2023 Queensland Hall of Fame – Jonathan Brown

In Round 14 1981 Fitzroy beat South Melbourne at Lake Oval by 14 points. It was Robert Walls’ 14th game as coach as the great Bernie Quinlan played his 249th game in the 250th of great mate and South champion Barry Round, with whom he would share the Brownlow Medal three months later.

So what? Playing his 50th game in the back pocket for Fitzroy was 23-year-old Brian Brown. It was his penultimate game for Fitzroy. Just enough, with one to spare, for the Brisbane Lions to claim one of the all-time greats.

At the time the criteria for father/son selections was only 50 games. So, Jonathan Brown, born in Port Fairy and raised on the family farm at Bushfield, a town of about 500 located 10km north of Warrnambool, became a Brisbane Lion as a father/son pick in the 1999 National Draft.

But it nearly didn’t happen. In 1998, when each club was allowed to draft one 17-year-old, Hawthorn had targeted Brown. And Brisbane, who had just appointed Leigh Matthews as coach, had already committed their #1 pick to West Australian Des Headland.

Two weeks before the draft, young Brown sat in his father’s office at school, where he was a teacher, and discussed the options. Did he roll the dice in the draft or wait 12 months, finish school and go to the Lions?

Brown remembers the conversation well.

“Leigh had just signed and Dad said ‘He’ll be unbelievable for your football career. They’ve got a really good list and are going places.’

“It was a great foresight on a club that had just won the wooden-spoon, and history says they were pretty prophetic words.”

It was a moment in Brisbane history as important as any. An All-Australian Under-18 selection from the Geelong Falcons in 1999, he was a triple AFL premiership player at 21 and a legend in the making.

Brow was the star Brisbane needed at the time, a weekly columnist in The Courier-Mail and a regular on Channel 9, building a profile matched only by that which followed post-career.

If there was an early defining moment in his 256-game career it was his AFL Mark of the Year in his 50th game in Round 17 2002 against Hawthorn at the MCG. Not the sort of spectacular high mark which invariably wins such awards but a team-lifting chest mark that was courage personified.

Running with the flight of the ball after Aaron Shattock had bombed it long from the centre, he threw caution and self-preservation out the window as he hurled himself into incoming traffic, clutching the ball to his chest as he took out Hawk defender Jade Rawlings. Having played in the Reserves the week before after a two-week injury layoff, the big #16 allowed himself a brief smile as he was mobbed by teammates, shook off the impact of the collision, and potted the goal from 40m.

It was typical Brown and why in part he captained the Lions from 2007-13, initially in a group and for the last five years outright. An inspirational leader, always team first, always up for a fight, just like his triple premiership captain Michael Voss.

After going without a statistic on debut – 0 kicks, 0 marks, 0 handballs – Brown was a key figure in the 2001-02-03 flags. As mobile as a midfielder, so strong overhead and a beautiful kick for goal, he was the perfect link between the midfield ‘Fab Four’ of Voss, Simon Black, Nigel Lappin and Jason Akermanis, and the goal-kicking twin towers of Alastair Lynch and Daniel Bradshaw.

A goal just before three-quarter time in the 2002 AFL Grand Final against Collingwood, when the Lions were seven points down in a wet slog after being eight up at halftime, is part of football folklore.

“We went coast to coast and Brad Scott hit me on the lead,” Brown explains.  

“Vossy gave me the stare. Any time you got the stare you knew you didn’t want to let your Captain down.

“I don’t reckon I hit a ball sweeter in my career.”

Voss got another one 50 seconds later and the Lions went to three-quarter time four points up. They won by nine.

When they pumped Collingwood again 12 months later to complete the 2001-02-03 hat-trick the Lions joined the immortal teams of Carlton (1906-07-08), Collingwood (1927-28-29-30), Melbourne (1939-40-41 and 1955-56-57) and Hawthorn (2013-14-15). And had Brown not been injured in the 2004 preliminary final and played on one leg in the AFL Grand Final, it may well have been four in a row.

As the Lions side changed post-Voss and the club struggled, he became the dominant player. Not just in Brisbane but the competition as he tried so desperately hard to lead his beloved club out of the doldrums. He collected a Merrett-Murray Medal hat-trick in 2007-08-09 and finished 1st-4th-2nd in the Coleman Medal with hauls of 77-70-85, charging to the top of the club’s all-time goal-kicking list.

He was All-Australian in 2007 and 2009 – Vice-Captain in ’09 – and AFLPA Best Captain in 2007-09 and AFLPA Most Courageous Player in 2007-08-11. He finished top 10 in the Brownlow Medal in 2006-07-09 with 13-17-19 votes – equal 4th in 2009 – and with 112 career votes was the third Brisbane player to 100 behind Voss and Black.

And in confirmation of his standing in the game, in 2008 he was Captain of the Victorian side that played an All-Star team in the AFL Hall of Fame Tribute match celebrating 150 years of football.

It was almost predictable that the great man’s great career ended in a brutal collision. It was 14 June 2014, Round 13 against GWS at the Gabba when an accidental collision left him unconscious – again. An eerie silence came over the ground, and then a rousing cheer as he was stretchered off – again. It was the last straw. With 15 plates and 64 screws in his face from a string of head knocks and facial fractures, he was done.

In retirement his media career exploded. He was just as good with microphone in hand, mixing hugely respected football commentary with personality plus on Fox Footy and an award-winning Nova breakfast radio show with Sam Pang and Chrissie Swan.

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