If anyone’s a prick, it’s Flintoff

I realise I’m a bit slow out of the blocks here – the story’s been around since last Thursday – but I just couldn’t resist setting down a few thoughts about Flintoff-gate, albeit belatedly. And as always, I’d love to hear your views too.

In case you’ve not been across this one, a quick resume. Andrew Flintoff has landed himself in hot water after making a foul-mouthed rant about his fellow Lancastrian and former England captain, Mike Atherton, whom he described as a  “f—— p—-”.

Speaking at a party hosted by Sky last week, Flintoff said: “He sits there making judgments about players that are much better than he ever was, believe me, he’s a p—-. How can he talk about a player like Alastair Cook who is 10 times the player he ever was — he has a much bigger average and will go on and on.”

“Atherton averaged in the 30s for England and yet he thinks he can judge others.” According to the Daily Telegraph, when told he was talking to a journalist at the Sky event, Flintoff replied: “I don’t care. Say what you like. There’s no love lost there.”

An apologist for Flintoff might blame these remarks on a slight excess of alcohol. Now, I wasn’t an eye-witness, but I’m going to stick my neck out here and wager that Flintoff was very drunk when he made those remarks. Yes, that’s slightly defamatory, and no, I don’t have proof – but Fred has a bit of previous in this area. And do those sound like the words of a sober man?

The booze is no excuse, though, and as they say, in vino veritas. Flintoff was at a public event, and is a former England captain. He now makes a living by trading off his cricketing fame, so it’s incumbent upon him to speak with discretion.

I’m reminded of the parallels between him and another legendary all-rounder. For years we strove to identify the ‘new Ian Botham’ and in Flintoff we found him, in more ways than one.

The original Botham was by a margin the superior player, but both made their name with heroic performances in epic Ashes victories. Both relied more on their bowling than their batting in the second half of their careers. Both are held in more affection by the general public than by serious England followers. And both are inherently boorish and arrogant characters who believe their feats on the cricket field make their judgement inviolate.

David Lloyd once described Botham’s attitude to any dispute in the Sky commentary box. If any of his colleagues maintained a contrary view about a player or match situation, Botham’s retort is always along the lines of – “so how many test wickets did you get, then?”. Because he achieved so much on the field, Botham always knows best. And it’s that kind of attitude which runs to the heart of Flintoff’s Atherton outburst.

You do not need to have been a great player to be an authoritative cricket commentator. Sure, you must obviously have extensive knowledge of the game, but equally important are a keen eye, felicitous word power, and the ability to think and speak from a layman’s perspective.

Jonathan Agnew, Vic Marks, Simon Hughes, Mark Nicholas and Christopher Martin-Jenkins are all cricket broadcasters and writers of the highest class. But the first two of those played only a handful of tests, and the second pair none at all. CMJ never even played county cricket.

In some ways, having been a brilliant player is actually a disadvantage in the commentary box. If excellence comes so naturally to you, it’s much harder to put yourself in the shoes of a more standard player, who’s trying his best but can only succeed through hard work and some good fortune. Natural gifts distort perception, nor do they in themselves give you the ability to describe and analyse.

If you take Flintoff’s notion to its logical extreme, no one could validly discuss any field of human endeavour unless they had reached its pinnacle. Only multi-Oscar-winning directors could review films. Ex-prime ministers alone would have the licence to commentate on politics. And as Alan Tyers acutely observed in the Telegraph, “although not himself a gorilla, Sir David Attenborough has nevertheless illuminated their lives for TV viewers”.

I was as thrilled as anyone by his lion-hearted contributions to England’s cause, but I’ve never really warmed to Flintoff the man. It’s that prickliness and aloofness, the arrogance I mentioned earlier. Sometimes he could behave yobbishly and selfishly, and neither as a player nor captain was he flawless. During the 2006/7 Ashes, when he was the skipper, he turned up drunk for training. You couldn’t imagine Mike Atherton doing that.

But you do remember what a fine player Atherton was until his back problems began to overwhelm him, and that’s the great irony and fallacy of Flintoff’s remarks. Athers was England’s most important batsman for most of the nineties, and the wicket the opposition most valued. His test average of 37.69 may look modest in a modern context, but compared with today he played for a weaker and much less dominant England side against a strong West Indies and irresistible Australia. Unlike Alastair Cook, Atherton had to bat against Courtney Walsh, Curtly Ambrose, Wasim Akram, Allan Donald, and Glenn McGrath.

He’s now become a superb TV commentator and Times correspondent – elegant, judicious and enlightening both with pen and microphone. With his authority, precision and insightfulness, he’s perhaps this present generation’s equivalent of Richie Benaud. Atherton also brings to the commentary box the experience of 115 test matches, a record-breaking 54 of them as captain. Hardly a footnote in English cricket history, is he?

Compare his post-retirement career with that of Flintoff, who seems unfocused and unfulfilled – advertising Morrison’s and making unmemorable knockabout shows for ITV. He can’t spend the rest of his life just being Freddie Flintoff – he needs a proper job, and mouthing off drunkenly at parties isn’t going to help achieve that. Whatever you think about his persona, he was a very important cricketer, and one of the few who’ve ever caught the imagination of the mainstream public. I don’t think anyone wants to see him degenerate into a dishevelled, bitter and disreputable self-parody.

Maxie Allen


  • Nice article. And do you remember our encounter with him in Manchester after our show went out? Rude, drunk and aggressive. Really off-putting

  • Whether or not anyone has claimed you have to have achieved at a certain level to commentate, the fact remains that Atherton is an utter tosser whose criticisms of Cook have been laughable and brought him public ridicule as well as, evidently, private contempt, both of which are richly deserved.

    Agnew is the worst commentator, even ahead of Atherton’s smug moronism and Lloyd’s relentless drivel about “kidology” etc. It is empirically demonstrable: listen to the radio with a pen and paper. Write down what agnew conveys about where the ball pitched and what shot was played or attempted for two overs. Then do the same for henry blofeld. Check your marks on sky’s repeats. Neither man is Boycott. Both talk drivel between balls (agnew about his dinners, blofeld buses and birds – it is amazing how little he knows about these subjects he feigns interest in). But Blofeld is a serious professional, a careful artisan performing his simple function of telling you what happens, whilst Agnew is a sham – an entirely fake “cricket commentator”, and the enemy of cricket, because he virtually never does. He possesses none of the vocabulary of cricket or refuses to use it (cuts, drives, pulls etc). he takes up the space where description should be with his solipsistic idiot-nonsense about “forces”, “works” and “plays”: “he plays it away”. Where did the ball pitch? What shot was played? Where did it go? A vocabulary exists to convey this, Agnew twitters through entire overs without using any of it.

    As for the special pleading for Atherton’s poor record.. I dont follow the motive but in any case the argument is hopeless. India and sri lanka have both been stronger, more recently, if other teams have been weaker. Didnt he get to play against Zimbabwe? In any case, Stewart and Gooch were contemporaries with immensely superior contributions and statistics. As for England being weak then and strong now, the stats make it clear that Cook’s superiority and Atherton’s weakness are major contributions to these facts..

  • As for Atherton’s personal qualities, didn’t he, also a former England captain, as we are forced to remember, refer to a fellow professional – one superior to him in all respects – as “a donkey”? Whether you like his mode of expressing it or not, Flintoff’s insight is valid and almost certainly shared by england’s current elite whose disdain is justified by all historical facts and the history of the quarrel. Whatever else Atherton can salvage, it’s not the moral high ground.

  • Atherton’s not perfect by any means but he was a much better player than the aspiring Z-list celebrity would have you think, and he is a fantastic commentator and describer of the game.

    And whilst in many ways he may be similar to Botham, the z-list celebrity is spending his time on the most appalling tv. , whilst Botham has raised millions for leukaemia research and other charities.

    I know which of the three is an embarrassing p***k


copywriter copywriting