Brownlow icon’s call for 16-a-side

September 17, 2020

1957 Brownlow Medallist Brian Gleeson wants to see the AFL revert to a 16-a-side policy.

One of Australian football’s oldest Brownlow Medallists has called on the AFL to cut the number of players on field to 16 per team to free up the game.

Brian Gleeson, the winner of the 1957 Brownlow Medal, has expressed his frustration with too many scrums limiting the brilliance of the game’s best players.

Speaking to the first podcast of the St Patrick’s College Old Collegians Association, Gleeson lamented the way defence-first thinking is limiting the skills of the game.

“I feel for the very good players like (Dustin) Martin at Richmond and (Patrick) Dangerfield at Geelong,” Gleeson said.

“The game is geared to give the defender the advantage.

“People sit on one another in terms of when they go in to grab the ball and they push them and run them into the ground and they’re very tightly held these days. So, their brilliance is probably knocked off a bit.”

Gleeson, who won the Brownlow Medal as a mobile ruckman, said the defensive nature of the rules was eroding the highlights of the game.

“There are too many people around (the ball),” he said.

“They have to move the ball quickly and they have to move it accurately (but) … the game, I think, would be a better game if we had maybe two less players.

“They’re all such talented and skilled and athletic people these days that they cover a lot more ground, do things more quickly, but the skills get covered up a bit when the tackling is so easy in my opinion.”

While not quite the oldest surviving Brownlow Medallist (1958 winner Neil Roberts is marginally older), no man who won a Brownlow before Gleeson is still alive, so he holds a unique place in the game’s history.

Brian Gleeson won the 1957 Brownlow Medal before a knee injury in a pre-season game the following year ruined his VFL career.

As a 23-year-old Brownlow winner, Gleeson was named captain of the Saints for the following season before a pre-season knock to knee proved disastrous.

Three years of ongoing surgeries followed, preventing him from ever playing football at the top level again.

In the podcast interview Gleeson reflects on the incident which wrecked his knee and the mental torment he endured as he tried, in vain, to make a return to the game he loved.

Gleeson also reflects fondly on his days at St Patrick’s College between 1947 and 1952, on the life-long friendships he made and on his extended football career outside the VFL.

He also tells a great story about the unlikely way he discovered he had won the 1957 Brownlow Medal.

Brian Gleeson’s story can be heard at this link or in the player below.