The AFL Players’ Association has a rich history and has entrenched itself as a key stakeholder in the AFL industry as the representative body for male, female and past player members.
Now in its 44th year, the PA has grown in influence and size to become a respected champion of players and the game.
It is the belief of the AFL Players that, as key stakeholders, players deserve to continue to have their voices heard on all issues pertaining to themselves and the game.
As an advocate for its members and the broader community, the AFL Players’ Association is passionate about instilling a sense of integrity and belonging, and showcasing its members as people first and athletes second.
While the Association officially formed in 1973, the traditions of player welfare and unity date as far back as 1911, when the VFL was forced to legalise match payments.
Core issues that related strictly to players continued to accumulate as the years progressed, leading to many attempts to formerly create a footballers’ union. Although many were unsuccessful, the momentum was building.
Of course, there were sections of the public who viewed the notion of unionists as trouble-makers, thus lessening the impact of the players’ collective.
In 1944 another attempt was made when Frank Reid, a former secretary of Essendon and a life member of the VFL, led the push for an organisation of past and present players and called it the Victorian Footballers’ Club. The aim was to promote social welfare and the economic advancement of its members.
In 1955, the Australian Football Players’ Union was formed following Glasgow-born Tom McNeil’s attempts to establish a players’ union, but they were eventually refused registration due to the VFL, VFA and Essendon Football Club opposing the application.
Payment models have always been a point of contention, and that was brought to a head in 1970 when Essendon players proposed a scheme of standardised payments, based on the number of years of service.
In 1973, things started to heat up as Essendon player Geoff Pryor’s efforts to form a players’ association gained momentum as he began to talk to more players away from the field, and started researching player unions overseas.
After a series of meetings that lasted for months, a first general meeting on December 10 would officially determine what was going to happen.
The Herald reported the next day that the VFL Players’ Association had been forced, with Pryor named as the inaugural president.
Since the official formation of the VFLPA in 1973, the Players’ Association has developed in a number of areas.
The players’ MVP award was first awarded in 1982, with Hawthorn champion Leigh Matthews winning the award for the first time. The players voted to name the award after Matthews in 2001.
In 1990, the union’s name changed to the AFL Players’ Association to mirror the national change in the competition. That year was also significant because it was the first year that a Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) was negotiated.
On the 20th of January, 1993, a cohort of players met in Melbourne to discuss the withdrawal of recognition of the AFLPA by the AFL. Players threatened strike action to prevent the potential of the standard playing contract being scrapped, which led to the AFL and AFLPA going before the Australian Industrial Relations Commission. This resulted in both parties presiding over the Collective Bargaining Agreement of 1994/1995.
The AFLPA established a network of personal support and development services throughout Australia, for all AFL players, in 1998. All services offered to players would fall under the umbrella of the AFLPA Player Development Program (PDP).
In the same year, a membership of 100 percent was achieved for the first time in the Association’s history.
In 2005, the AFL Players’ Association moved all services provided under the Player Development Program in-house, employing experts in the fields of education, player welfare and career transition.
In 2007, North Melbourne’s Glenn Archer was awarded the very first Madden Medal for his contribution across on-field excellence, personal development and growth, as well as community spirit.
In 2010, the AFLPA negotiated the introduction of free agency to give players the freedom to choose their employer after eight (restricted) and ten (unrestricted) years in the system as of the 2012 season.
A new five-year CBA was agreed to in 2011, delivering improved injury compensation, increased support for professional development and the establishment of Australia’s first sports annuity program (Player Retirement Scheme).
A key moment in this CBA negotiation came in June of that year when more than 400 players packed into the Palladium at Crown, with another 300 on video link, as a show of unity.
The year 2011 also saw the establishment of the Indigenous Players Advisory Board, the first of its kind in Australian sport and chaired by Sydney champion Adam Goodes. The Indigenous Advisory Board signed off on the first edition of Many Stories, One Goal, supporting Indigenous Footballers two years later.
The Players’ Trust was established in 2012 when the current players decided to contribute part of their salaries into a fund to assist past players who are facing hardship due to injury or illness.
The AFLPA was recognised as the official representative body for elite female footballers in 2016 and successfully negotiated their pay and conditions for AFLW players ahead of the inaugural season.
In early 2017, male players voted to approve a change in the constitution to allow female members to officially join the Association with full voting rights. A further change was made to mandate for at least one AFLW player on the Board and Melbourne’s Daisy Pearce was elected to this position.