“I wanted to be Matthew Richardson.”
Western Bulldogs Premiership player Fletcher Roberts grew up dreaming of playing AFL and wanting to be just like the high-flying Richmond forward who was a 3 x All Australian, 13 x Richmond Leading Goal Kicker and Jack Dyer Medallist.
Known fondly as ‘Chogga’, Fletcher Roberts has always been in love with AFL.
“I was a Richmond supporter, mainly because of Matthew Richardson. He was someone I looked up to. I wanted to be him,” he said.
“It’s a bit weird now that I’m a defender and he played forward,” he laughs.
A South-Eastern suburbs boy, Roberts played cricket and footy for Murrumbeena, starting with the Under 9’s at the age of seven, following in his older brother’s footsteps.
“I loved it. I would play in the morning, showing off to my older brothers, then I’d run the boundary for their game. I got a hot dog and drink as payment, which was a lot in those days.”
Roberts attended De La Salle College for Years 7-9, before receiving a scholarship to Melbourne Grammar to finish his high school education. At both schools, he was taught the value of hard work which has stayed with him throughout his career.
He played footy for Melbourne Grammar through his VCE years and played for the Sandringham Dragons in the TAC Cup, which led to a shot at the big time.
“It [Sandringham Dragons career] started at Murrumbeena, getting spotted there and then being chosen to be part of the Dragons development squad from Under 14 onwards.”
Chogga knew by the age of 15 that footy was his number one priority and had his brothers’ and friends’ wisdom to thank for the career advice that pushed him ahead of the pack.
“I was pretty lucky having a few older brothers and a few of their mates who had actually played AFL, who’d been and gone before me. They knew when I needed to start taking it seriously,” Roberts began.
“You start to sacrifice a few things and concentrate on your footy a bit more. I tried to put my mind towards becoming an AFL player, which is what a lot of young guys are doing today, putting all their eggs into one basket. It’s a good thing”. He thrived on the hard work.
Standing at 196 centimetres, Roberts starting his career as a forward and a ruckman just like his idol Richardson. He branched out in his latter teenage years in order to grab the attention of AFL selectors.
“During my Under 18’s TAC year, recruiters wanted to see what different roles you can do. I played a little bit of back, but I was mainly back up ruck and forward.”
After being recruited to the Bulldogs in 2012, Roberts defence was developing to be his most important aspect on field, but he was still eager to show his ability in the forward half.
“Playing at both ends in my first couple of years at the Western Bulldogs, I was able to adapt and learn a lot of new things. I had knowledge for playing forward. You learn the good things defenders do when they play on you. You figure out what forwards don’t like, so you can do that as a defender.”
“Being a ruckman took a step back,” he continued, “because at AFL level I’m a bit small.”
Chogga was one of the Bulldogs stars in their 2016 premiership season, notching-up 18 games and playing an important role in a backline full of capability.
“In 2016, we had a very strong backline, with a lot of boys contributing and a lot of experience. We had Dale Morris, Matthew Boyd leading the way. Then there was myself, Shane Biggs, JJ (Jason Johannisen), Joel Hamling, being able to play our part with those other boys,”
When asked the infamous ‘do backlines win premierships?’ Roberts response was measured.
“I do believe it’s pretty important when really pushing to win a premiership,” he laughs.
Discussion turned to the ’glamour forwards’ of today’s game and how Roberts manages to get on top of the likes of Buddy Franklin and Jeremy Cameron.
“It’s always somewhat of a privilege to play on those key forwards of the game. It shows people have belief in you to play that role. You need to take that with a lot of confidence and believe that you’ll be able to match them.”
Roberts, who is one of the few who knows Head Coach Luke Beveridge well, explains how he is a headstrong man with a great love for creating connections.
“He really gets to know the players, works on the personal relationship and then the business relationship. It’s important to have a good connection with someone to tell them the hard and the positive things,” he said.
“A lot of what Bevo drives and believes is what the club stands for and our assistant coaches [Daniel Giansiracusa, Joel Corey, Steven King] preach this to the best of their ability.”
“All of the line and assistant coaches put time and effort into making us better players. We need to respect these legends of the club, wanting to help us and make the club even better, which is important from a culture side.”
Delving further into the culture, Teddy Whitten and the importance of football club history, Roberts understands that his club is built on the people that came before him.
“There’s a few quotes around the inner sanctum from Teddy, I think as a playing and coaching group we have a good respect for the club history,” Roberts said.
“Teddy’s quote, ‘shop early, avoid the rush’, is very relevant in footy, talking about doing your work early and to get your rewards later.”
Asked what advice he would give to his 18-year-old self, he simply says, “try hard, don’t let any minor speed hump hold you back from letting you achieve anything. It’s important to have a resilient mind with the modern-day game.”
“Start to take your footy seriously, but also enjoy it. Enjoy the challenge of Year 12 and TAC.”
Roberts’ career is still all ahead of him. Despite being a Premiership player at the age of 23, it hasn’t been all plain sailing. It’s hard to believe he is still only 24 and is yet to play 50 games.
He still has plenty of work to do, plenty of games to play and plenty of things to prove to his coaches, his teammates, his supporters and most importantly, himself.
And as Daniel Giansiracusa once told him, when he was subbed off in his early playing days, ‘all you’ve got to do is keep your head up’.
And keep working hard.