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West Australian football in general and the Subiaco Football Club in particular owe a Gnowangerup bloke by the name of Willie Farmer a great deal.
The uncle of recently retired Subiaco star Alistair Pickett, it was he who was responsible for the brilliant rover getting back onto the football field after he had turned his back on the game. “I hadn't pulled on a footy boot for two years, and had no desire to,” Pickett recalled. “Uncle Willy asked me down to Narrogin to have a kick. I said “no way, I'm not playing.” Pickett was a quick, in and under rover, with lightning hands, was adept at reading the play, especially off the packs, and had good goal sense.
Pickett was a quick, in and under rover, with lightning hands, was adept at reading the play, especially off the packs, and had good goal sense.
That Willy Farmer was able to talk Alistair into playing again was the catalyst for one of the great careers in the WAFL in recent years, catapulting the rising twenty six year old onto the sporting stage and into football folklore.
Alistair Pickett started playing football at Gnowangerup, where he came under the notice of a local football identity in David O'Shaughnessy. “He took an interest in me, and took me to all the games, as well as giving me advice that was invaluable throughout my career,”Ali said. Ali later moved to Perth to live with his Auntie, and, being in the West Perth area, he rocked up to pre season training as a nineteen year old in 1995.
A knee injury before the season had even gotten underway, resulting in a reconstruction, saw him out of action until the start of the following year's competition. “It took me a while to get fit,” he recalled. “I played reserves most of the year, but stuck at it, finally playing three league games towards the end of the season. Then I suffered another knee injury, which was devastating.”
After the work the young rover had put in to break into league football, the latest setback was a shattering blow to his ambitions. “I stayed around for a while, but the motivation wasn't there any more, although I tried rehabilitation. I finally walked away, deciding that it wasn't meant to be for me.”
After sitting out of the game for the 1997 and 98 seasons, it was only the urging of his uncle that got him back onto the ground with Narrogin in late 1999 for a handful of matches.
Playing again in Narrogin colours in 2000, Pickett exploded back onto the football scene, winning the Leo Graham Medal as best player in the League. Peel Thunder showed interest in his cousin Marlon Woods, and signed Pickett as support for him. “We were only going to give it a go under weekly permits, but Narrogin refused, so we applied for clearances,” Pickett said. “I still wasn't serious about the big league.”
“I looked at it as an opportunity for Marlon, so I was there mainly for support, but Marlon only played two games, he lacked the dedication and commitment, as happens with young blokes.”
Ali played the last five games of the year in the Peel Thunder league team, and fronted again in 2002, when he was a revelation for the Mandurah-based side, as well as the WAFL competition, becoming the first Peel player to win a Sandover Medal. “Peter German had a huge impact on me,” he said. “When I was a kid I followed North Melbourne, and I knew all about him. Sometimes early on I had to pinch myself to make sure I wasn't dreaming, and I was really playing under him. He got me back focused on playing football.”
At 170 cms (just under five foot six) and 69kgs (eleven stone), Pickett was a quick, in and under rover, with lightning hands, was adept at reading the play, especially off the packs, and had good goal sense. Aware of the need and passion to chase and tackle, he prided himself on that aspect of his game. A broken jaw forced him out of the State side for the match against Queensland during the 2002 season, but he went on to play three times for Western Australia.
When German left Peel to take the Subiaco coaching job in 2003, it wasn't long before Ali followed. “It wasn't just the fact that Peter was there, it was more the travel. I was living in Perth with a young family, and I doubt whether I could have played so long if I'd had to maintain the travel to Mandurah every season,” he explained.
His years at Subiaco were a tremendous ride for Ali. A second Sandover Medal in 2004, a Subiaco fairest and best, with four premierships, and there's not much left for a bloke whose late career start would have ruled him out of any AFL thoughts. The quietly spoken Alistair Pickett has his feet firmly on the ground, though. Aware of the support he enjoyed from Subiaco fans, he said: “I don't know how to explain it. If I can make someone's day by playing alright, that's terrific. They have been great, and I love them all.”
Ali was unable to pick a hardest opponent, “they are all hard,” but he did regard Mark Haynes as the best he'd played with.
Alistair Pickett is looking forward to life after football. He has three boys, and is keenly anticipating following and guiding their formative years, especially in the sporting area. The eldest, Alliston, is showing promise with Subiaco, and Tyler and Brodie are also starring in the Pickett backyard competition. He is already enjoying more time with wife, Renata. “Together with my Dad, Alistair, and Mum, Beverley, she has been a great support for me throughout my career,” he said.
But there may be a few moments of Pickett magic left.
“I'd like to get into coaching, maybe starting with an assistant role somewhere. But depending on what turns up, I could even get into a playing coach role.” And something for footy fans at Gnowangerup: “It would be nice to finish my football off at Gnowangerup.”
In 2008, Alistair Pickett was named in Subiaco's official Team of the Century. That he was the only modern day player to be included in the allstar side, and considering the top rovers the club has boasted over the years, it is a fair indication of the esteem in which Ali is held at the club. It would also be fair to say that the respect is shared by the football world in Western Australia.