It was a shock to the football league community when the Richmond Tigers carried the move for the mid-season draft of Marlion Pickett. He was to replace midfielder Jack Graham who was ruled out to play in the 2019 AFL Grand Final due to an injury.
67 years since Keith Batchelor for Collingwood, Pickett’s debut was the talk of the town. It wasn’t the only reason though because it was the midfielder’s second chance in life.
Since his teenage years, Pickett was always into some sort of trouble, going as far as being in juvenile detention. However, Pickett had a passion for the football league. Before his six-month stay in detention, he started his sports career in junior football in Manjimup.
He continued pursuing his passion and in 2010, he earned the chance to play at colts-level representative football with South Fremantle. However, the offer didn’t push through when he was convicted for various non-violent criminal offences which included burglary.
For 18 months, Pickett was jailed but it didn’t stop him from playing footy. He took part in an amateur football program at the Wooroloo Prison Farm. The games were featured in the documentary television series called Outside Chance.
Following his release in 2013, he debuted for South Fremantle in the West Australian Football League (WAFL). For his debut, he recorded three goals along with 26 disposals and nine marks. The following years were like a rollercoaster ride for the football player as he accumulated titles and honours in the sport while he further faced criminal charges off field.
It took many tries for Pickett to learn his lesson but he eventually did.
‘The best thing is to stay out brother’, he shared what he learned to a youth in Banksia Hill Detention Centre. ‘You don’t have to change who you hang with; just learn to say no and do you’.
Pickett showed his desire to change for the better. He also wanted to make his childhood dream of playing with one of the AFL clubs in the big league to come true.
With his talent and skills, it seemed to be possible. West Coast Eagles, Fremantle, Gold Coast, Essendon, and St Kilda took interest in him. However, given his criminal record, he was overlooked by them every year.
‘The past is past’, Pickett recalled about his experience. ‘Nothing I can do about it, but if I do get an opportunity, I will take it with both hands’.
It made him strive harder to prove himself. In 2018, he won the honours of South Freo’s best and fairest as well as the WAFL’s Team of the Year. He made waves until his accomplishments reached Richmond.
Tigers recruiting manager Matt Clarke kept an eye on Pickett until the AFL announced a mid-season draft for the first time. The football club took the opportunity to draft Pickett who just had a finger injury.
‘I was just super proud of the footy club for giving him a second chance’, Richmond’s star player Dustin Martin commented on his recruitment. ‘We should do that more often’.
It appeared that recruiting someone with a criminal record was a huge controversy inside the football club as well. Former Richmond legend Kevin Sheedy also shared his opinion, saying that the club’s move was ‘very dangerous’.
‘In 2016, there’s no way Marlion Pickett gets in the door’, Richmond coach Damien Hardwick revealed. ‘There’s no way this is going to work; there’s no way I’m bringing in a player that’s been incarcerated’.
However, Pickett, who took it to himself to refute every judgement thrown to him, stayed silent and just worked hard. His stat sheet is a great testament to his achievements, recording 22 disposals, eight inside-50s and three clearances to his name.
In his debut match, he made a decisive goal in the third quarter which ultimately erased any doubts the football club and the entire football league community had ever have. However, he still has some critics to prove wrong once he comes back in the next season.
‘Some people say what’s happened to me is a fairy tale’, Pickett said. ‘But if you’re looking for a change and a better life then it’s up to you if you want to change it’.
With that, he gears for the future with an unfailing passion and persistence.