Top 5 Western Derby Controversies

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The 56th Western Derby will be played on Sunday as we close in on almost 30 years of the local rivalry, which has included its fair share of controversy over the decades. In the absence of either side being in amazingly great form, we decided to reflect on five of the biggest Western Derby controversies from the previous 55 editions to help fuel the crosstown tension.

The Demolition Derby

Something was brewing back in 2000 when the enigmatic Clive Waterhouse declared “blood would be spilled” in the lead-up to Derby XII. With both sides out of contention in the penultimate round of the home-and-away season, it seemed they collectively determined there was nothing to lose, thus it was the opportune time for an old-fashioned brawl, with fisticuffs and all.

It kicked off before the ball was bounced in the ‘Demolition Derby’, with Michael Gardiner and then first-year rookie Matthew Pavlich squaring off with the former utilising his superior reach to land one or two left-handed jabs.

But that was merely an appetizer for the chaos as Dale Kickett flailed a wild haymaker at Phil Read early in the first quarter. Cue melee. Read sought retribution later in the game on Adrian Fletcher, with Brad Dodd flooring Read with a left-hand hook. Cue melee. Troy Cook rounded out the destruction by ‘legally’ shirtfronting Mitchell White, although there’s no doubt nowadays he would’ve copped a significant suspension for the act. And yes, cue melee.

On the topic of suspensions, Kickett copped a whopping nine-game ban for three striking charges, while Gardiner, Read and Dodd all were suspended for two weeks, plus there was a truckload of fines. And for the record, Freo won by a point, with the Eagles blowing a seven-goal third-quarter lead.

Glendinning-Allan Medal dramas

The medal for best afield in the Western Derby has garnered more attention than it probably should over the past few decades, with numerous controversies, including even the naming of the award itself. In 2018, Fremantle CEO Steve Rosich waged a campaign for a medal name change claiming the original name, the Ross Glendinning Medal, didn’t fairly represent their club, given Glendinning had no attachment to the Dockers and was actually West Coast’s inaugural captain. Later that year after a relatively drawn-out and needless local debate, the change to the Glendinning-Allan Medal was agreed, with Ben Allan being Freo’s maiden skipper.

But 15 years prior to that, Glendinning himself was at the centre of a controversy which is still playing out to this date. After the Round 5 2003 derby, which West Coast won by 35 points, the medal’s voting panel awarded the gong to Ashley Sampi, but 1983 Brownlow medalist Glendinning utilised his status to veto that, overruling the decision and announcing on the microphone that Michael Gardiner was in fact the winner.

There have been calls this week to retrospectively make Sampi co-winner of that derby’s medal, with many still lamenting Glendinning’s unusual decision. The medal controversy didn’t end there, with a frenzied home Fremantle crowd left to boo the decision to award West Coast’s Chris Judd the medal after the Round 6 2006 derby which the Dockers had won by five points. As Judd walked up to receive his medal amid the boos, Glendinning said on the mic the reaction was “unsavoury” before Judd sarcastically laughed it off as a “popular decision” amid loud jeers. For the record, Judd had 33 disposals and a goal. Josh Carr seemed the Freo fans’ preferred choice.

Ballantyne’s after-the-siren shot hits the post

Arguably less controversial than the rest of this quartet, but no less dramatic, the Round 18 2011 derby has gone down in folklore for a remarkable finale with Hayden Ballantyne having an after-the-siren shot from 45m on the boundary to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. The small forward’s attempt seemed on target – setting Ballantyne off to race away in celebration – before the shot dipped amid a clutch of hands and appeared to hit the padding of the post.

Numerous Freo players on the goal line raised their arms in celebration, claiming it was a goal, but the goal umpire wasn’t fooled and disagreed, with the behind not enough as Fremantle lost by one solitary point. Should Ballantyne have converted, West Coast supporters may have been more incensed about the free-kick awarded against Matt Rosa for deliberate out-of-bounds which offered him the opportunity in the first place. Back then, that was a far less common call from the umpires. Then again, Fremantle winning after-the-siren free-kicks are very much the flavour of the week, with Dockers fans begging for a similar insufficient intent call against North Melbourne last Saturday night…

Des Headland vs Adam Selwood

Arguably the most controversy and spite came out of the round 3 2007 derby following a verbal exchange that led to an incident involving Fremantle’s Des Headland and West Coast’s Adam Selwood. The pair had exchanged words throughout the game but late in the third quarter, Headland was left furious by something Selwood said and wrestled him to the ground. During the wrestle, it appeared both raked each other’s eyes with their fingers, in potential eye gouging incidents. Headland cooled off and the game moved on. After the game it came out that Selwood allegedly made an inappropriate comment about a tattoo on Headland’s arm which depicted his then six-year-old daughter Madisan, with Fremantle making a rare ‘notice of incident’ complaint to the AFL. Both players were sent to the Tribunal.

The case was one man’s word against another and neither’s version of events could be agreed, thus Selwood’s insulting language charge was cleared after a two-hour hearing. Some of the alleged comments were very distasteful so we’ve opted to leave them out. Headland was found guilty on two striking charges and for wrestling but unusually cleared off those for “exceptional and compelling circumstances by way of provocation” relating to the alleged comments made by Selwood, which had earlier been cleared due to a lack of evidence. Both were free to play the next week. Strangely remarkable.

Gaff whacks Brayshaw

In hindsight, violence does seem a bit of the theme among this list, so apologies for that, but it’s part of the tension among these two neighbouring clubs. One of the worst moments in derby history occurred in round 20 2018, with both clubs at opposite ends of the ladder, when West Coast winger Andrew Gaff swung a clench-fisted arm at close-marking Freo rookie Andy Brayshaw off the ball. The errant fist did major damage to the bloodied Brayshaw, who suffered a broken jaw and losing several teeth in the process. He subsequently missed the rest of the season, amid a lengthy recovery period where he couldn’t eat solids for a month.

The act, which was replayed on the big screen at Optus Stadium, incensed the Fremantle players who sought retribution with Luke Ryan and Michael Johnson flattening Gaff early in the fourth quarter, leaving him dazed, before Eagles coach Adam Simpson opted to bench him for his own safety as tensions threatened to boil over.

Gaff’s hit was an incident rarely seen in this era (you could see Gaff’s shock and remorse on the bench) and subsequently he was sent straight to the AFL Tribunal and handed an eight-game suspension, which saw him miss out on being part of the 2018 Grand Final team. Freo fans haven’t forgotten, with Gaff booed every time he touches the ball at every derby since.

Image Credit: AAP

Western Derby #56 is on at Optus Stadium this Sunday 2 April, kickoff at 3.20pm

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