Ban cost me life membership at Fremantle: Dale Kickett
DALE Kickett still hasn’t forgotten the first Western Derby.
It was May 1995 and West Coast, the reigning premiers, used physical intimidation to remind the new kids on the block who was boss as the Eagles thrashed Fremantle by 85 points.
The defeat inflicted mental scars on the Dockers and variations of the script were played out each time they met for several seasons.
“We got hammered physically in quite a few of our first games. I remember being cleaned up in the middle of Subiaco Oval in I think the first derby by Woosha (West Coast defender and now coach John Worsfold). The derbies were littered with those things throughout,” Kickett said.
“They were physically much bigger than the majority of our team. They’d just come off a premiership and in the same boat we probably would have done the same thing.”
Fast forward five years and Western Derby XII already had an edge to it before the players ran out on July 30. Despite Fremantle finally breaking its derby duck in 1999, the Eagles had won the first derby of 2000 by 117 points and there was a feeling a statement needed to be made.
While some were unsure how seriously to take Freo forward, Clive Waterhouse’s comment on TV during the week that “blood would be spilled”, the provocative line has now become part of the folklore of the game known as the Demolition Derby.
If the Eagles were expecting something, young ruckman Michael Gardiner thought he would get in first and was on report even before the opening bounce after striking a then 18-year-old Matthew Pavlich in the goalsquare.
Kickett and West Coast’s Phil Read sized each other up on numerous occasions throughout the first half and the pair remain the day’s most memorable protagonists.
After a first half in which more punches were thrown than could be counted, four players were suspended for a total of 15 matches and 11 players were fined. Kickett wore the brunt of the tribunal’s wrath, copping nine weeks for three separate striking charges.
What is easily forgotten is that the game was – and remains – one of Fremantle’s most magnificent victories. Down by seven goals early in the third quarter, Waterhouse starred with seven goals to lead the Dockers to a thrilling one-point win.
While he’s not entirely sorry, 10 years on Kickett is filled with regret.
He says the long suspension robbed him of the chance to play 150 games for the Dockers and earn life membership, robbed him of valuable match payments, hurt his family and to this day clouds his reputation.
Asked whether the Demolition Derby was a good or bad thing for WA footy, 42-year-old Kickett instead opens up about the personal toll it took.
“I don’t know how it was for footy, but it wasn’t good for me. And in saying that, it wasn’t good for me or my family or my footy club,” he said.
“It definitely weighed heavily on my mind and it wasn’t a good thing for me because I lost so much from it.”
So is he sorry for throwing his flurry of punches?
“Yes and no. There’s a fine line between not doing anything with what goes on or doing it the right way, and unfortunately I did it the wrong way,” he said.
In the tumultuous aftermath and at various times in the decade since, fingers have pointed at Fremantle and then coach Damian Drum for premeditating the violence.
Straight after the match Drum said: “Our players feel, rightly or wrongly, that they have been pushed around by the big boys up the road for too long. For them to want to stand up and do something about it, I think that is fantastic.
“When you understand the history, it is very easy to understand the way the game was played today.”
But like fellow former Freo hard man Troy Cook, Kickett maintains the Dockers went out to play football, not fight.
“It just happened. A couple of players got under a few players’ skins and we probably reacted in a way that . . . it was basically our grand final I suppose,” Kickett said.
“I didn’t go out to enforce whatever game plan we had going on. In my stature I don’t think I had that physical ability to do that. Most of my stuff was in retaliation. I’d like to think of myself as a ball player.
“In derbies you always prepare yourself for it to be a little harder than normal games. I don’t know why. If we played with that intensity for most of the year maybe we could have played finals when I was still playing down there.
“I think it’s the two-team town that pumps the footy teams up here and no matter where your standing is on the ladder players seem to gee themselves up a little more for these games than the other ones.”
He doesn’t ask for or expect sympathy, but when pressed Kickett concedes he felt hard done by to cop nine weeks when no other player was suspended for more than two.
“There’s not much you can do about it now. Thinking about it now I think it was a little unfair,” he said.
“I don’t know if I was singled out. I don’t know if I copped what I deserved. I definitely deserved a penalty but the others didn’t get the equal amount. But it’s done and dusted I reckon.”
A 19-year-old Andrew Embley was one of the players struck by Kickett. Along with Dockers Pavlich and Paul Hasleby, Embley is just one of three “survivors” from the match who will play today.
Embley said the match had more significance for fans than the teams involved today, with most of the combatants having long retired.
“For half the squad, if you asked them about the Demolition Derby they probably wouldn’t even know what you were talking about,” Embley said.
“I can definitely remember it was a real physical game of footy. Who started it and whether it was us or them didn’t really bother me too much at all. I was just a young kid loving playing AFL footy.
“It was a good spectacle and you know, football moves on from it.
“You never want to see punches thrown or anything like that. But in regards to a hard, physical game of football, the supporters probably enjoyed the game and if people are still talking about it now then obviously it did leave something in people’s memories.”
Cook was known for never taking a backward step on the field and was widely admired for his hardness at the ball during his 193-game career with Sydney and Fremantle.
The Dockers’ fairest and best winner in 2000 said he sympathised with Kickett.
“From the Fremantle point of view he was a hero, for the Eagles he was a villain,” Cook said.
“He’s been a great champion for the Dockers so for him to be remembered for that derby is probably not the way he would want to be remembered.”
Cook said winning the game was just as significant for the Dockers as any physical statement that had been made.
“It’s been pretty well documented how the club stood up for itself, especially being led by Dale with what happened on the day with how physical he was,” he said.
“And probably more importantly was the result going the right way with us winning. Unfortunately everyone sort of remembers it for all the wrong reasons.”
Cook said Fremantle never planned to come out and fight.
“I think when you look at the first quarter, was it Michael Gardiner in the goalsquare? So I don’t think we started it,” he said.
“It was always going to be physical. No one was going to take a backward step. It was a throwback to the good old days.
“All the penalties that were dished out to make sure that it didn’t happen again were probably justified, I suppose.
“You’ll never see something like that, I don’t think, ever again. The game’s changed with the rule changes and there’s just too much at stake for players to go outside those boundaries now. And you don’t have to do too much to go out of those boundaries.”
Having recently started working for the Wirrpanda Foundation in a role mentoring indigenous children, Kickett now uses himself as an example others can learn from.
“It’s funny how you rang up at this time because the last couple of weeks I’ve been with a group of our students doing an alternative-to-violence program,” Kickett said.
“So this came up, obviously. And it’s something that as a coach in the past I’ve previously used, coaching schoolboys at Clontarf. It’s definitely something I’ve used but in a positive way.
“I don’t think you’ll see too many more incidents like that derby. There’s too much at stake for players and football clubs.
“There will always be niggle and stuff because it’s a contact sport. There’s still a lot of verbal that goes on and there will always be push and shove, but I wouldn’t imagine we will see anything like that ever again. And I think that’s great.”