The first AFL club in 1984 I met with was the Sydney Swans. Acclaimed coach the late Tom Hafey warmed to the idea of a chaplaincy, and was so impressed with the negotiations that, on an ABC sports Granbstand radio program several years later, he cited 'Mark Tronson' as a source of good advice, even though I was not actually the chaplain for the Swans' team.
It was, in fact, John Rees (who subsequently served as a missionary in Thailand) who was the first Sydney Swans chaplain and was followed by Rev Paul Cameron.
I then travelled to Melbourne, the home of AFL football. Accompanied by Reverend Paul Burnham, I first met with John Northey the coach of the Melbourne Club. We chatted at the training ground beside the five tier seating adjacent to the car park.
I thought it provident to illustrate a different manner of negotiation, so, as an ice-breaker to informal conversation, I collected some flat pebbles, set up a marker, and as I chatted to John Northey, I tested his aiming skills. Both onlookers commented on my hopeless throwing arm.
Having accepted the idea of chaplaincy, John Northey later became coach to the Brisbane Bears. Meanwhile the Brisbane Club already had Dean Davis as chaplain; one that I had introduced in 1985 and who had been warmly received by the former coach, Peter Knights. In the first of many such situations where a coach moved to a team that had a chaplain, Northey was pleased with the situation.
Dean Davis was one of the very first accredited lay chaplains; and served as the chaplain of Brisbane for twenty years. He has enjoyed both the broader aspects of general chaplaincy as well as having individual Christian AFL players with whom he has developed a caring discipling ministry. His interview on the Australian Missionary News IPTV can be viewed on YouTube.
AFL clubs across the nation quickly accepted chaplains; and when the Port Adelaide Club came into the competition in the early 90s, I took the opportunity to introduce Reverend Brandon Chaplin. The television news caught hold of the story as Reverend Chaplin finished first in his initial cross-country training run with the players. The reporter referred to Port Adelaide's newest appointment as 'Chaplain Chaplin'!"
Due to the astonishingly high profile nature of AFL Football, a number of press stories and sports magazines have featured the AFL team's chaplaincies, illustrating the value of the ministry by quoting personal testimonies of both players and administrators.
In this context, Essendon club chaplain Alan Dunn has been lauded during the tenure of coach Kevin Sheedy.
The miracle of the AFL chaplaincy was the openness with which each organisation adopted chaplaincy and how the chaplains themselves served their football communities and families.
Dr Mark Tronson is a Baptist minister (retired) who served as the Australian cricket team chaplain for 17 years (2000 ret) and established Life After Cricket in 2001. He was recognised by the Olympic Ministry Medal in 2009 presented by Carl Lewis Olympian of the Century. He mentors young writers and has written 24 books, and enjoys writing. He is married to Delma, with four adult children and grand-children. Dr Tronson writes a daily article for Christian Today Australia (since 2008) and in November 2016 established Christian Today New Zealand.
Mark Tronson's archive of articles can be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/mark-tronson.html