The AFL Players’ Association was born 40 years ago tomorrow. Secret meetings between key architects let to a pivotal assembly of VFL players.
This is an edited extract from a broader document – All in, the origins of the AFLPA – detailing the formation of the then VFL Players’ Association.
GARETH Andrew’s handwritten notes from one (or more) of a series of late 1973 meetings survive. They include issues, actions, a doodle of a possible logo, and a list of footballers who might be approached to be involved.
“Geoff (Pryor) turned up for discussion, “Andrews’ diary reads on November 20. His diary records another meeting on November 28 (“Football Association”).
It seems this was the meeting, attended by a representative from each club, where Pryor and Andrews outlined the nature and objectives of an association, and the need for a formal constitution.
They pointed out that nothing was decided; that the players at the first general meeting on December 10 would determine what was to happen.
Those attending on November 28 were asked to notify all their players of that meeting.
The invitation was in the form of an explanatory letter typed on a single page:
“All VFL players have common interests in such matters as pressure of football, playing conditions and many others. Yet there isn’t any organised way where we, as a group, can discuss these interests among ourselves.
“A VFL Players’ Association is a body which can enable this to occur. Through this body, players can talk with players from other clubs about these matters of common interest.
“A VFL Players’ Association can help football generally, providing a focal point for the VFL to obtain players opinions and work together with players in developing our great game even further.
“Specifically, a Players’ Association will benefit a player by:
1. Investigating a Tax Averaging scheme
2. Discussing with the VFL the improvement of facilities for players at all grounds
3. Ensuring the availability of a first-rate medical service to all players at all times
4. Provide advice to members concerning contracts
5. Set up procedure for grievances to be heard effectively and promptly
6. Investigating an injury insurance scheme for members
“Join in and express your opinion.
“The first general meeting will be held on Monday December 10th. Be sure you’re there.”
As Melburnians headed home on the tram on the evening of December 10, they read of the meeting, as it was happening.
“The players will start their quest for a better deal by forming a players’ union tonight,” wrote Bruce Matthews in The Herald.
“Players from all VFL clubs will meet at Melbourne University to form what will be known as the VFL Players’ Association.”
“League clubs are opposed to the association because they fear the players’ demands may lead to strikes and disruption of games.”
Matthews represented the best intentions of the players fairly. He quoted Geoff Pryor
“We want to make it clear that our last thought is to strike during the season. But there are certain areas we wish to pursue for the players’ benefit, including compensation and insurance.
Some of the players had gone along out of curiosity, not sure what to expect.
Three objectives were outlined.
Firstly, that it hoped to assist in the development of the game.
Secondly, that players would build better relationships with the VFL.
Thirdly, that players enjoyed some sense of self-determination; that they would develop an organisation of players, run by players, to improve the circumstances of players, whether that was payment, conditions, entitlements or even adequate facilities.
The players agreed to return to their clubs to hold meetings at which delegates would be elected in preparation for another meeting in the new year.
That meeting was held on February 25, 1974. It was at Power House on Albert Park Lake, a venue organised by Richmond delegate Stephen Rae.
At 21, Rae had already had a colourful career. Recruited to St Kilda as a talented and versatile forward he’d been 20th man in the Saints loss to Hawthorn in the `71 Grand Final.
He’d also suffered a series of debilitating knee injuries. He joined Richmond in 1973 and played in their premiership side. He worked in insurance. During that year Pryor rang him to talk about workers’ compensation.
Stephen was a Whitlam supporter. He remembers only too well the fear he’d felt when listening to the conscription ballot. There was solid support for the concept of a players’ association at Punt Rd.
More than half of the Richmond players had met in Barry Richardson’s physio rooms in Church Street – away from the club. Stephen was elected delegate.
Pryor was elected president. He was the obvious choice. Carlton’s David “Swan” McKay was elected vice-president. Hawthorn’s Des Meagher was elected secretary.
Andrews did not take on a role and, for a while, became less active in the association. He was very keen to leave Geelong and had been talking with the Tigers.
“At that time, first and foremost, I wanted to play with Richmond,” he explains. “I wasn’t going to do anything that interfered with my chances.”
He was concerned new president Ian Wilson, secretary Alan Schwab, and the influential Graeme Richmond would not be too happy with a group of long-haired radicals agitating for change.
Gareth eventually got his transfer to Richmond. He and Rex Hunt swapped clubs in Round 6. He did not attend VFLPA meetings at all through 1974.