The Last of Jonathan Brown

At 12:00 on Monday, Jonathan Brown announced that his great career would come to an immediate close. Brown has, over the course of his 256 games, gone from being a talented but hot-headed key forward in a great team, to the heart and soul of a club with little to cling to. He bows out a decorated, respected and beloved player and gentleman.

It took an awful lot to get Brown into that press conference – medical advice, family advice, footy writers’ advice, a third baby on the way and the reassurance of his coach and ex-teammate Justin Leppitsch (and that’s just over the last ten days). Really, he could have retired two years ago and no one would have begrudged his decision. The weight of a body slashed by early career knee and hand injuries as well as osteitis pubis had been compounded by a head that endured sickening blows which saw his neck twist and snap at awful angles. That terrible photo of him looking like a night club-bashing victim following his collision with teammate Mitch Clark in 2011 was merely the first of a run that saw him hit by a car, injured in a training accident and, finally, pushed beyond the brink two weeks ago when young Giant Thomas Bugg accidentally ran into Brown’s head as the Lion King dived for a mark. As Brown made his announcement yesterday, the left side of his face was still swollen. It’s scary to think how often he has played with visible injuries from the previous match over the last two weeks.

It was this toughness and courage that defined Brown as a player and a character. Anyone who sniffs that you can’t extrapolate sport to the brutal realities of life never watched him play. For years, Brown displayed the virtue of enduring through difficulty as he became the one constant hope Brisbane harboured. Since the retirement of Michael Voss, Brown has been his club’s beating heart. He has embodied the adage that a champion is someone who gets up when they can’t. All those injuries that set him back and challenged him were overcome again and again until he couldn’t do it anymore. He ignored a four year, $6 million deal from Collingwood in 2006. Simply put? Brown and Brisbane needed each other and always would. He is one of a small handful of AFL players who can be considered heroes.

Brown is the last of the champion traditional centre half forwards. As the role’s requirements have become more complicated, demanding that forwards oscillate between key position, on-ballers and ruckmen, Brown has remained simple. He would lead one way, then another, then into space and mark with defenders floundering at his hip. Twenty metres, thirty metres, forty, fifty out, it didn’t matter. He was a model of goal-kicking technical efficiency; he had an unusually high drop but a perfectly timed follow through. He was AFL’s answer to Glenn McGrath: in Daniel Lane’s biography ‘Line and Strength’, ex-Test cricketer David Hookes commented, “I would rush to take a young fast bowler to watch Glenn McGrath bowl, but why would you go to watch him bowl? He’s just going to concede 2.8 runs per over, take his four wickets and go home.” Brown was the same: you knew that, regardless of injuries and double-teaming, he would have eight marks per game and convert three of four set shots. And if he didn’t? Well, he was worth, even in the weakest Lions line up, two goals. Brown was the leader who lifted those around him.

He wasn’t always. Early in his career, during Brisbane’s golden era of 2000-04, his lapses of discipline, such as in the 2004 Grand Final, saw him distracted and suspended. However, as the years rolled on and that premiership winning team became no more, Brown became a leader. His team needed him. He became a no-fuss Superman: he would stride out with the Lions logo stretched across his torso and young supporters with his number 16 on their backs would point and gasp. Then they would cheer delightedly as he sprinted back with the flight, leapt like an Olympic diver, crashed through a pack and fell to the ground hugging the ball. Then he would kick the goal; he was a champion because he only got better in the big time. He slotted match-winners from long range with ease: jogging back with one calm fist raised in celebration, Statue of Liberty style, while diminutive teammates gaggled around him. He was the AFL’s Hercules who could drag his team over the line even as the opposition threw desperate defenders at him. Life’s lessons were embodied in Brown’s strength.

At his press conference on Monday, Brown opened up in the way he has played his entire career. “If I was waiting for the flame to burn out, I’d be here for a long time” .
No-fuss, sincere and compelling. It is the way he has always been. Yet, even in his last moments as a footballer, it was still great to watch.




About Callum O'Connor

Here's to feelin' good all the time.


  1. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Excellent Callum v well written

  2. “Life’s lessons were embodied in Brown’s strength.”

    And it’s for reasons like these that we follow sport, and cherish its heroes.

    Nice tribute.

  3. Peter Fuller says

    Congratulations on this outstanding tribute, Callum. It captures the measure of a very fine footballer, and as far as one can assess from the outside a fine human being.
    I like the way Browny matured from an excellent young player to the leader when he became last man standing. It’s a great accomplishment that he rarely fell below his high standard of performance, whether playing in a Grand Final in the early years, or in an end-of-season battle between 11th and 13th.
    Just as he has honoured the game, you have proved equal to the task of assessing his place in the pantheon of football greats.

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