This is the first time I have had the opportunity to speak to the football community since Monday's announcement, and I am grateful that I have this chance to say my farewells to so many of you who have made the game what it is today. I began my time at the AFL, almost 14 years ago. My first public appearance, as the AFL's Football Operations Manager, was on Grand Final day, 2000. Many of you in this room will recall—with pleasure— the Grand Final day speeches of my predecessor, Ian Collins. Collo was one of a kind: he could, and often would, create AFL policy on the run, and many times he did just that in that room of true football people—Life members, Hall of Fame inductees, Administrators, umpires, tribunal members, and the media.
Policy at a podium was never me, and in that first speech, before the Essendon—Melbourne game, I set out my personal agenda for my job, little knowing that it would morph into the CEO's role, three years later. Reading it back, it resonates not just with me, but with so much of what happened in 2013, and so much about personal responsibility. I hope, all these years later, I can be judged by my own criteria. This is what I said: I feel fortunate to be able to follow Ian Collins into this job, which in many ways, is the best job in football. Although, I suspect Kevin Sheedy, Essendon's legendary coach, might dispute— reasonably—that assertion.
There are comparisons though. Sheedy's job is to create a culture of expectation and achievement not just in one group of players, but in a generation, maintaining and linking with past, present, and future assets, human assets.
My job is the one job in the AFL system which impacts directly on the only asset the AFL owns – not a human asset, but the game itself. It may be an involving and fulfilling job, but those of us who have had this job understand absolutely the responsibility that comes with it. Rest assured I feel keenly my responsibility to not only preserve that asset, to link to the culture and the people that made it so valuable to all of us, but, when decisions are made, I know that poor decisions can have enormous impact on the game, on all of us. What I was expressing on that day had been drilled into me by the late Ron Evans, and Bill Kelty, earlier that year, when they convinced me to join the AFL, after a short time as CEO of the Players Association. All of us, Ron said, are merely custodians of the game. Our job is to nurture what we are given, and, when the time comes for us to depart, to believe that we have passed on something better than we received.
That same point was stressed to me so many times by our beloved friend, Jill Lindsay, sadly taken from us three years ago.
At my last visit with Jill, as she was fading away, she made the most memorable comment, her last words to me. "Look after the game" she said. "It means so much to so many people." She had re-asserted what Ron and Bill had thrust down my throat. It's what all of us in this room should never forget. It's what must drive us all: at the AFL, at club level, our coaches, our players, politicians, our junior administrators, at Auskick, as parents nurturing the next generation. It's what I hope I can pass on to my successor: the game means so much to so many people." As I said in that initial speech, "poor decisions can have enormous impact on the game, on all of us" and that was surely true in 2013.
I'm not about to brush that under the carpet: many people made poor decisions, and the game was surely impacted, but I know that many people have also made great decisions—through 2013, since 2013—to make sure that the game will win out, and it will be celebrated by its fans, without sense of misgiving, or delusion, or distrust.
I am not denying the role of the CEO in any organisation is an important one, but CEOs come and go—great institutions remain forever, and the AFL is a great institution, getting better all the time.
We cannot amend the past, but we can surely shape the future, and that has always been the approach of the AFL Commission, and the Executive.
I am sure the new Commission, and new Executive will not be changing that agenda one iota.
Tonight is about the future. It's about AFL policy in action. It's about the rebuilding of this wonderful ground, and the gathering together of the entire South Australian community into one vision, and one outcome.
I am proud the AFL has been involved in this project, and grateful to people like Ian McLachlan and Rod Payze and all their colleagues in the SACA, to John Olsen and Leigh Whicker and Max Basheer representing South Australian football, and to former premier Mike Rann, his then treasurer Kevin Foley and his successor Jay Wetherall for not just living up to the promises made by the South Australian Government, but delivering so much more.
We have all achieved what Mike Rann said would be impossible, and I will look back on what has been achieved here with great pride.
The rebuilding of the Adelaide Oval represents so much of what has happened in my time at the AFL: it's about a vision, it's about teamwork, it's about overcoming adversity, it's about community, it's about not giving up no matter the stresses and strains and history fighting back against you.
The AFL will always be like this: think of the past years, and spread that into the future.
I don't intend to dwell on the past.
The future's what the AFL's all about. It's about continuing what we know is best for our game, and for our fans, and it's also being prepared for the unknown, and ensuring that our people have the right resources to counter any issue that may come out of the blue.
As our season's banner says: "everything's possible". For that to ring true, we must always be prepared. That said, the agenda for the AFL in 2014 and beyond is simple: We will continue to create the infrastructure that is best for our fans, and within three years what you see here in Adelaide, will be replicated in Perth, at Burswood. We will always put the fans first. Always.
We will continue to take our game to all states and territories, and we will ensure that all clubs have the same opportunities to flourish, and be ultra competitive. Equal opportunity for all is a fundamental of our competition, and I am sure we will see changes in the way opportunity is managed in the not too distant future.
We will continue to secure the best talent for our game, with the best conditions to provide the best entertainment, retaining the AFL's well-deserved position as the number one code in Australian sport, serving the broadest community with the best facilities, whether at the ground, at home, or on the road. As I said to the media on Monday: THIS, the AFL, is THE sport of Australia.
We will continue to be at the forefront of technological change, not just in the way we create media, and work with our media partners, but also making sure we provide our fans with the best information, live, digital, or whatever the next generation provides.
We will continue to the best of partners for our corporate and government relations, looking always for the best outcomes for the Australian community.
We will remain at the forefront of the challenge that dogs all sports—managing the integrity of the game and all who work in it. We will not be beaten by the scourge of drugs, or gambling, or sinister processes.
We will find new pathways for administrators and coaches to find their way into the AFL system, to ensure the strength of the game remains paramount, and our role in developing young sportspeople to be great players and great citizens never changes. In this International Women's week in which the world recognises the role of women in our society, we must remain open to inclusion of women in all areas of our game. We are getting better, but we're miles away from where we must be, with more women in senior roles in the AFL and in clubs. We have women on the Commission, we have a woman as a club president, I look forward to the next step—a CEO at club level, and more women on the AFL executive.
We will never forget that our game is for our fans, and we will be ever alert to find the best ways to take our game to the fans in ways that are accessible, affordable, and remarkable.
And we will always recognise our role as a senior citizen of this country, with all the responsibilities and opportunities that badge carries.
Finally, I want to thank you all for what you have given me over this wonderful journey. In particular, my chairman Mike Fitzpatrick, my great mentor Bill Kelty, the members of the Commission, and to all of those in my executive, including those who have been and gone, but in particular my deputy Gillon McLachlan who has done so much to support me, and the AFL's agenda, with little thanks, or profile.
I want to thank the wonderful staff at the AFL who give so much to our game, without any thought of what time it is, or what day it is, or where it is. Their selflessness is something special; in particular thanks to Yolanda Ferguson, who came with me from the AFLPA, no doubt with no idea what was ahead of her, and has been a loyal and wonderful supporter throughout.
I want to thank all our clubs, and all the great people I have met on the journey—not just presidents and CEOs, but coaches, players, trainers, doctors, even doormen. I want to thank the media. We've had our moments, but the role of the best media is to keep the bastards honest, and, on balance, that's what you have done.
It's extraordinary to think that we have more media accredited to the AFL than to the total Government of Australia, and that, really describes what Jill said. Our media presence represents how important our game is to so many.
I want to thank the fans, who make all our lives worth living. The joy they get from our game is so intoxicating. I look forward to becoming a fan again. I will never forget my time at the AFL: how could I? I met my beautiful wife Symone during my time in Football Operations, and all my children have been born in my time as CEO.
What a wonderful footprint for the rest of my life.
Thank you all, and may this season be one of the great seasons for all of you, and for all of us.