Back in 2003, Graham Richards stepped down from his role as commentator for Derby County FC – a post he’d held for 26 seasons. He had become as iconic to that generation of Rams supporters as Alan Hinton was as a player in the 1970s.
Then 23-year-old Ross Fletcher stepped in front of the microphone for the start of the next season, though, and was undaunted by the shadow cast by his legendary predecessor and became the voice of Derby County for the next seven years.
So when Fletcher was offered the opportunity to replace Arlo White as the voice of the Sounders FC, he wasn’t fazed in the least that White had become such a beloved figure in the Seattle soccer community in just two years on the job.
He’s seen the message boards and the notes on twitter saying that White will be impossible to replace and he knows the standard White set on the broadcast.
“There’s no pressure,” Fletcher laughed. “Absolutely no pressure.”
Fletcher, now 32, is actually well versed on the shoes he will be stepping into as the new voice of the most well-followed club in Major League Soccer. He worked with his predecessor at the BBC before White ventured stateside to take over play-by-play duties in Seattle in 2010.
That, and seeing the rabid support for soccer when he came to the northwest to cover the Winter Olympics in Vancouver for the BBC in 2010, piqued his interest in the Sounders and MLS.
When he learned that White was moving on to NBC, he reached out to White and got in touch with the club and the process started.
“The more I looked, the more I got interested and so when the opportunity came around it seemed like a great fit and a perfect opportunity to try something new,” he said.
However, his ties to Seattle go back much further than his first trip to the Emerald City last month. Fletcher grew up a basketball fan and had one poster on his walls as a teen that wasn’t a soccer poster. That was a poster of Shawn Kemp, who reigned in Seattle with the Sonics in the NBA from 1989-1997.
“I remember him and Gary Payton tearing it up for the Sonics. I never knew much about Seattle as a place, but the Sonics were my adopted team when I saw Shawn Kemp winning all the dunk competitions,” Fletcher said. “If we were lucky we’d get one game a week during the season and it would be on at 3 in the morning, so I’d sneak up to watch the games when I could.”
Like Payton and Kemp did on the court for the Sonics, Fletcher brings his own dramatic flare to his broadcasts.
In 2007, when Derby County earned promotion to the Premier League, his call of the penalty kick shootout win over Southampton to send Derby County to Wembley Stadium for the final became a rallying cry for Derby supporters and his winning call is frequently repeated to him by those fans.
After playing to a 4-4 draw on aggregate over two legs and overtime, Derby County and Southampton went to penalties. With Derby County leading 4-3 and both teams already having one miss, former Derby County midfielder Inigo Idiakez stepped to the spot with an opportunity to even it up.
That’s when Fletcher’s call takes over.
“Up he steps, right-footed,” Fletcher announced, pausing at the strike to let the crowd’s eruption make the call for him before he shouted the line that has since been repeated ad infinitum by Derby fans everywhere. “It’s Wembley! It is so, so Wembley!”
Now behind the microphone for the Sounders FC, Fletcher is looking forward to joining in on the rising prominence of Major League Soccer – a league that has seen a consistent increase in the level of play even as the league has expanded from 12 teams in 2006 to the 19 teams that will take the pitch in 2012.
The league has also become more visible in the US and abroad.
“The great thing for me about MLS is that even though things are pretty well established, it still feels like it’s on the cusp of becoming absolutely massive. There’s a real appetite for soccer here and I really want to be part of a league that’s continuing to grow,” Fletcher said. “It will be immense. I can’t wait to get going. I’m like a kid at Christmas.”