PReton is a small town with special characteristics, not least its role as the administrative center of the county of Lancashire. But no one would accuse it of being an interesting place. Former residents who have made a name for themselves include John Inman, who played Mr Humphries in the 1970s sitcom. Do you serve? and Nick Park’s Wallace & Gromit fame
The most famous Prestoian in the 21st century, however, is former England cricketer and TV personality Andrew “Freddie” Flintoff – although on the evidence of his newly revived series, Freddie Flintoff’s Field of Dreamswhich airs on Tuesdays on BBC1 at 8pm, he is not well known in his hometown, at least not among the young people he seeks to recruit.
The show highlights the sobering truth that professional cricket is a game heavily favored by the rich. One statistic mentioned in the opening section is that eight of the starting 11 of England’s recent test side were private school products. Flintoff believes that “it shouldn’t be”, and he returns to Preston to attract young sportsmen who, like himself, are from state schools.
They see cricket as “posh” and “boring”, and are initially unimpressed by Flintoff’s uplifting vision.
“Never heard of him,” says one, and several others are reduced to Googling his name to set this man’s bones on a mission.
Remembering the glorious sports summer of 2005, it’s hard to believe that anyone could be unaware of the larger-than-life wrestler. After all, he was voted BBC Sports Personality of the Year that year for his impressive efforts in England’s Ashes series win over the then unheralded Australians. heroic sense of time. He won not only the Man of the Series Award but also the Preston Freedom.
Flintoff returning to the place of that civil liberties, where he once attended the now defunct Preston City High School, is by no means enough. His relationship with young suspects is easy, he encourages and encourages, but he never talks to them.
This is consistent with the experience of Sharon Asquith, head teacher at Preston College of Social Sciences in Ashton, who witnessed Flintoff attending the opening of his old school, now a special needs facility called Sir Tom Finney Community High School.
“He was part of the opening event,” she recalls, “because he still has that desire to help, to be connected to the area where he came from as a child. He was just a very incredible person to meet children. “He was happy at school. I think he’s very genuine. What he’s doing is phenomenal.”
A shy boy from school named Sean tells Flintoff that he likes to drink vodka in the park. How much, asks the once prodigious drinker who gave up alcohol almost a decade ago? The boy says one or two glasses. Instead of crushing the youth’s bravery, Flintoff sees the germ of potential in the troubled child and tries to nurture it.
As you’d expect from a modern, celebrity-led social documentary, it’s not without plot and false suspense, but what makes it work is Flintoff’s disarming manner. He is a rare beast: a personality with personality.
Ever since he came out, his occasional character breakdown has seemed more of a curse than a blessing. He struggled like a cricketer to deal with setbacks, self-admonished and focused on his failures so much that he couldn’t recognize his successes. As he once said: “Whatever I do will never be enough.”
The punitive demands he made for himself also came out with a streak of self-indulgence. He struggled with his weight, became a secret bulimic, and sagged under pressure with too much alcohol – a drunken pedalo escapade in the Caribbean led to him being sacked as England vice-captain. Nevertheless, by the time he retired in 2010, he was arguably the best-loved English cricketer since Ian Botham, and with little of the great all-rounder’s flamboyant self-love. But he also seemed lost, like he didn’t know what to do with his vast store of natural energy.
TV beckoned in the form of a Sky sports panel show A League of Their Own, later performed by James Corden. Flintoff started the comic format by being himself, but it soon became clear to the public that being himself was not always as easy as he made it seem. He presented a documentary on clinical depression in sports in 2012 that explored his own battles with the condition. He spoke of drinking too much and refusing to get out of bed when he led England’s one-day cricket side.
Suddenly Flintoff, who seemed to embody an uncomplicated power, publicly destroyed his image, revealing the difficulties of becoming the hero people wanted him to be, and the psychological toll it took on him.
But when he did not reveal this hidden side of his former character, he once again traded on his happiness. He took professional boxing for one full fight. In 2015, he won his first Australian series I’m famous… Get me out of here! He offered Cannonball on ITV and made her stage debut in Kay Mellor’s Fat Friends The Musical.
Slowly but surely, he seems to be on that well-traveled transition from character to cartoon. In 2019, he became one of the updated hosts Top Gear. However, such a high-profile job ensured that Flintoff was now less an ex-cricketer than an established TV presenter (which makes it even harder to believe he was not recognized by the Preston youngsters).
The upside of this trajectory is that it also allowed Flintoff to revisit his darkest hours. A few years ago, he presented a documentary about living with bulimia – a condition that has plagued him since his early days in cricket.
Perhaps this switch back and forth between straight TV entertainment and painful self-revelation acts as a kind of celebrity safety vacuum, reminding him and the public that celebrity rarely solves but often exacerbates personal problems.
In any case, Field of Dreams allows the tensions between stardom and identity, and his success and broader social concerns, to be more satisfactorily resolved.
Of course, trying to get a few government school kids into cricket is not a huge blow to the leveling project in itself. But the sport’s specificity is emblematic of a much larger class problem plaguing British society.
Most children grow up realizing that they will never reach worlds beyond their limited experience.
“In areas of high social deprivation, lack of self-confidence and lack of self-awareness is normal,” says a local educator.
Flintoff, the son of a factory maintenance worker, knows how limited the lives of working class boys are. While it’s unlikely he’ll spark another world at Preston – his kind of talent and drive doesn’t come along very often – he could expand a few horizons, grow a sense of possibility, and empower some countless young men in the process. who feel increasingly left behind.
Flintoff knows it’s a cultural failure to make kids from disadvantaged backgrounds feel out of place in a dominant sport, just as it’s a national shame that they often feel out of place in mainstream society. In terms of social justice, it’s not just cricket, certainly not in the inclusive way that the esteemed Flintoff continues to play.