Sam Collins: Why we needed to love Flintoff

In 2005 I had just left University, and the last day of the Oval Test was the induction day at my post-grad Journalism course. I didn’t listen to anything said that morning – too busy refreshing the screen in front of me as wicket after wicket fell, desperate to slip an earphone in, but unsure I would be able to control myself. But a fingernail lunch became a triumphant tea, and I’m glad to say I skipped my second day to go to Trafalgar Square.

That, of course, was Freddie’s real finest hour. Perhaps the last time this country will unite behind one of its sporting heroes getting totally smashed.

It was a day without recriminations – no one could have predicted the extended hangover it would supposedly spawn. Simon Jones conducted the crowd – a long international career ahead of him. Marcus Trescothick was at the top of his game, KP had hair like a skunk and to the gathered public Michael Vaughan’s knees were sturdier than Nelson’s column. And Freddie…? He just swayed.

That summer the whole country crushed on Flintoff. Cricket fans already loved him, but his derring do, his smile and humility soon hooked everyone else. His behaviour epitomised how we would like to see ourselves in battle, and he was as likably British as could be – a Lancashire lad who’d struggled with his weight and liked a pint. A generation of supporters had grown up with him, vicariously willing him on from his debut at 20 through his very public attempts to control his weight and eventually channelling his massive talent into three years of genuine achievement and resultant superstardom.

Of course the English game needed a new Botham, but more than that the public needed a sportsman they could identify with. Footballers had long gone – in the 70s George Best was a hero for bedding and boozing, now, well we all know about now don’t we. Money changes things, whether it is jealousy or something else, it triggers a disconnect between fan and player. I have a season ticket at Spurs, yet there are few of the team I’d like to go for a drink with. With cricket, and with Fred in 2005 it was different, different in a way it may never be again with the IPL cash.

Flintoff made loving cricket simple that summer – the ultimate in sporting naivety, what you saw was what you got. And what you got was great.

Sadly since then things have got murkier, for reasons mentioned on this website yesterday. Many of the words written about Flintoff since his retirement are a blow to cricket, and to its fans. They pour scorn on our need to take certain things at face value. Sport is escapism, but we need to believe in its narrative and its characters. Realising that many journalists see Flintoff as a money-grabbing, divisive egotist is as unsettling as discovering the happiest couple you know are in a sham relationship, or indeed that cricket matches are fixed.

Of course many grateful fans will defend him unconditionally. I’ve heard too much to be one of them, but I hope that in a few years I’ll remember him for 2005 and what came before it. After all who else has brought us so much pleasure?

He came into our office a few months ago after filming an episode of League of their Own and everybody melted. He was an awesome presence as he looked up at the cover of our September 2009 issue – it’s not often you see Christ in a hoodie. If mugging around with James Corden really is the future, then good luck Fred, and thanks for ‘05.

Sam Collins is editor of thewisdencricketer.com

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Sam Collins: Why we needed to love Flintoff

  1. Rohan says:

    Well said. Forget the PR and the agents that people are writing about. For that summer of 2005 Flintoff did something no cricketer will probably do in England ever again (with no live non-Sky coverage) – he inspired and united and almost single handedly at points washed away 18 years of cricketing misery.

    My first sight of the man was in a Kandy Pizza Hut eating dinner with Colly the night before the test. He was having a stuffed crust and a beer which was a good beginning. At the next test in Columbo whilst England were in the middle of a proper collapse he peppered the boundary with fearsome shots that almost followed us as we walked round the boundary. I then was there live to see him do the same to South Africa and West Indies in that incredible 2 years leading up to the Ashes.

    I was at the last day of the Ashes in 05 and the outpouring of joy towards him was something to behold even though he failed with the bat that day. The next day I say at my desk in an office overlooking the downing street enterence with a stinging hangover. My whole office (which was almost entirely female) decamped onto the balcony to watch the team bus come down from Trafalgar Square and they were all looking for Flintoff. I just sat at my desk in a euphoric daze. Flintoff in many ways had done that. I then was back at the Oval to cheer for his last innings in the Ashes 09.

    Last night when I got in late from the pub I popped the 05 Ashes on to watch once again Flintoff smashing Brett Lee and co straight back over their heads and into the stand. I truely felt lucky to be alive that summer.

    For me and my friends who are not cricket’s natural constituency in terms of background (variously working class from football supporting areas or irish) he is simply the greatest sports hero of our generation.

  2. Sam Baron says:

    ‘Mind the windows Tino!’
    That’s my most memorable Fred moment.