In 1993, Greg Williams missed winning a third Brownlow Medal by one vote, losing to Essendon's Gavin Wanganeen. Incredibly, he did not poll a single vote in the Round 10 game that year, despite chalking up 44 possessions. All the votes went to his teammates - Mil Hanna (19 possessions, one goal, three votes), Justin Madden (10 possessions, two votes), and Steve Silvagni (11 possessions, one vote). Williams' failure poll any votes for that performance is often highlighted as one of the biggest discrepancies in Brownlow Medal history.
At the time, there were only two field umpires (a third umpire was introduced in 1994). The two officiating that game were senior umpire John Russo and the less experienced Murray Bird. And Bird has now thrown a pall over the credibility of the umpire voting system with his claim that Williams was denied votes by Russo because he and Russo did not get along on the field. Williams himself believes he should have gotten at least one vote, which would have given him a tie with Wanganeen.
According to Bird, after that game, he and Russo were discussing who should get votes and Bird said he thought Williams had been very good in the game. Russo then asked Bird if Williams had given him any grief during the game. Bird says that when he answered in the affirmative, Russo is alleged to have said "[expletive].... him". Williams admitted he often gave Russo hard time, but only because Russo rarely awarded him a free kick. But Williams said he was too busy in that Round 10 game getting the ball 44 times to argue with the umpires.
Williams first learned of the controversy during an informal chat at the Brownlow dinner several years ago. He and his agent Jim Jess flew to Brisbane last week to speak with Bird, who said he felt embarrassed that Williams didn't poll any votes in the game and that he wanted to get it off his chest. Bird said he later watched a replay of the game and said it confirmed Williams "definitely" deserved at least one, or possibly two votes.
Although Bird jointly signed the voting sheet at the end of the game, Jess said AFL rules had been breached as the votes had not been reached by consensus and there were no league rules to resolve a dispute between umpires. And Williams has asked the AFL Players' Association to support his push for a review of the matter by the AFL Commission. He has also engaged an attorney to look at legal options.
Russo last night denied Bird's allegations. Bird, 43, was a Queensland-based umpire who officiated in 43 league games 1990-94 and worked in football development for 17 years for the AFL in Queensland. He left the AFL last December to launch an athlete management company with Brisbane Lion captain Michael Voss and former full forward Alastair Lynch.
Source: Herald Sun
Article last changed on Thursday, September 28, 2006 - 11:17 PM EDT