Almost 21 years after the formation of the PFA the inaugural President Greg Brown gives his insight into what drove the players to form the association, what the early days were like and why players will always be the ones that drive reform.

His introduction to Australian football was a harsh one, but one that reflected the state of the game. He had signed with what was meant to be a National League team. Upon his arrival he was informed that they would not be playing in the top tier competition instead they would compete in the NSW State League.

It was not what Greg Brown was expecting when he left New Zealand to sign with Parramatta Eagles ahead of the 1987 season. “I needed a bigger challenge and knew it would be a better standard in Australia,” said the Manchester born attacker of the decision to move to Australia. The challenge would be far greater than he anticipated and, primarily be fought off the pitch.

“There was so much instability. The governing body were constantly changing what they were called and who was on the board. There were times when I needed some advice on and I realised there was no one to help you. There wasn’t even things like the Citizens Bureau Advice in England so from inside or outside the game there was nowhere for you to go.”

For Brown the dire state of the game in Australia would be demonstrated when his contract would come to an end with Parramatta Eagles in 1992. Despite his contract having expired the transfer system that operated at the time meant the club could demand a transfer fee from any club that was looking to sign him.

“I went back to the UK and because I had not re-signed there was a cut off date and if you hadn’t re-signed by then you automatically went on the transfer market and the club could put a price on you,” said the Manchester United youth product. “While I was away my wife phoned me and said ‘guess what you’re on the transfer market and they want $98,000.’ I just started laughing.

“Straight away it annoyed me because they had got me for free and there was nothing in my contract that said they could sell me. But in those days there was a little reference to the Australian rules that said they basically own you and they could put whatever price they wanted on you even though your contract was up.”

The solution for Brown was that the players needed an association. Having seen first hand the positive impact the PFA had had on the game and the careers of players in England Brown knew they needed a voice. However, setting up a players’ association would be far from straight forward.

Generations before him had tried and failed before. However, they now had the means to do so – legal expertise in Brendan Schwab. Schwab then an articled clerk had helped the league’s hottest property KimonTaliadoros move from South Melbourne to Marconi at the end of the 1991/1992 season. South had demanded a transfer fee for the Socceroo despite his contract having expired. In assisting Taliadoros to move to Marconi, Schwab become aware of the huge restrictions that were denying the basic rights of players and was resolved to remove them.

“I had been talking to a number of boys in Sydney,” Brown said. “A lot of senior players had horror stories or knew people who did so we said we need to get something going. This had been going on for a long time and when Brendan helped Kimon he thought what the hell is going on. Word got around and Brendan gave me a call and said ‘are you trying to get something going’ I said ‘yeah’ and he said he would like to help and it went from there.”

After a series of promising phone calls to the Melbourne based Schwab, Brown said their first face-to-face meeting made him question whether he was the right man for the job.  “I knocked on the door and he answered and I thought we had no chance. Brendan was 24-25 but he looked about 17. In the end I think Brendan looking so young worked in our favour because the federation underestimated him.”

Despite now having the expertise required Brown said it was still a long process to get the PFA up and running.

“Brendan called me once and ‘no one is signing up, we may as well forget it,’ I said no what we need to do is form the association and build it and they will come. We can’t get a load of names and then say right lets form it. We need to form it first, we only needed a core of members to start

“When I played against a club and if I knew a player that was sympathetic I would ask him to get the boys signed up and that is how it grew. It wasn’t easy it took a lot of leg work and phone calls and getting into the boys ears and eventually we convinced enough to form it.”

The next step was gaining leverage to force the governing body to negotiate.

“We formed an association but they really weren’t taking any notice of us. We had a large chunk of the NSL players and high profile Socceroos as members but the federation did not really want to listen to us. We kept filing grievances and they kept ignoring them.

“What had to happen was we had to get federally recognised as a union and the only way we could do that was to amalgamate or start a federally recognised union. So we joined with the MEAA (Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance), and they already had a sports arm, which basically only had Rugby League in it and they did have the facility for us to become members and once you had a dispute it became a legal dispute and we would then have the chance to go to the Industrial Relations Court and that gave us the leverage to take them to court.”

With Brown as President, Taliadoros as CEO and Schwab as Special Legal Council the leverage enabled them to make significant reforms in the space of just over two years establishing a new NSL Standard Player Contract and the abolishment of the Transfer and Compensation Fee System.

In 1995 after bringing down the transfer and compensation system that had severely restricted players freedom and stifled the game Brown stepped down as President and handed the reins to Taliadoros.

Now working in football as a coach in Brisbane the former Socceroo said the key to their success was that they were acting in the games best interest.

“The players will always push any type of reform. When you talk about even coaching standards that comes from the players. When you look at any major reform in any country it always comes from the players so it was never going to happen through anyone else. They have a special relationship with the game.

“It is very satisfying to know that a boy can stay in Australia and make a good living is fantastic. That doesn’t mean that’s job done for the PFA. The players are the game and they need to be heard. It doesn’t matter whether the game is going swimmingly or not, whenever there is anything to discuss the players have to be involved because they are the game.

“To say well it is all going swimmingly now, thanks for your efforts we can do without you that is not right. The PFA will never be irrelevant. The players will always be relevant as long as we play football and there will never be a time when they should not be heard.”