PFA Life Member Andy Harper discusses the early years of the PFA, how his time on the Executive shaped his view of the game, the responsibility he feels working in the media to grow the game and much more.


PFA: You were a member of the PFA Executive, what drove you to take up this role in what were pretty hostile circumstances?

AH: There was constant friction, even if it was not clearly articulated, because of the uncertainty that reared its head from time to time and we just kind of got on with things. Issues would arrive and there was an underlying frustration that things didn’t have to be like this but with no one to organise an alternative way forward it was just part of the environment.

That all changed for me because I was a teammate of Kimon’s (Taliadoros) at Marconi and Brendan’s (Schwab) role in the PFA really starting to get going. The two of them together were able to articulate an alternative way of doing things that just made incredible sense.


PFA: Many former members of the PFA Executive have gone on to play key roles in Australian football, like yourself, Craig Foster, Kevin Muscat, John Aloisi and others, after they retired from the game. Do you think the Executive played a role in shaping their views on the game?

AH: The formation of the PFA, through Brendan and Kimon’s leadership led to this alignment of thinking, this coalition of people with similar experiences and similar ideas about the game and the game’s potential. The Executive back then and since have always been people who have seen beyond themselves and been people who have recognised the importance of the game as an institution and that that institution needs to be nourished and developed for the betterment of everyone.

There was a group of people, who although they came from very different experiences, all agreed in a very unitary way about those sorts of things. It is no surprise that people who have served on the Executive have spun off into other football careers, because these were people who believed in the mission. I guess Johnny Warren was the first to start talking about the Australian football mission and I think that seed has germinated to people who are trying to make a difference now.


PFA: In the early years of the PFA, faced with such difficult circumstances, the temptation to just focus on your own problems must have been very strong. How were the players able to see past their own problems and work towards improving the game for the future?

AH: You needed someone to articulate an alternative way of doing things, otherwise you just stayed in a frustrated crumpled heap. Most of us had our own contractual issues, largely around freedom of movement or lack thereof and as frustrating as that is in the absence of knowing an alternative way you just suck it up and get more frustrated. I had an experience like that and most of us did and this is what I’m saying; we needed someone like Brendan to come in and say there is another way of doing this and it helped us to channel this, once it was presented it was pretty easy to sign up to this way of thinking.


PFA: After your playing career came to an end you began what has been a very successful media career. Was this something you always aspired to?

AH: I never targeted the media. I was just playing and, as happens with these things, you get invited onto various media platforms to appear on and now being on the other side of the relationship I understand how it works and the people who are putting television shows together are always looking out for new people. I was pretty unsure of all that when I was playing. When you are playing someone puts a microphone under your nose and you answer the questions, but  someone is looking at that and thinking ‘we might ask the person on for more stuff’ and that is purely how it started for me and that is how it has continued.


PFA: How much has your role changed or your approach to it over the years?

AH: The internet has changed everything. The basic requirements are the same, but the information that is available is significantly more. The big test has been the move into Asia as it has opened up more consistent international football for club and country and you would be dead without the internet to be frank. In a domestic competition you can survive just by watching the games and reading the local newspapers, which is true for domestic sports, but as soon as you have to follow your team into Asia or the middle east it is a whole new world and it makes it very interesting and you learn a lot. It has been very fortunate that the move into Asia occurred at a time when we had the internet.


PFA: As a commentator, you play a key role shaping the viewers’ enjoyment and understanding of the match. What information do you most enjoy passing on that you feel really adds to their experience?

AH: The biggest thing that has attracted me to football in a professional sense, outside of playing, has been the cultural beliefs and values that surround the game in various countries and regions. What fascinates me the most is the different cultures that underpin the way clubs and countries play their football. When I’m preparing for games you do your best to know the players you are watching, but I’m way more interested in knowing why the talent in the Middle East never amounts to consistent international challenge and why there can be so much money in China and they are so passionate about the sport but why has their football gone backwards over the last decade?

Understanding the mentality of Korea as a country so when Australia goes to extra time against Korea in the Asian Cup Final that small bit you have been able to understand about the culture you can see coming out in the final minutes of the match and you admire them even more. You can’t talk about that sort of stuff for 90 minutes or more of a football match, but that is the stuff that outside of who passes to who that I like thinking about and talking about.


PFA: There has been many great football commentators, and many of these commentators have had an enormous impact on how they view the sport. Was there ever anyone who inspired you or who you looked up to?

AH: Not really as there wasn’t an option for a media career in football when I was growing up. So there was no way I was imagining or planning for this so therefore I wasn’t taking note of anyone in particular. I guess now having walked through the door, the whole media experience in Australia is so fresh, for many years it was pretty much just Les (Murray) and Johnny (Warren) carrying the can and when I look back there was not a lot of people you could copy so it has been pretty organic and you take advice along way.


PFA: There must be temptation to call what you see, forgetting that the viewer can see the action unfolding. How do you resist this urge and add value, understanding or insight to what they have seen?

AH: You don’t always succeed in doing that. The listener comes to the game with a level of experience and you have to respect that. You try to give the watcher something new and fresh and non-repetitive and it is not easy as we all have a saying we fall back on for which we people take the piss mercilessly and endlessly. You have to try to present what you are seeing to someone in different way. It is big challenge and a lot of fun and the more you do it and the more the game grows then different people can find your own styles.


PFA: Do you feel a responsibility to help people better understand the game?

AH: We are all in the building and investment stage. We are trying to build this game as we are a long way from where we need to be and where we want to be and it is up to everyone to work out in their own sphere where we push and where we pull. In my job it is always ‘how is what I’m saying going to help the situation’, even if that is offering criticism it doesn’t mean you are putting sugar coats on everything. We are growing the game for the sake of the opportunity of what waits for Australia. No one has the right to derail that; we all have to work towards that.


PFA: Finally, what do you make of the progress the game has made and how do we advance it further?

AH: The last decade has been phenomenal; not without frustrations though. The people within football are so passionate and have such big dreams for the game that even with the success of the last decade it is not even close to satisfying that passion for more. The first decade for all intents and purposes has been hugely successful but we are impatient, we want it all now and that energy around the game needs to be harnessed and it needs to get angry and agitated again to push on. I don’t think anyone is sitting on their hands doing nothing, but circumstances can cloud the thinking and we just have to push that fog away and the next ten years can be even more remarkable.