It’s quite the tale: Marlion Pickett, a young bloke from Perth, makes his AFL debut in this year’s grand final, wowing the crowd with his raw talent. His backstory is even more remarkable.
The first glimpse the wider world was given of Marlion Pickett was not on an Australian rules football field in Melbourne.
He was neither bathed in sunshine doing a balletic blind turn in front of 100,014 spectators, nor buried by his Richmond Football Club teammates after a cool, calm but dramatic (almost cinematic) grand final goal.
He was not wearing yellow and black.
He was not 27 years old.
He was 20. He was 60 kilometres east of Perth. And he was behind bars.
Pickett was a character – identified only as “Marlion” – in a five-part 2014 TV documentary called Outside Chance, about an innovative 2012 criminal justice program, in which inmates of the minimum-security Wooroloo Prison Farm were
allowed to play football matches against local teams in a regional league, outside their razor-wire confines. The aim was best summed up by the tagline of the series: “Winning their redemption, one game at a time.”
I watched the ABC show before I met Pickett in person, and it’s confronting. It opens with vision of inmates being strip-searched and foreboding iron doors slamming shut. It’s narrated by Andrew Krakouer, the former Richmond forward who went to jail for assault in 2008, before being released from prison, then returning to play in the AFL with Collingwood. A sentence from his opening monologue stands out: “One player, Marlion, looks like he has the goods to emulate my journey, and potentially make it big on the outside.”
Game footage comes next, and Pickett is instantly recognisable. That languid stride and loping gait. The way his slender arms cradle the ball and place it gently on the foot. Next, in a single snippet of vision, comes a breathtaking confirmation of his football identity. Call it the Pickett pirouette. The sweeping, circular, slow-motion spin is an exact replica of the old-fashioned evasive dance he did on the MCG against the GWS Giants that last Saturday in September, on his way to gathering 22 clean disposals and one premiership medallion, not to mention a place in sporting
folklore as the first player in almost seven decades to make his AFL debut on grand final day…