Kicking with your non-preferred foot, body positioning, tackling – they’re all skills you expect to improve when you’re drafted to an AFL club.
But not many teenage footballers realise that when they sign their name to a contract, one of the skills they’ll need to develop is actually just that: signing their name.
Before every AFL season, the players from all 18 clubs take part in a signing session, at which they have to autograph up to 800 items of official club merchandise. The process is overseen by the AFL Players’ Association to ensure that the items are signed by every player and can be issued with a certificate of authenticity.
“A lot of the boys have shocking signatures.” – Luke Hodge
The clubs then have jumpers, footballs, shorts and caps to distribute for charity, corporate and community events throughout the year.
“When I first came in to have my first signing session I didn’t actually have a signature until that day,” said teenage Hawthorn ruckman Marc Pittonet. “But one of the senior players grabbed me, pulled me aside and told me I needed one.
“As a result, I sat down with one of the senior players and worked on that. After that he wasn’t too pleased with it so I had to perfect another one by the next signing session.”
Each club has its own method of collecting the signatures. Geelong spreads out the jumpers in a vast room and allows the players to drift in and out through the day at a time that suits the individual.
Hawthorn seats its players at long tables forming a U-shape and creates a factory-like production line.
“It goes in (jumper) number order at Hawthorn, so if you’re No.45 then you’re a bit out of luck and there’s not too much room on the jumpers,” wingman Isaac Smith said. “It’s handy to probably be in the top 20.”
Skipper Luke Hodge said most of the players added their jumper number alongside the signatures ”because a lot of the boys have shocking signatures, so it’s just so that most of the people can identify whose signature’s who.”