden to that restriction anymore. Times have changed!

The AFL is protective of its brand, and so wants to avoid the embarrassment of awarding the nominal second vote getter and having the leading contender shoved to the side and have his name not uttered on the night.

My view is that this is a major decision for the AFL, an indication on where they stand, and I deeply hope that they do not budge on making the award a purely Best award. To me, fulfilling both criteria is most important, and tinkering with the award will be a bad idea.

Debate will always rage over the Brownlow, even more nowadays as it effectively becomes an award for possessions and restricted to mid-fielders. Just as Matthews, Carey and Whitten never won one, neither will Franklin, for all his ability (to take nothing away from recent and deserving winners.)

But the issues over Essendon, Melbourne and Adelaide in recent years, whilst seemingly unconnected to the issue of Brownlow eligibility, remind me of the need to keep the rules in place.

In essence, the Brownlow rules say that the way you go about doing something is as important as what you actually achieve. This is a growing theme in corporate and business life, and something close to my heart through a career in Human Resources.

Things like values and behaviours are increasing their prominence in the business world. Judgements on a person’s worth to a company, what their contribution is and how they are rewarded and recognised often take their actions into account as much as their outcomes. The end results no longer justify the means, or at least most sensible and mature organisations are moving that way.

Just as much as businesses look at targets, milestones, sales figures and (what gets called in footy and business circles) Key Performance Indicators, so too are the way people act being measured and reviewed.

It is therefore not unusual for seemingly subjective measures to be seen as strongly as objective measures. I have known people to be removed from very senior positions solely on their interpersonal actions regardless of their undoubted skill in actually doing their role. I have seen top sales people lose eligibility for valuable extra rewards, such as overseas trips, based on their behaviour to others. In my company, we do annual reviews of both a person’s KPIs and V&Bs, as I think it should be.

So if the corporate world is getting a conscience, (and trust me, those places are still cut-throat competitive places), is this the time for the AFL to move to judge things solely on performance?

There are plenty of media awards around that judge, as they should, solely on football ability. The Brownlow is judged however by the umpires, those that are there to uphold the laws of the game. The laws of the game include the things you can and cannot do, the things that are seen to be outside the rules enough that mean you suffer suspensions. If you break those rules, you are out of the race, end of story.

Will it be sad if a player is good enough to poll enough votes having missed games due to suspension, but cannot win? Of course it will be. But that doesn’t mean you punish the player who polls enough and is also free of any transgressions.

I accept that the tribunal points system and reprimands, as well as the potential inconsistency of the MRP, are a factor in all this. And debate will rage over the seriousness of certain events that will render a particular player ineligible in a certain year.

However, as long as umpires reward the Brownlow medallist, fairest should be a factor. If we move to purely best, and reward those who have broken the laws of football during the year, we revert to the ends justifies the means.

Whatever your view of what happened to Melbourne over tanking and Adelaide over salary cap breaches, and before then Carlton over the same, and more recently the potential for Essendon to be in trouble, what the AFL said was that their pursuit of success meant they went outside the rules and what was seen as the spirit of the game. The clubs decided that they would do things on the edge to be more successful, and would do whatever it took to win. As a football community, we said no to that. That’s why we frown on staging for free kicks. You might get a positive result, but there’s a larger issue at play of how you went about being successful.

At a time when the AFL is looking to restore pride in its brand, when it is managing issues of governance and cover up, when people have either been suspended, fined or investigated for operating outside the rules, is this a suitable time to move the pinnacle individual award the AFL has to be purely about outcomes, not attitude or behaviour?

The 1980s bought us many things, during the Me or Greed generation. One was a huge focus on the individual in favour of team, with the rise in sports like body building, aerobics and triathlon taking people away from success that was shared with others. We are again at a critical juncture when it comes to how we recognise things. Are we still a society that values anything, or is it just about results?

We are moving towards an unhealthy focus on self, through social media in particular. People want publicity, notoriety, fame and awareness and aren’t concerned about how it occurs. The end justifies the means.

If we move away from Fairest, we focus on the goal, not the journey, the outcome but not how it was achieved.

How you achieve something should be as important as what you achieve. It shouldn’t be a drag to have to be the best and also not breach the rules.

Otherwise, restore Armstrong’s Tour de France wins, as the win is all that matters, not how he did it. Give the Coleman to the bloke who collectively kicked the most goals and points combined, because that’s the overall outcome. Wimbledon goes to the person who won the most points not sets.

Give the Brownlow to the guy that plays the best but behaves the worst.

The AFL has a choice. Cave in and say it is all about the outcome, or stick to tradition and say that the way you win is as important as winning.

If they do that, they will actually be moving with the times, not against it.

About Sean Curtain

"He was born with a gift of laughter, and a sense that the world was mad". First line of 'Scaramouche' by Sabatini, always liked that.


  1. Cat from the Country says

    While it is called the Best & Fairest then that is what it must be.
    How can someone reported and suspended be claimed the fairest?.
    If Gary Abblet has the most votes at the end of the season and no suspensions then the medal goes to him.
    If someone plays the whole season, has most votes and no suspensions, then it is tough luck for the player who could not pay the whole season.
    Don’t stuff up the Brownlow. It is Fairest and Best!!!

  2. Skip of Skipton says

    I support the Fairest and Best system; it is unfortunate in the case of Fyfe that something considered a good hip and shoulder only a few years ago will see him ineligible, and also the fact that Goodes and Franklin and others could commit acts indistinguishable from Fyfe’s and avoid impunity.

    The MRP is horrible and is a layer of bureaucracy that needn’t exist. It seems to change the goal posts on what is an offence weekly, depending what side of bed it got out of. Leave all reporting to umpires when it happens, there are 10 of them out there.

    Don’t get me started on the disgrace that was Chris Grant’s suspension in ’97.

  3. Malcolm Ashwood says

    I am in favour of b and f but re this 1 I think the problem is the whole football community think that , Fyfe has been crucified for what was a very minor incident to be suspended for let alone lose the ,Brownlow if he had performed a act such as
    Vickery there would not be any sympathy or such a discussion to this extent going on
    ( as a umpire whether umpires are the right people to give votes is another matter )
    Thanks Sean

  4. I think the brownlow medal needs a overhaul,if umpires give it to the best players for that round,it should stay that way,reported or not,so at the end of the season the player with the most umpire,s votes win weather he has been reported or not.and it can be changed to the best afl player of the season rather than best & fairest.

  5. the Brownlow is worth whatever value you put on it. Anachronistic or not, it is an institution and the Umps award. Leave it at that. Part of the footy landscape, no one seriously thinks it defines a player (or not). Carey and EJ will always be rated above John James and Brian Wilson but no mugs win and it is a good “pub chat” topic.

  6. Dave Brown says

    Don’t think Channel 7 would mind as long as they get the WAGs on the red carpet. No doubt they’ll find a way to work that into the scoring system.

  7. DBalassone says

    I agree in principal with your views Sean, but I’d like to see something put in place for minor, accidental infringements like Fyfe’s to be graded as such in terms of Brownlow eligibility and thus for him to be eligible to win it.

    Having said that, Footscray and North fans are kidding themselves if they think Grant and McKernan were unlucky. Grant got Holland a beauty with a crude, late fist to the head, and McKernan unquestionably dropped his knees into the Geelong player on that night (I can’t remember, was it Barnes) and could well have caused a serious injury given his size. Fyfe on the other hand did was 99 out of every 100 players would have done – it was not an act of malice.

    On the subject of McKernan and Grant polling so many votes in those years, I’ve always found it a bit suspicious. Neither was half as good a player as Carey.

  8. the brownlow medal should have been replaced with the most valuable player award when they changed from the vfl to afl,most afl players do not rate the brownlow as a lot of umpires have there own favourite players pets,the AFLPA is now regarded the award to win by most afl players as they all get to vote,

  9. Skip of Skipton says

    Grant was stiff. The umpire paid a free against him, and obviously deemed it unworthy of a report. The camera can lie sometimes.


  11. Fyfe is a wonderfully skilled ball player.
    Who plays for Fremantle.
    Guilty as charged.

  12. Thanks all. Interesting that the discussion seems to move a bit towards what Fyfe did specifically, rather than the general nature of his suspension and eligibiity.

    It will be a shame if the inconsistencies of the MRP lead to this change in tradition.

    We seem in parts to be advocating a half-pregnant solution. You can be suspended and still win, if the suspension is seen to be trivial or not much. So Lake, Vickery, Conca and Merrett can’t win, but nice Nat Fyfe can?

    A suspension is a suspension. He didn’t play after being found guilty. We can remonstrate all we like, but if we start to split hairs, we’ll be going back and reversing the Hawkins poster in the Saints GF, Rocca’s suppossed point in the Lions GF and even Wayne Harmes.

    You can’t have a good bloke test, saying that some incidents mean you miss a game but still stay eligible, just because we all admire Fyfe or the MRP made a ‘mistake’.

    It will be a shame, but if he polls the most, he hasn’t fulfilled the criteria and so can’t win.


  13. Skip of Skipton says

    For the umpteenth time, the Hawkins poster was reversed/rectified/corrected promptly there after (on the stroke of half-time) with a soft double-goal against Milburn for swearing at the umpire. If anything Geelong are owed a point from that match.


  15. Stainless says

    The concept of “fairness” in this thread seems to revolve around whether or not players have committed reportable offences. There seems to be no consideration of other aspects of “fair” or “sporting” behaviour. Do issues such as teamwork, respect for one’s opponent or any other attributes that better the game come into this?

    An interesting comparison here can be drawn between G. Ablett Snr and Jnr.

    IMO, GAS was the most freakishly brilliant, exciting player I’ve ever seen – the “best” if you like. I would go to matches just to watch him. But for all his spectacular play, he never won a Brownlow and I reckon that’s fair enough. Leaving aside the violent aspects of his game, he didn’t ever command any leadership positions, didn’t “give back” to the game and was not the sort of player you’d rely on in crunch situations. For all these reasons, I contend that he didn’t pass the “fairest” test.

    GAJ by contrast ticks all these boxes to the point where, even if you still rate his dad as the better player in terms of sheer brilliance (and this I admit is highly debatable), he is light years ahead on the “fairest” count and therefore, a worthy Brownlow recipient.

  16. Peter Fuller says

    I’m agnostic on the main issue Sean raises, as I find convincing arguments on both sides of the debate.
    My sense that a modification might be justified is that the umpires should be (are) conscious of players’ respecting the spirit of the game in allocating their votes. In other words, the vote winners in each game should reflect the fairest and best criteria.
    Given the perceived inconsistencies of the MRP’s decisions, maybe it is sufficient to say that a player who over the season is judged fairest and best with sufficient frequency to secure the highest number of votes is the most worthy winner.

  17. On behalf of the Conspiracy Theorists Collective, I hereby state that the Collective knows nothing of the poster ‘Andrew’, does not endorse his theories, and has strong suspicions that his main purpose in posting on this thread is to give the Collective and its bona fide members a bad name by association.

    (Hmm….pretty sure Judd brought one of his Medals to Carlton with him, same with whatsisname, had a substance issue or two, and a bad tattoo, ended up at Richmond, Ben something I think. That’s two in the last 10 years.)


  19. DBalassone says

    Believe it or not, there’s already a precedent set whereby suspended players can still in the Brownlow – if you are suspended for time-wasting.

    The clause was added in the mid-80s. So surely it should be no issue for the AFL to add a clause to allow players suspended for ‘accidental’ infringements to be eligible to take Charlie home.

  20. David Zampatti says

    What? Those filthy time-wasters can still win the Brownlow?? For shame! Nathan Fyfe has never wasted a second in his life.

    Except by accident.

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