It seems like everyone’s been having a pop at Andrew Flintoff in recent days (including us). So in the interests of fairness, and the noble quest for true objectivity (if such a thing exists), we thought we’d give the other side of the argument.
We’re not going to pretend that Freddie’s a teetotal intellectual with the tactical acumen of Michael Vaughan – or claim that he was right to have a pop at Athers – we’re just going to question the increasingly prevalent media view that he’s the devil incarnate (or at the very least, a plonker).
For starters, Flintoff isn’t the first public figure to slag off another sporting celebrity. He won’t be the last either. Yes, it’s not particularly becoming for an ex-England captain to call one of his predecessors a ***t or a t***, but it’s hardly a cardinal sin. Us cricket types are just too bloody polite sometimes. What’s wrong with calling a spade a spade? Freddy didn’t say anything we haven’t said about different sportsmen while watching in the stands. Some of the things I’ve said about Christiano Ronaldo would probably get me locked up.
When James Cordon asked Freddy what Ricky Ponting was like on Sky’s A League of Their Own the other night, the audience erupted in laughter when he answered ‘a bit of a prick’. It seems harsh to give Freddy a kicking for calling Athers a nob, then cheer loudly when he describes a former Australian captain as something similar. Maybe us fans are guilty of double standards here?
The public fell in love with Flintoff in 2005 because he seemed like an ordinary bloke. He wore his heart on his sleeve, gave 100% every time in ran in to bowl, and he defied the misguided stereotype that you had to be posh, eloquent and boast a first class degree from Cambridge to captain England. Nothing has changed really.
The Flintoff we see on TV these days is exactly the same person. Yes he loves a drink. Yes he doesn’t always make wise decisions. And yes he’s probably said too much to the wrong people in recent weeks. However, it seems unfair to criticise him for exhibiting exactly the same qualities that made him famous in the first place. When he got pissed off his face before the open top bus parade in 2005 the public celebrated with him. Why get arsy with him now?
If indeed it’s true that Freddy is no longer welcome in the England dressing room then it’s sad. However, how many ex-pros (who haven’t been in the team for several years) are actually welcomed into Flower’s inner sanctum? Not many I wager – unless they’ve got particular tactical or coaching insights to give (which, let’s face it, Fred isn’t likely to offer).
Indeed, few former cricketers who now enjoy media careers are welcomed with open arms by existing players. Just ask Simon Hughes. His excellent book Morning Everyone often mentions the fact that his relationship with ex-team mates changed once he started working on TV.
Meanwhile, reports that Flintoff doesn’t have any mates left in cricket are well wide of the mark. He’s still great friends with Steve Harmison, and the relationship between Freddy and Kevin Pietersen seemed genuinely warm when they appeared together on A League of Their Own. Ditto Jimmy Anderson. Yet the printed media had us believe that the relationship between Flintoff and KP has been frosty for years. The moral of the story is, ‘don’t believe everything you read’.
People might not like some of the TV shows Freddy makes these days, but they’re no less vacuous than the majority of stuff we see late at night on ITV4. Besides, it’s hardly Freddy’s fault if some of the episodes are a bit naff. The shows weren’t his babies. He didn’t come up with the idea. He didn’t write the script. He’s just being paid a pile of cash to appear in them. Would you turn down the money if it was offered to you on a plate? I wouldn’t.
Furthermore, Flintoff has actually been involved in one of the best sporting documentaries to appear on the BBC in recent years. The Hidden Side of Sport, which took a candid look at depression amongst professional sportsmen, interviewed the likes of Ricky Hatton as well as Harmy. It was insightful and served an extremely valuable purpose. Flintoff clearly came across as a caring individual, and I’m sure he won many friends in the game. Mike Yardy springs to mind.
Meanwhile, those who saw the programme will contextualise Fred’s own travails as England captain in a different way. He knows it was wrong to get drunk and fall off his pedalo, but he was under extreme stress at the time.
Anyone who has gone through any form of mental illness will know that it’s difficult to make rational decisions when you’re depressed and suffering from anxiety. Real cricket lovers have a great sympathy with Steve Harmison for what he went through on that ill fated Ashes tour, so why not Flintoff? Both men were suffering greatly from anxiety. Marcus Trescothick returned home from that tour before it had even begun, yet he’s remembered fondly by everyone. Let’s give Flintoff some credit for toughing things out.
I don’t personally know Freddie (or Mike Atherton for that matter). Therefore I’m not going to judge either one of them. They’re probably both genuine people. Alternatively, they could both be absolute ***ts. All I know for certain is this: just because they don’t get on – and that’s hardly a surprise given their vastly contrasting personalities – doesn’t make one of them an idiot and the other one a paragon of virtue.
For all we know, Atherton could be the more pretentious character, but is simply shrewd enough to conceal it. I really don’t know. The point is, it’s wrong to emphatically take sides when two people fall out, or jump to conclusions about what the root cause of the disagreement is (especially when that information is second hand).
We all know that Freddy Flintoff isn’t an angel. But would the public have taken him to their hearts all those years ago if he was a goodie two shoes? All I know is that when I met him in person a couple of years ago he was courteous, professional and incredibly likable. He talked to everyone in the room like they were equals and put everyone at ease. Not all celebrities are like that.
Freddy might well be a bit of a prat when he’s drunk – who hasn’t woken up the morning after the night before and thought ‘did I really do that, or say that? ooopps’ – but in my opinion that just makes him even more human; which is, after all, why so many cricket fans love him.