The Charles Brownlow Trophy is an individual award given to the player judged fairest and best in the League during the home-and-away season. Determined by votes cast by the officiating umpires after each game, it is considered the highest honour for individual players in the AFL.
|1924||Edward Greeves Jr.||7|
|1931||Haydn Bunton Sr.||26|
|1932||Haydn Bunton Sr.||23|
|1935||Haydn Bunton Sr.||24|
|2009||Gary Ablett Jr.||30|
|2013||Gary Ablett Jr.||28|
The three field umpires (those umpires who control the flow of the game, as opposed to goal or boundary umpires) confer after each match and award three votes, two votes and one vote to the players they regard as the best, second best and third best in the match, respectively. The votes are kept secret until the awards night, and are read and tallied on the evening.
As of 2019 it has been awarded 106 times to 87 different players in 91 medal counts.
The medal has been awarded every year since 1924, with the exception of an intermission from 1942–1945 as a mark of respect to soldiers fighting overseas in World War II.
From 1930 to 1980, a countback system was used to determine the winner in the event of a tie. In 1930, Judkins was awarded the medal as he had played in the fewest games.
From 1931 to 1980, with the introduction of 3-2-1 voting, the winner was the player with the most three-vote games.
In 1980, the countback system was removed, and in the event of a tie, players have been considered joint winners.
In 1989, the then VFL awarded retrospective medals to all players who had tied but lost on countback prior to 1980.
The ceremony is currently held at Crown Casino and Entertainment Complex in Melbourne on the Monday five days prior to the AFL Grand Final.
The award ceremony has become increasingly elaborate, with footballers and their dates gradually becoming more fashion-conscious. This aspect of the night has become widely reported by gossip columns.
Only once since the award's inception in 1924 has the count been held outside of Melbourne, when it was held in Sydney in 1999.
In years past, prospective Grand Final players have attended the ceremony in person, but in recent years non-Victorian Grand Final teams have declined to attend the ceremony due to the inconvenience of travel in such an important week; a live video link to Brownlow functions in their home city is done instead.
The event itself consists of the votes for each match being read out in succession by the CEO of the AFL, currently Gillon McLachlan, interspersed with a retrospective look at highlights from each round of the season and commentary from the broadcast network's usual football commentary team.
The integrity of the award is upheld by the tight security and secrecy surrounding the votes. Once the umpires make their decision, the votes are locked away and transported by armoured security vehicles.
No one except the three umpires knows exactly who has been voted for, and as different umpires vote on different games, no one can be sure of who will win.
Unlike most award ceremonies, the votes are not tallied or even opened until they are actually announced on the night, so the drama is maintained until late on the actual night, when the result sometimes comes down to the final round of votes.
From 1959 until 1974 radio stations including 3UZ, 3KZ and 3AW broadcast the vote counts. SEN 1116 now covers the count. Direct television telecasts began in 1970, when the venue was the Dallas Brooks Hall, and have occurred every year since.
Some bookmakers offer betting on the winner of the Brownlow Medal. A number of well-publicised plunges on supposed winners has led to increasingly elaborate security measures to ensure the Brownlow votes are kept secret until the vote count.