Wearing a predominately green away jumper, Fremantle lined up against Richmond at the MCG on 1 April 1995.
Quoted in The West Australian in the week leading up to the game, coach Gerard Neesham said: “I don’t know how we’re going to perform. I’ve told them to go out and enjoy themselves, have a bit of faith in their ability. The reason they’ve been selected is that they’ve shown some good qualities.”
He also reflected on the fact that the team would contain 10 players making their AFL debut: “I don’t think there is an alternative. At some stage you have to blood them. What’s really important is that they get to play. The real strength of the club is going to be the way these youngsters play in a year or two, not how they play against Richmond.”
Fremantle began the game well, holding a 14-point lead at one stage in the first quarter. Giant ruckman Matthew Burton was performing strongly, as were dashing defenders Dale Kickett and Scott Chisholm. Jamie Merillo adjusted quickly to the tempo of AFL football, but was forced off the ground early with a broken jaw.
It was a day of first:
- Ben Allan had the first disposal (a handball after a free kick)
- Dale Kickett had the first kick
- Matthew Burton took the first mark
- Todd Ridley kicked the first goal
Eventually, Richmond took control and was 24 points up at three-quarter time, but the Dockers stormed home, kicking five goals to two in the last quarter to lose by less than a goal.
Richmond 3.6 6.13 10.15 12.18 (90)
Fremantle 4.4 5.7 7.9 12.13 (85)
Goals: Chris Groom, Todd Ridley 3; Peter Bell 2; Scott Edwards, Ben Allan, Winston Abraham, Craig Burrows 1.
Best: Matthew Burton, Dale Kickett, Phil Gilbert, Todd Ridley, Craig Burrows, Scott Chisholm.
“We came here to win,” Neesham said after the game. "We’re pretty disappointed. In the end we went down by five points and the boys are pretty bitter about it. Winning respect is one thing. Anyone who plays sport likes to come off the field and be respected. One game doesn’t make that happen."
Matthew Burton (Fremantle Football Club Player, 1995-2000): "I set my sights all pre-season to play in that game. Once I started to feel comfortable and we started playing against AFL teams, I thought: ‘Hang on a minute, I’m going all right here.’ After my highs and lows and being on a list previously and knocked back by every other AFL club - to then run on the MCG and play my first ever game was a dream come true. When I ran onto the ground and through the banner and while I was doing the warm-up I felt like I was walking on air. I was playing against Greg Dear in the ruck. Richmond won the first bounce and scrambled it forward, then Dale Kickett got it on the half-back flank and I ran over to the members side wing and took the first ever mark for Fremantle."
Peter Mann (Fremantle Football Club Player, 1995-99; Captain, 1997-98): "To play the first game for an AFL football club was a wonderful experience. Going to the ground, getting ready and running out onto the MCG was all very exciting, and representing Fremantle and performing reasonably well as a team was a great experience, but it was a bit of an opportunity lost - we could have or should have won it. There was a bit of inexperience in finishing certain things: I felt we had a pretty good handle on the way we wanted to play - we just didn’t execute it the way we would have liked. The MCG is quite an intimidating place to start off in. I felt that, given it was our first game together as a team, things were looking pretty positive."
The Dockers had fallen just short of a dream start, but the opposing team had been impressed by the new club’s performance. Chris Bond, who played for the Tigers from 1993-97 before spending two seasons at Fremantle himself, admitted the result had come as a relief: “It was seen as a game that we should win and I do remember the sense of relief after we did - I remember looking at our coach John Northey after the game and thinking how relieved he looked. Fremantle were a lot better than we thought they would be. I think they surprised us all with their attacking style of play - they got up and going, and even though we always felt in control of the game at the end of the day it was just five points.”
Fremantle’s speed was the major talking point for Northey: “The Dockers were a very fast side. Matty Rogers is one of our fastest players and he was consistently beaten for pace.”
Also singing the Dockers’ praises was football journalist and writer Greg Hobbs, who wrote the following stirring commendation in the next week’s Football Record: “Well done Fremantle! You didn’t come home with a victory last week in the Richmond clash but you did the next best thing... unleash a spirited and proud beginning for a club that since its birth has been criticised right, left and centre for its so-called lack of talent.”
Ben Allan (C), Winston Abraham, Peter Bell, Craig Burrows, Matthew Burton, Scott Chisholm, Tony Delaney, Gary Dhurrkay, Scott Edwards, Phil Gilbert, Chris Groom, Dale Kickett, Brendan Krummel, Quenton Leach, Peter Mann, Jamie Merillo, David Muir, Jason Norrish, Stephen O’Reilly, Todd Ridley, Scott Watters (VC).