This Friday night, Dustin Fletcher takes the field to play his 379th game, and in doing so he will become the outright games record holder for the Essendon Football Club – overtaking club legend Simon Madden. It is a remarkable achievement.
The match will take Fletcher to 4th on the all-time games list, behind fellow legends Michael Tuck (426), Kevin Bartlett (403), and Robert Harvey (383).
Dustin and his father, Ken, currently hold the league games record for a father-son combination, with 642.
Measured in time, rather than games, Fletcher has survived the second longest career on record. To set a new record he will need to play on until at least the middle of 2015.
His career has been so enduring, he has actually been teammates with three father-son combinations (Tim Watson and his son Jobe, and Anthony Daniher and his sons Darcy and Joe).
This weekend will also see the league’s current oldest player become the 6th oldest player ever to take the field.
During his elongated career, Fletcher’s freakish skills have been witnessed by an official attendance of 18,271,064 footy fans. The next highest is only 13 million.
These are some of the statistics that come from a long career, but longevity is only part of Fletcher’s greatness.
Fletcher’s career honours include a Rising Star nomination, two premierships, two All-Australian selections, and one Crichton medal (club best and fairest). These accolades do not do his career justice.
Dustin Fletcher is the greatest player of all time. And let me show you why…
Midfielders receive all the awards in the modern game, while forwards receive the glory and the money due to their finishing work, but in sport defence wins matches – and titles.
Defenders are usually underrated. Their best games often go unnoticed, while every little error is remembered. So rather than relying on perceptions based on flair or brute force, as is often the case with midfielders and forwards, demonstrating Fletcher’s value will require a few statistics.
Since Fletcher began his career in 1993, Essendon’s winning percentage has been 54.7% which is slightly below the club’s long term average of 57.4%. This demonstrates the figures I am about to show you are not merely a case of Fletcher being at a strong club during a successful period, as would be the case with most of Geelong’s current list.
Joel Selwood is an oft cited example. While his winning percentage of 81.3% is impressive – 11th of all time among those who have played more than 50 games – it is actually below that of his team over the same period, 81.8%. Selwood, along with most of the people on that list, has played in a successful team. Fletcher has made a team successful.
The following graph plots Essendon’s winning percentage over Fletcher’s career, both with and without the great man. Year after year, the statistics highlight how important he has been to the Bombers.
A few anomalies exist, but overall, the data speaks for itself.
During Fletcher’s 21 seasons, his presence has accounted for a staggering 21% increase in the chances of victory. With Fletcher on the field, Essendon’s winning percentage has been 59.4%. Conversely, while sidelined, it has been an abysmal 38.4%.
To put such a lowly figure in perspective, over the same period Melbourne has a slightly higher winning percentage of 38.6%. By this measure, the inclusion of a player of Fletcher’s talents could have turned them into a consistent finals performer, possibly winning multiple premierships.
Other perennial failures such as Richmond, Fremantle, Footscray and St. Kilda have totalled: 43.3%, 43.4%, 49% and 50%, respectively.
Yet without Fletcher, Essendon has a worse record than all of these also-rans. The only teams less successful than an Essendon side without Fletcher are the two new expansion clubs.
The only team more successful than Essendon with Fletcher on the field over the same period is the all-conquering Geelong, with 63.5%.
For most players these figures could be dismissed as a sampling error, as they only miss a handful of games. In Fletcher’s case it cannot. All told, Fletcher has been on Essendon’s list for a total of 486 games, which means during his 378 game career he has missed 108 games through injury and suspension – and in recent years, being rested. (Technically 107, he debuted in round 2 of his first season.)
Mirroring the old tradesman’s adage of ‘I’ve forgotten more than you’ll ever know’, Fletcher has missed more games than most will ever play. This data is statistically significant.
While arguably less statistically significant, the same trend has occurred in finals, and to a much larger degree.
Essendon have competed in 12 finals campaigns during Fletcher’s career, at a winning percentage of 53.9%. While Fletcher has been on the ground, this has risen to 60.9%. Without him, 0%.
Yes, you read that correctly. Essendon have not won a single finals match since the beginning of Fletcher’s career without him on the field. This could be a worry, should he ever decide to retire.
I challenge anyone to present a more important and influential player.
Were there an ‘all-time’ draft, involving every player to ever play the game, Fletcher would be my number one pick, without any hesitation.
Who would be your number one pick of all time? I’ve entered a few names to get the ball rolling, but feel free to add others to the list.
Don’t forget to visit The Bomber Shop to check out the official merchandise celebrating Fletcher’s milestone.