Wasting Time With Freddy Fittler
During the month The Beast caught up with former Roosters captain and coach Brad ‘Freddy’ Fittler at his Bronte beach pad…
Where are you originally from?
I was born in Auburn, grew up in Ashcroft, which is just a couple of kilometres further west of Liverpool, and then moved to a place called Werrington as a teenager, which is between St Marys and Penrith, and then Penrith.
And where are you living these days?
Rushcutters Bay and part-time in Bronte.
When did you first move to the east?
In 1996, during the Super League affair, I went from Penrith to the Roosters. I remember moving in the off-season of 1996 and I moved into a high-rise in the city, down at the Rocks.
How was the change from living out west to living it up in the big smoke?
I brought a good mate with me and we were living on level 17 looking over the harbour with a concierge and pool and we used to sit on the balcony just laughing.
When did you first move to the beach?
I moved to the northern beaches after the Rocks, to Collaroy. I was lucky. It was before all the prices went nuts so I lived right on the beach for about four years. My place backed on to the sand. That was just ridiculous.
Why did you move to Rushcutters Bay?
It was too far away over there, and the traffic’s crap. You spend half your life in a car so the fact that you were going to a good spot was good but crap. So I moved back into the city and then moved to Clovelly for a couple of years and then to Rushcutters. We’re like gypsies.
What do you love about living in the Eastern Suburbs?
Just the geography of it beaches, a lot of people, it’s just a beautiful city. As a young bloke we never used to come here at all, we never thought twice about it. I love where I grew up but I love the salt water. I’ve worked out that I need to swim almost every day so I try to get that done now. That’s really the only thing I have on my agenda most days.
You get on the surfboard too, don’t you?
Yeah, I get on there, but I’m not great. Anything over four or five foot and I bail. If there are too many people I bail as well.
Have you made any enemies out there at Bronte?
No, I’ve dropped in on a couple.
Have you got local cred these days?
Every now and then I get a little “This one’s yours mate”. So they’re pretty cool. There’s the same sort of group out there and everyone gets to know each other. It’s a pretty good place.
Is there anything you don’t like about living in the Eastern Suburbs?
It’s all pretty good. I suppose over time you get used to seeing how cities run, businesses run, people run, and I think there seems to be a lot of greed. There are a lot of people out there really wanting to make money so I find that gets in the road a bit. One thing I like about Bronte is there are a heap of old dudes here that I speak to every day and they don’t change. I like Clovelly too. It’s a real baby boomer place, you know.
Do you have any favourite local haunts around the area?
Yeah. I religiously went to a place downstairs for a juice each day but then one day they were so rude and I just barred them. I’m still waiting for them to apologise. I’ve got a motorbike actually so I’ve got a few haunts. I get out to Watto Bay. Just left of Camp Cove there’s an old place where there are rock ledges you can dive off and swim around. There are heaps of little haunts in there. Around the corner of Cloey at Gordon’s Bay is another good one.
What sort of bike are you riding?
I’ve got a big Fat Boy. I had a scooter but I think I was a bit heavy for a scooter. It was only a little 150cc.
You were raised out west; do you miss it?
No, I don’t. I miss the people; the people are good. Things are simpler out there, especially as a kid. The kids make up fun everywhere but you had to be pretty inventive out there.
Do you reckon it’s better growing up out west?
I loved it. I can only imagine what I would have been like if I grew up on the beach. The salt water is just one of those things. It was good out west. No one had money so you were on your pushy or your skatey every day, knocking on doors and seeing if your mates were home, and then there was the whole adventure of getting up to mischief and then getting home and telling lies to your mum about what you’d been up to.
Is it true that you were quite a studious bloke back in high school?
I wouldn’t say I was great. Things came pretty easy when I was younger. Once I got to about Year 10, 11, when you had to study, I didn’t do study.
Were you playing first grade when you were doing your HSC?
Yeah. I just smashed a few No Doz and crammed. I did my best and I did good enough.
So there are no desires to go to uni or anything like that?
Mate, I went and did some coaching courses that lasted two days and I lasted a day and a quarter. I just can’t sit there. I just can’t do it. I think my attention span has always revolved around 40 minute efforts and that’s all I’ve got.
Do you still have family out west?
No, my brother and sister moved up to Queensland and my mum moved down to Sussex Inlet.
Was your brother much of a footy player?
No, not really. He was good with electronics and stuff so he went down that angle.
How did the ‘Freddy’ nickname come about?
It was my first rep game when I was a kid. I walked into the change room and Jack Gibson said, “G’day, kid” and I said, “Hi, Jack”. He said, “What’s your name?” and I said “Brad”. Then he said, “Rightio, Fred, take a seat” and that was it.
Do you ever get called Adolf?
Yeah. Benny Elias’ mum actually used to call me Adolf. She went over to England one year and just started calling me Adolf. It was quite strange, especially coming from a mad Lebanese voice.
You’ve got two kids, a son and a daughter, are they budding sport stars too or is it too early to tell?
Yeah, it’s hard to tell. It’s hard to tell what makes an athlete. They’re both big and strong and I gave them my good thick wrists and thick ankles and thick knees so I don’t think they will be ballerinas, put it that way.
Are you going to try to instil the famous left foot side-step in your son?
We go walking through the Cross a fair bit and the other day he picked up something off the ground and started sidestepping a lamppost. That was a bit weird. I didn’t know there was a gene for side-step.
How old is he?
Did you work hard on your side-step or was it just always there?
No, I never really practised many skills at all. I just worked on the passion side of it, the love.
Are you worried that bringing your kids up in the east will make them soft?
No. As long as they show respect. They’re a little bit soft already, actually. My little fella cries a lot so I’ve tried giving him the talk. It’s funny, the daughter’s tough as.
Which premiership do you remember more fondly, Penrith in 1991 or the Roosters in 2002?
Definitely the latest one and even that’s starting to become a bit blurry. I remember distinct parts of it. Footy’s a really good life. As you grow up and get older it’s a real little sanctuary where you can go and act young again and throw balls around and kick balls and tackle one another and grab each other’s arses and just be really weird. We all talk about how we wish we were younger but then everyone seems to hate being called immature or getting caught for acting young and footy is a really nice little place where you can just act young and not worry about it. We have a ball.
Do you ever think back about the lost grand finals, because there were quite a few?
Yeah, I only won two from six.
Do you give a stuff?
It’s not that you don’t give a stuff but I don’t dwell on it. I mean, how many blokes have played in six? There are quite a few but not thousands and I won two so when I look back, if I ever try to judge myself, I say yeah, I was mostly a good player. I wasn’t the greatest but I was good enough to be up alongside some of the better players and that’s a good enough record.
Who do you reckon is the best five-eighth to have ever played the game?
They’re all different. Some blokes have the luxury of playing in good sides their whole life. When I came into grade I played for Penrith who were a really tough side. When I finished I played for the Roosters who were a really tough side. Along the way I had a few struggle years at Penrith but I played in pretty good sides. There are a lot of players that don’t get that opportunity. You look at Darren Lockyer and obviously at the moment he’s doing wonderful things, especially with Origin, but he’s played for organised teams, Brisbane and Queensland, so he’s been guided along there pretty well. Wally Lewis was fantastic. He played in an era where Queensland weren’t as good as NSW and then came out and really dominated.
Did you ever play against Wally?
Yeah, I played against him in his last game. He didn’t want to swap jerseys. Imagine what that would be worth now, hey.
Besides surfing out at Bronte bunker what do you actually do these days?
Mate, what do I do? I do The Footy Show and a bit of commentating with Channel Nine and I work for Bigpond for a couple of hours a week, just talking about footy, and that’s it. I’ve got a few things on the side that I’m just trying to touch on at the moment to see what I enjoy. I’m doing a bit of documentary stuff and I’m putting together a sort of ‘behind the scenes’ photography book. Everyone’s into photography now, and I don’t think I’m a great photographer but I get really good access to the players. They always give me a lot of their time and energy so I get some good shots.
You recently coached the City Origin side; how was that?
It was only one week and it was just a beauty. There are a lot of really good young kids. They reacted really well, they were really open to what I was talking about and what I believed in, and they played accordingly. They played really tough. I’m really proud of them.
How do you reckon NSW are going to go in State Of Origin this year?
I think they will go in with the belief that they can win and that’s a big thing. Anything can happen in that game. I back them. Three weeks ago I reckon they didn’t believe they could win. The City vs Country Origin game had a really good bearing on that and I think that concept is one we bitch about every year but we don’t put enough energy into it. We put energy into it one week a year and we wonder why no one really likes it.
The players must like it, don’t they?
Some do. But I’ve been at a stage where I didn’t think it was that important either. It’s valued greatly by the country people and I think people from the city like it too. It’s just the fact that no one’s ever put energy into it. It comes up once a year and the whole time we bitch. We sit there and argue whether it’s appropriate or not. We’re going to talk to some sponsors to see if we can sort something about that, to raise the profile a little bit.
Do you still want to coach down the track or are you happy just doing the media thing?
The media’s the best. It’s just the time thing. I love coaching too. I mean, any time you can go to work every day and you’ve got a pair of shorts and a t shirt on and you’re running around kicking footballs, you can’t really complain. There’s a whole other side to coaching that I wasn’t emotionally up to first time around but I dealt with it and would do a lot better next time.
Do think there will be a next time?
I don’t know. I’m quite happy with the City Origin coaching gig at the moment. Hopefully they’ll give me that job again and I’ll be quite happy to try to develop that for a while.
Did you enjoy coaching the Roosters in your time there?
Loved it. It’s a great job. You’re totally testing yourself the whole time and you’re working on motivations and stuff like that. You’re working on the hardest skills really, like instilling trust into people. You’ve got to try to mould them somehow and you’ve got to get them all on the same wavelength. You have young kids at all different stages of their lives and then all of a sudden other people come into the group. You’ve got good influences and bad influences and you learn over time how to get rid of bad ones and how to keep the good ones. I only had two years but I absolutely loved it.
How did you feel when the Roosters showed you the door?
My contract was up but I had lost their support, and you wonder how much support I really had the whole time. That’s how I felt.
Did it play on your mind?
The first year I didn’t care because I was just right into it, and all the players were into it too. It was the back end of that first year where things started to waver a little bit and I could feel it straight away, and then the second year just started shithouse and went worse. The thing that I found was they treat it like a business. Where I come from, when I was playing footy it was never a business. I thought they could have approached it a lot better, so I was very disappointed in that.
Can the Roosters make the finals this year?
Most probably not.
What do you reckon is going wrong there?
I think a few of their priorities have changed a little bit. They had a wonderful year last year. I was a really big fan. The way they played was awesome. I still cheer for them but there are definitely some cracks forming and it will be interesting to see how they came out of it. If they make the semis it will be a mammoth effort.
What are your thoughts on Todd Carney and everything that’s going on there?
He’s a kid who’s grown up in Goulburn. There are a lot of places, like Goulburn, where what you see as a teenager is a lot different to what other people see in the city. He hasn’t really done that much wrong. He’s made a lot of promises and broken a lot of promises but generally he’s a good kid, I like him. He’s a fantastic footballer. He’s got my support.
He should probably know better though…
I want to know why he should know better. Just because you’re a footballer all of a sudden you’re supposed to be more intelligent. He’s still young, he’s still got errors to make. Urinating on a dude was a bit weird though, if he actually did that.
What do you find more nerve wracking, the lead up to playing a big game back in the day or the lead up to commentating on a big game?
I feel really comfortable on a footy field. Going on the Footy Show on Thursday nights I get nervous. I have sweat attacks and a few of them have come in front of hundreds of thousands of people. That’s something that I’ve had since I was a kid. I get anxious. But I never get anxious on a footy field.
What was the highlight of your playing career?
There was a time in the 2002 grand final when I think Fletch (Brian Fletcher) scored and there’s a photo where I’m walking back to halfway and the Roosters fans are right there and I could just tell they were all looking at me. There was just this connection. I had the hands up and the head was bleeding and they were all just looking. It was like everyone was saying thank you and I was saying thank you to them. That was a pretty good moment.
If you didn’t make it in footy what do you reckon you would have done?
I suppose if I got an injury or something like that I would have gone into PE teaching. My PE teacher when I was in Year 7 was the bloke off the old Toohey’s ad who hit the home run and who played for Auburn. I thought he was pretty cool so PE teaching seemed like a good idea. His name was Neil Barraclough I think.
Do you support any charities?
I do a lot with the PCYC. I think people are a bit unaware just how tough it is out there for kids to find entertainment and mischief these days is really frowned upon. I think blokes get thrown into jail for throwing an egg at a house these days. I nailed many houses with eggs as a kid. We tend to look down on mischief these days so I think we need to put a lot of energy into entertaining our kids and make sure we guide them a bit better. The PCYCs are fantastic organisations so I do a lot through them and basically try to help wherever I can. And my missus gets lupus, which is an anti immune disease, so I’m going to start looking to do some stuff with a charity associated with that.
Do you have any advice for youngsters looking to make it in professional sport?
Well, I think what’s happened now is we’re getting to a stage where we don’t cop fools anymore in professional sport. It just takes up too much energy. So if you can taper your ways by the time you’re 18 or 19, and the drink is a big thing, if you can calm that down and you’ve got talent then you give yourself a chance. It was different when I was playing but if I’d tapered it when I was younger, like I did when I was older, I’m sure my career would have been better, there’s no doubt. I might not have had as much fun though.
You got in trouble a couple of times, didn’t you?
Yeah, absolutely and dodged a million bullets. I don’t drink much anymore but when I do I just love it. But that’s the danger, you know. And every time I do have a good drink I actually put myself under the pump a bit because I’m a happy drunk. I’m not going to get into a fight or do anything like that but I’m capable of putting myself under pressure.
Like knocking on the wrong hotel room door?
I’ve done that. And falling asleep in the wrong place.
Why do you think the young players feel the need to get on the booze?
Fair dinkum, and you can write this, they’re chasing chicks. Mate, they’re 23, they’re training, they’re fit and they live in the Eastern Suburbs. They want chicks and they’re here, there are heaps of them. A lot of the boys are pretty shy. They come to Sydney and they’ve got their little insecurities and a lot of them can’t just walk up to a good-looking bird unless they’ve got 10 beers under their belt. I was like that. They want chicks – that’s the answer, chicks. And I suppose for some of them it’s a bit of an escape too. When they’re on the booze they feel like they can just switch off.
In an ideal world what does the future hold for Brad Freddy Fittler?
More of what I’m doing now, coming down here to Bronte every day. If I come here every day, life’s alright, isn’t it? It’s not that complicated. I love having my own time, and my wife-to-be – we’ve been engaged for 11 years – she gives me plenty of time and space and I love wasting time down at the beach. People don’t do it enough, just waste time. It’s the best.