Meet the Strikers: Jonti Richter

Mar 04, 2014 by

Welcome to the first of a series of profiles we intend to publish on this website throughout the 2014 season on players in the Brisbane Strikers’ flagship squad – its NPL senior men.

First up, it’s skipper Jonti Richter:

As anyone involved in it knows and understands, football can be an intensely emotional game. It therefore follows that a career in football can be the proverbial emotional roller coaster.

The career of new Brisbane Strikers skipper Jonti Richter is certainly a case in point. From the intoxicating highs of becoming a professional footballer in the national league aged 19, to signing for the club he idolized as a boy, to the physical and emotional pain of having his football dreams torn away from him by a crippling run of injuries, Richter has been thoroughly peppered by the slings and arrows of the game’s outrageous fortunes.

Football started for Richter back in his native South Africa, where he began running around with a ball at his feet for the Mondeor Meteors. By the time his family had emigrated to Brisbane in 1994 young Richter was catching the eye of some well-credentialled coaches. He lapped up all the skills coaching that came his way and, in his spare time, became a confirmed National Soccer League fan, attending home matches of the Brisbane Strikers at Lang Park as he dreamed of becoming a professional footballer.

“I was probably about 12 or 13 the first time I went to a Strikers game”, Richter recalled. “They were playing out of the old Suncorp (Stadium) and I just loved everything about soccer. Seeing the crowds – they weren’t too big – but seeing a crowd and seeing guys who I thought were on big money, living the dream. And I thought that would be awesome, to play for that team.

“I was there for the ’97 Grand Final. It was probably one of the best experiences of my life, and I didn’t even get to play in that game”.

Richter’s dream of becoming an NSL player came true five years later but not with the Strikers. Instead it was with Northern Spirit that Richter got his national league breakthrough. When the NSL was replaced by the A-League, Richter was offered a contract to play for the then Queensland Roar.

“I loved every minute of it”, said Richter of his time with the Roar. “It was great to have my dream realized of playing professional soccer in my home town, in front of my family. Every week I would have died on the field if I’d needed to, because I loved it that much.

“We didn’t make the finals, missing out by a point to Central Coast Mariners, but I loved every minute of it. I would have signed for ten years”.

But as magic as game day could be for Richter, life with the Roar became a schizophrenic existence for him. On the one hand he was living his dream but on the other he was struggling to adapt to the coaching style and player management methods of his coach, Miron Bleiberg.

At the end of the season Bleiberg made it clear to Richter he would be a ‘squad player’ at best the following season – a pronouncement Richter said “was like a dagger to my heart”. He decided to look elsewhere. After initial interest from Sydney FC cooled he headed across the Tasman to continue his A-League career with the New Zealand Knights who were then New Zealand’s team in the A-League.

Bad move! The experience of playing with the Knights became a nightmare that started a chain of events that saw his career almost totally unravel.

“After about four weeks I knew it wasn’t the greatest decision. The club was in turmoil so it was a very frustrating year for me personally and professionally”, Richter recalled.

“The club was in a bad way from the start so it made it very difficult for anyone playing or coaching there”.

After the meltdown at the Knights Richter left to try his luck overseas and ended up playing for English Conference North team Tamworth FC for two seasons. Whilst there he developed stress fractures in several bones in one of his feet. The injury was poorly managed while he continued to play on it. The damage exacerbated, he eventually missed eleven months of football as he returned to Australia for rehabilitation.

Down on his luck, Richter was then handed a vote of confidence from former Brisbane Strikers coach Stuart McLaren, who was putting together his Queensland State League championship-winning team of 2009.

“Stuart said even though you’re injured we’d love to have you down here (at Perry Park) and see how you go, which was a great honour in some ways – to play for a team you’d always wanted to even though it wasn’t in the NSL any more” Richter said.

The injury took nearly the whole season to heal. When Richter finally made it back on the playing field for his first game for his new team team he turned an astounding display of lung-busting energy and determination for a player who had been out of the game for so long. It helped inspire the Strikers to a win over Olympic FC that tilted the championship race in the Strikers’ favour. They duly went on to win but, but that time, Richter was on the surgeon’s table again – this time for repairs to a torn thigh.

“I was pretty devastated because I was fresh out of professional football, and had my aspirations to get back into professional football, but obviously that second injury really knocked the confidence out”, Richter said

“I had two operations and I think I missed about 16 months all-up with that one. So that’s pretty much three years with injury, right there. It was tough”.

The physical pain and emotional frustration of surgery, another long injury rehab and another lost season would have been more than enough to break many footballers. But, incredible as it may seem, bad luck had not finished twisting its knife yet.

Richter made it back on to the field for the tail end of the 2011 QSL season and the opening rounds of 2012. He was really beginning to hit his straps when another freakish injury – this time caused when he fell from a ladder at work – mangled the ligaments in his ankle. More surgery. More despair. Another season ended. In four seasons for the Strikers, Richter had made just 21 appearances.

It was almost all too much for the player who admits now that he almost gave the game away.

“I don’t know”, he answered when asked how he kept going. “A stubborn determination, I think. Not wanting to have my career ended that way. Very few players get to go out on top, which I still won’t get to do – never reaching the professional realm again. But I didn’t want to give up and be a quitter, and say ‘that injury beat me’.

“Even if I made it back for one half of football that would have been enough”.

Thankfully for the Brisbane Strikers and for the new National Premier Leagues competition, 2013 would see Richter play a lot more than one half of football. In fact, Richter’s tenacity and coach David Large’s continuing belief in him would lead to a resurrection as Richter shook off his wretched luck, got his body back to peak fitness and played almost the entire season.

His form was outstanding. Once again Richter was the winger he had been at the Roar, teasing and tormenting defenders with his pace and trickery and wearying them with his sheer hunger for work. He became his team’s outstanding attacking weapon – contributing many assists and some cracking goals – and its inspiration when things got tough on the field of play or on the training paddock.

Now he is happy to describe how he still feels about playing football and what happens when he gets the ball at his feet out wide.

“I wouldn’t say I always know exactly (what I’m going to do), like ‘two stepovers and then that way and across’”, Richter said.

“But it’s the best feeling in the world for me, when I’m one-on-one with a defender. To beat him and whip in a cross – I find a lot of joy in that! Scoring goals is great as well, obviously, but I really enjoy that one-on-one time out wide when I’ve got some space”.

If beating a fullback and scoring goals is the pretty part of Richter’s game, he also has the willingness to roll up his sleeves and do a really solid shift. Richter said this was not simply a natural attribute that he possessed.

“From about (age) fifteen, I was in the QAS, the AIS and the national league and you learn that you’ll get dropped from a team if you don’t put in that extra yard”, he said.

“Unless you are the superstar of the team you need to be putting in that (extra yard). It’s not every time you’ll be able to beat your man or score a goal, or your crossing will be on every game. So the least you can do is put in the work”.

Having re-established himself as a regular starting player and match-winner, Richter was this year made captain by his former skipper, new coach Chay Hews. He now has the responsibility of leading, on and off the park, a squad of players mostly in their early twenties or late teens, in a second season NPL that looks likely to be even tougher to win than last year’s.

If those younger players are receptive to advice they can do much worse than to listen to what Richter has gleaned out of a difficult career that he says he simply wants to finish with a Grand Final win for the Strikers.

“Even at 30, there’s never an easy road. It doesn’t matter what you’ve done three years ago, or one year ago, or last game. You’ve still got to bring it every week”, Richter said.

“I wish I knew what I know now at 19, and that is to just believe in yourself. Yeah, you can listen to the coach and do what he wants, but at the same time don’t sacrifice yourself in every way to follow his word to the letter of the law. Believe in yourself and your ability and if you do that you’ll go far in the game”.

JONTI RICHTER: FACT FILE

Playing number: 11

Field Position: Winger

Date of birth: 12 April, 1983

Home town: Brisbane (born Johannesburg, South Africa)

Weight: 68 kg

Height: 170 cm

Previous three clubs: Tamworth FC (England), New Zealand Knights, Queensland Roar.

Earliest football memory: Playing in the Under-5s and kicking balls into hockey goals for the Mondeor Meteors in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Favourite other football club: Manchester United (for some reason my granddad supported Liverpool, but I just loved Ryan Giggs).

Favourite footballers: Ryan Giggs, Ronaldo (Brazil) and Javier Saviola (Argentina)

Biggest influence of my football career: Alan Marley – the first guy who taught me to believe in myself and not conform to the regiments of coaching and to express yourself.

Occupation: Painter and decorator

Football superstitions: None really, but one thing I hate on match days is if my shinpads move. I strap them up so that they cannot move anywhere!

Favourite musician or band: Jack Johnson. I like a bit of everything except heavy metal.

Favourite movie: Shawshank Redemption

Favourite TV Show: Modern Family, or any sport.

Favourite actor: Denzel Washington.

News, Player Interviews

About the author

Marketing Brisbane Strikers