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The times, they are a changin’

Thirty years ago football was played in muddy suburban grounds by men who had day jobs and went out drinking afterwards.

Tattoos were rare whilst mullets and perms were common amongst the coolest young players.

So much has changed in a generation, as the game has grown and began to conquer the world. The amount of money and opportunities that exist in football have expanded at a rapid rate, as have the expectations placed on everyone involved in the game – particularly the players. Somewhere along the line clubs turned into businesses. What was once just a game instead became an industry.

But while a lot has changed, some things remain the same.

There are still thousands of young kids from outer suburbs, country towns and remote Indigenous communities who dream of becoming AFL footballers.

There are still thousands of young kids from outer suburbs, country towns and remote Indigenous communities who dream of becoming AFL footballers.

The bond AFL players share with their teammates, clubs, and competitors hasn’t changed either.

Over time the Players’ Association has shown it has an important role to play in the industry.

There cannot be a game without players; their wishes need to be respected and their voices heard. The Players’ Association will work constructively with the AFL to help our great game become even greater

On the field, 2013 was an exciting year.

The Cats played their first night match at the redeveloped Simonds Stadium, which held almost 34,000 fans.

Jeremy Cameron finished third in the Coleman Medal – an amazing achievement considering 2013 was just his second season in the AFL.

Gary Ablett won his second Brownlow Medal and fifth Leigh Matthews Trophy.

Nineteen years after entering the competition, the purple haze swept through Fremantle as the Dockers appeared in their first AFL Grand Final.

A week earlier, in the preliminary final, we saw the Dockers humble in victory, forming a guard of honour for Jude Bolton. Aside from Adam Goodes, Bolton has worn the red and white with distinction more times than any other Swan.

Other players to finish their careers in 2013 included Max Bailey, Aaron Davey, Andrew Embley, Jason Blake, Adam Selwood, David Hille, Nathan Lovett-Murray and David Rodan. These are just a few of the approximately 120 players that leave the game every year.

At the other end of the spectrum, roughly 100 new draftees are ready to embark on their AFL journey.

Those that enter the AFL industry take on a great responsibility. It’s important they’re aware of their roles – as representatives of the oldest football code in the world, and inheritors of a legacy built by legends of the game.

Careers in the AFL are never easy, but each new player will be supported by the Players’ Association for the rest of his life.

Retirement accounts, wellbeing support, education and training grants, financial education and literacy support – all of these benefits and entitlements exist due to the hard work of players who have gone before them. Those players recognised that by working together, notwithstanding their on-field competitiveness, they could secure a better lot for all players.

So whilst our newest members integrate into their industry, we encourage them to think about the legacy they can create so that they, their teammates and the game itself are left in better shape than when they entered it.

The AFL Players’ Association wishes the new draftees all the best for their AFL careers.