Each year on the last Monday night of the season, one (in most cases) lucky AFL footballer is awarded the highest individual accolade the game has to offer. Ahead of the 2019 Brownlow count taking place later tonight, 105 ‘Charles Brownlow Trophies’ have been awarded to 87 different players over 91 counts. That means there are bound to be some footballing icons that missed out on claiming ‘the Charlie’ with this list of players the most decorated stars who’ve failed to take out the award.
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By the time tonight’s count is over Scott Pendlebury will find himself inside the top-10 for career Brownlow votes, and yet, the prestigious medal continues to allude Pendles. It’s about the only award Pendlebury hasn’t won in his 301 game career, with a premiership, Norm Smith Medal and multiple All-Aus/B&F nods to his name. Much like another midfield maestro over the past decade, Pendlebury found himself competing with his teammates like Dane Swan (the 2011 winner) and Steele Sidebottom (runner up in 2018) for votes, hurting his chances of taking out the medal. With three top-5 finishes to his name, all coming in the early 2010’s, there’s a chance Pendles has missed his window.
For as long as I can remember the Brownlow Medal has been a midfielder’s award, with some power forwards claiming the honour through the ’70’s and ’80’s. However, defenders are hardly ever considered for the honour, with Ted Witten, just one of the elite backmen who deserved a look in. Named as the captain of the AFL Team of the Century at centre-half back, Whitten’s versatility allowed for him to feature at centre-half forward as well, leading to 111 Brownlow votes over a stellar career spanning two decades. Whitten was only close to winning the award once in his 20 pro seasons – tying for second place in 1959. However, that result came in a year where Bob Skilton and Verdun Howell were joint winners and three other players finished in second with Whitten on 14 votes.
You would think the all-time games record holder would be able to put forth a coercive case as the owner of the most prolific AFL career ever. Brent ‘Boomer’ Harvey broke Michael Tuck’s games played record in 2016 during what turned out to be his final season at North and his last one in the AFL. A decade before he reached that milestone he was competing with the rest of footy’s stars to claim a “Charlie” with Harvey entering the 2007 count as one of the raging favourites to win the medal. He recorded 22 votes, the highest tally of his career, but was left to settle for second behind Geelong’s Jimmy Bartel and never got that close to winning again, even though he currently sits 8th all-time for career Brownlow votes.
Boomer wasn’t the only premier Kangaroo who failed to claim a Brownlow with flamboyant forward Wayne Carey well and truly worthy. Perhaps the most dominant player to play during the ’90’s, Carey captained the Roos to two premierships as the club built their game plan around the matchwinner. Seven times acknowledged as an All-Australian, Carey regularly polled double-digit votes while at the peak of his powers, however, he failed to record a top-3 finish over the duration of his career. His best finish came in 1993 when he settled for fourth just two votes less than winner Gavin Wanganeen. Carey’s swagger and aggressive persona on the field led to a handful of suspensions ruling him ineligible in ’92 and ’94 as well, with the man affectionately known as ‘The King’ never claiming the elusive crown he so desired.
The name Barassi is synonymous with Australian football. Ron Barassi Jr had a profound impact on the sport during both his coaching and playing days, becoming the first person to ever garner ‘Legend’ status in the Australian Football Hall of Fame. Named as the rover in the AFL’s Team of the Century, it’s fair to say Barassi’s playing career was a successful one, winning six flags with Melbourne (including two as captain) before claiming another four as the coach of Carlton and North Melbourne in the ’60’s and ’70’s. However, for all the success Barassi had, he never attracted the attention of the umpires failing to poll more than 13 votes in any season and recording a criminally low career vote tally of 72.
Kevin Bartlett is one of the most famous names in football, with the Richmond legend’s resume one of the most impressive in the sport. A proven winner, Bartlett helped claim five flags with the Tigers with the sub-six-foot icon kicking more goals in his career (778 to be exact) than forwards like Brendan Fevola, Peter Hudson, Barry Hall and the aforementioned Wayne Carey. Even though he kicked a career-best 80 goals in his final season in 1980, Bartlett failed to register Brownlow attention polling just nine votes that season.
It was a theme that dominated his career, with KB failing to swipe the medal in the last game of the ’78 season, settling for second to Graham Teasdale in ’77 and failing to top Keith Craig in ’74. In that count, Tigers officials were so upset by Bartlett being overlooked that a scuffle broke out between them and North Melbourne officials who were seated next to one another! Bartlett inspired a generation of footballers and was a cultural phenom during his career, but he couldn’t command the attention of the umpires and claim the league’s highest individual honour.
Image from afl.com.au
Like I talked about with Pendlebury above, Selwood has been forced to battle teammates for the award rather than peers from other teams, with fellow Cats Jimmy Bartel (2007), Gary Ablett (2009) and Patrick Dangerfield (2016) all beating him to the punch. 2013 was Joel Selwood’s best chance to take out the Charlie, with the Geelong superstar entering the night as one of the favourites for the award. However, his former teammate Gary Ablett walked away as the winner, with Selwood finishing just one vote shy of victory.
It’s fitting that one of the most decorated players to never win the medal sits second all-time for two-vote performances with 37 such games to his name. There’s a chance he’ll have a few more of them during the 2019 count and if Selwood polls eight or more votes tonight, he’ll overtake Leigh Matthews for the most career votes without a Brownlow win.
Speaking of the Hawthorn champion, I think it’s fair to say that Lethal is the greatest footballer to ever lace ’em up and not win the Charles Brownlow Trophy. Eight best and fairest’s, four premierships and a VFLPA MVP trophy win in 1982 (an award that would later be named after Leigh Matthews) are just some of the notable achievements that Matthews compiled over the duration of his 332 game AFL career. Despite his pint-sized stature, Matthews thrived in the league as a rover-forward winning the ’75 Coleman Medal as the league’s leading goalkicker, six times kicking 70 or more majors.
All these awards and on-field success didn’t amount to much joy on Brownlow night, with Matthews’ third-placed finish in 1973 his highest positioning in the standings. Voted as the best player of the 20th century by the AFL, Matthews’ rugged, rough style of play potentially turned off a few umpires who may have adjudged his as the “best” player, but not always the “fairest”.
Image from heraldsun.com.au
Gary Ablett Snr
Some AFL fans who don’t view Leigh Matthews as the greatest footballer ever instead gift their vote to Gary Ablett Snr. The man who once kicked 375 goals in a three-year window is undeniably one of the best forwards in footballing history and his career achievements are a testament to that. During that same three-year period though, Ablett managed to poll just 31 Brownlow votes, a low total considering he claimed three Coleman Medals and was awarded the 1993 Leigh Matthews MVP trophy during that span. Only three times did Ablett Snr finish a season with double-digit votes and his 104th placed current finish on the all-time Brownlow leaderboard doesn’t do him justice. The Ablett name can be found on the leaderboard a few times thanks to his son’s achievements, but Snr deserved to take home a medal of his own.
Forever the bridesmaid on Brownlow night, Scott West made a career out of falling short in his pursuit for the famous accolade. Five times the legendary Bulldog managed to finish inside the top-4, including two seasons were West was the runner up, only to watch another player win the award. He deserved to take out at least one of those close counts, with the 2000 count probably the one he’ll lose sleep over, tied with Shane Woewodin heading into the final round only to see the Demon unexpectedly polled two votes to take the lead from West. While a Brownlow is missing from his trophy cabinet, West still owns plenty of noteworthy hardware, including his club-record seven Charles Sutton Medals as the Western Bulldogs’ best and fairest player – highlighting just how incredibly consistent West was during his AFL tenure.