Andrew Flintoff: ‘You have to be lucky or privileged to play men’s cricket’

Freddie Flintoff’s Field of Dreams comes to BBC One and BBC iPlayer on Tuesday 5th July at 20:00 BST.

Andrew ‘Freddie’ Flintoff says you have to be “lucky or privileged” to play elite men’s cricket in England.

And that’s something the former national team captain wanted to address as part of a new three-part BBC series called Freddie Flintoff’s Field of Dreams.

Flintoff, 44, was once one of the best off-roaders in the world. He was named man of the series in England’s successful 2005 Ashes campaign and became a national icon for his phenomenal skill and exuberant personality.

But he said cricket was “not on the radar” for anyone around him as a child attending public school in Preston.

“At school, everyone was beaten for something,” he told BBC Sport. “For me, it was because I played cricket.”

In this new series, the Top Gear presenter returns to his hometown in Lancashire to form a cricket team and encourage the local working class boys to get involved.

It is not an easy sale.

“They think cricket is played by fancy people and they think it’s boring,” says Flintoff during the first episode.

The young people he meets echo that.

“You would never find boys from the municipality playing cricket,” says 15-year-old Ray.

In the last ashes, two-thirds of England’s men’s squad were privately educated. In this TV series, we are told that the same is true of almost half of the current men’s trial side. It is a problem the sport has been struggling with.external link

Flintoff says “it’s not a reflection of society,” and that’s backed up by figuresexternal link suggesting that the percentage of the general UK population receiving private education is about 7%.

  • Watch Freddie Flintoff’s Field of Dreams on BBC One and BBC iPlayer on Tuesday 5th July at 20:00 BST

“It was clear that this was a very different life”

Flintoff’s love of cricket came from his father Colin, a plumber, who was second team captain at local club Dutton Forshaw.

But cricket was not played at his school.

“Everybody played soccer,” he said. “I played football for school and I also played for a club, just for acceptance more than anything, but all I wanted to do was play cricket.”

And it was playing cricket that gave Flintoff the opportunity to meet people from very different socio-economic backgrounds.

according to a government report 2019,external link of the 12 local authorities that fall within the administrative boundaries of Lancashire County Council, Preston has the largest number of people classified as ’employment and income deprived’.

Flintoff says, “I was going to play places like Harrow. It was obvious this was a very different life.”

As the game progressed, Flintoff shared locker rooms with many players who had gone to private schools.

He said he noticed some differences.

“There are good people from all backgrounds,” he said. “It wasn’t that that was a problem. It was just a case of the amount of equipment people had, the opportunities they had, how easy it was for some people to do it.”

Flintoff was offered scholarships to more than one private school, but turned them down, preferring to stay close to home and continue playing men’s cricket, rather than have to take part in weekend school competitions.

“Cricket is an ideal vehicle to bring people together.”

Flintoff said he decided to return to Preston for his current project because he believed that was where he could make a difference.

“I want to bring together a group of kids who have never played, who have never had a chance to play,” he says in the series.

After putting together a team, Flintoff not only has to coach it, but also deal with various problems off the field.

“My role kept changing,” Flintoff, who has four children, told BBC Sport. “I felt like a director, a coach, a father, a social worker, all in one.”

Ben, 18, is part of the team that Flintoff assembles. He has been homeless and lives in accommodation provided by a charity, but has a hard time juggling training and university. He eventually gets a job.

Sean, 15, has been excluded from several schools and has behavior problems. In the second episode, he has to stop training after breaking a knuckle hitting someone, but during the series he gets a place in a plumbing course.

Flintoff said he was very proud of the things both youngsters accomplished during his time with them.

Another member of the team is Adnan, a young man who lives with foster parents in Preston. He has traveled from Afghanistan and is seeking asylum in the UK. Adnan is the star player of the team and has ambitions to play for England.

Although not directly addressed in the series, cricket ongoing racism scandal has led some to say that the sport is institutionally racist.

Speaking about the team he has built, Flintoff says he believes cricket can be “an ideal vehicle for bringing people together”.

Reflecting on the team he played on with his father, he adds: “You had the Patel family of Pakistani origin, a man from the West Indies, and then you had us, a white family from Preston.

“Everyone in the dressing room was working together and enjoying each other’s company. Cricket can be a great leveller – everyone is working in the same direction.”

Flintoff went on to say that the series showed young people from different communities working together.

“You see what cricket can do,” he said.

Although Flintoff told us these were “difficult times,” he believes he was able to relate to the young people he worked with more easily than others.

“First of all, I am effectively one of them,” Flintoff said.

“They’re a lot like the kids I went to school with. I’m comfortable with them. They push you a little bit at first when they see the car you’re driving or whatever, but once you explain to them what school you went to, a school that is quite notorious in Preston, you earn their respect.

‘It’s not ‘us’ versus ‘them’. We just want a more level playing field.

Beyond this project, what does Flintoff think can be done to make cricket less elitist?

“Accessible is probably a better word than elitist,” he said.

“It’s not ‘us’ against ‘them.’ We just want a more level playing field.”

In 2019, the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) governing body set out a strategy called inspiring generationsexternal link he hopes “to inspire an entire generation to say that ‘cricket is a game for me'”.

Flintoff believes that affordability is a major issue.

“The idea of ​​going and spending £100 on a cricket bat for a child, £40 on sanitary pads, £100 to join a club and pay subscriptions, is overkill for a lot of people,” he says.

During the series, Flintoff invests £50,000 of his own money to help build a club with proper facilities, while lobbying the local council to spend £200,000 of public money.

in the middle of a cost Of Living Crisis, acknowledges that it is a difficult question.

“Every time you turn on the television, there is another part of society that needs money,” he says.

Flintoff told BBC Sport that he did not claim to have all the answers.

But he said that role models are important, and the current test side is playing an exciting brand of attacking cricket under new coach Brendon McCullum and captain Ben Stokes.

“I think the most important thing is a successful England team,” Flintoff said.

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