After a career spanning more than 120 games with the Fremantle Dockers and more than 50 games with South Fremantle, Roger Hayden has been playing a vital role in developing the stars of the future.

Born in Narrogin, the Brookton-raised star worked his way up from the Avon Districts juniors to the East Fremantle colts, winning a premiership in 1998.

In 2000, he impressed for South Fremantle and was soon drafted by the Dockers. He played six finals and made the 2007 All Australian 40-player squad.

For nine seasons he worked as a Dockers development coach and back line coach, and is now the Next Generation Academy coach and Indigenous and multicultural liaison officer at the club.

“A few years ago, the AFL brought in academies to start running programs for First Generation Australians and those who had come from overseas from Asian and African backgrounds, as well from remote Indigenous populations, in the Kimberley and the Mid West in WA. Every AFL club has their own zones,” he told the National Indigenous Times.

“Getting these kids involved in football and something to aspire to, has been a great initiative that is still going.”

Hayden said there had been a massive growth in the program this year.

“At the moment we have 36 on our list who are in our WAFL colts programs at the Dockers-aligned teams South Fremantle, East Fremantle, Peel, Claremont and West Perth, mostly at East Fremantle and Claremont. It is a big squad. We went from 15 last year to 36 which is awesome,” he said.

“It is giving these guys exposure into the lifestyle of the elite AFL players, it has opened their eyes up and inspired them to become AFL players. It has been good to see everyone working hard and they are all playing really well, and some of them will put their names up at the end of the year for the draft.”

Indigenous players from the north and Mid West of WA are making their mark at East Fremantle and Claremont.

“There are a few at Claremont from the Kimberley — Conrad Williams from Kununurra is in Perth for school, Dallas McAdam from Halls Creek. It is a great opportunity for them. They are working hard and playing well for their schools and for Claremont. At East Fremantle some of the players are from Geraldton — Bartlett, Wright and Sandy.”

The squads accommodate players of ages from 12 to 19, and give many opportunities for the young players to catch the eye of recruiters from the big league.

“The elite academy ages are 17-19, the Stephen Hill Squad, these older players are good mentors to the younger guys there … the 16s, 15s and 14s.

“For the 13s and 12s everyone who wants to be a part of the program can participate — the criteria comes into effect after that. We have a couple of carnivals this year at which we will get a good look at the players.”

Hayden is a life member of the Fremantle Football Club after more than 20 years service and looks set for a long and outstanding contribution to the club, and to football.

By Giovanni Torre