Playing cricket and drinking were once a huge part of Preston cricket star Andrew Flintoff’s life.The retired England captain talks about how he’s happier than ever now that he’s stopped doing both.
Andrew ‘Freddie’ Flintoff is happy.
Not because he’s just played cricket, or had a few drinks, but simply because life is pretty great right now.
The ebullient former England cricket captain, famed for his drinking and larger-than-life character, as well as his impressive all-round performances on the cricket field, is no longer under pressure to win on the pitch, has quit drinking, has a successful media career, and a solid family life.
And, crucially, he admits he’s finally grown up.
“Everything’s brilliant,” he declares.
“I don’t play cricket now and that’s fine. I do a lot of things that I enjoy workwise, and my family’s amazing.
“It’s actually really nice – I’m 37 and I don’t think I’ve ever been happier.”
He agrees that some of this contentment stems from maturity, and admits: “I think it’s growing up.
“I know a lot more about myself and I understand myself a bit better, and coupled with having a great family, there’s not too much in my life that I can get disheartened or worried about.
After retiring in 2010 after struggling with injury – although he came out of retirement last year to play Twenty20 cricket for Lancashire and the odd game in the Northern League for former club St Annes – the father-of-three has carved out an impressive and diverse career outside of cricket.
As well as TV appearances, including being a team captain on hit Sky One quiz show A League of Their Own with Jack Whitehall and James Corden, and winning the Australian version of I’m a Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here!, Flintoff has tried his hand at boxing, winning his only professional fight against American Richard Dawson in November 2012.
He’s also written a fair few books about himself and his cricket career, including latest release –Second Innings: My Sporting Life.
“Now that I’ve stopped playing cricket, I can really talk in depth about my cricket career and how I felt going through it,” he said.
“I’ve done quite a bit since I stopped playing cricket.
“Out of all of my books, this is the one that gives more of an insight – it’s very open, I’ve got no qualms about talking about my life.
“I’m actually quite proud of it.”
The straight-talking Lancastrian is happy to discuss his personal struggles with depression and heavy drinking, which have been well-documented in the past...
One of the many entertaining tales in the new book centres around England losing heavily in the Second Test against South Africa in 2003.
Flintoff got very drunk with team-mate Steve Harmison the night before he was due to bat, and when the drunken pair were spotted by team captain Michael Vaughan, Flintoff rashly bet him £100 he’d score a century.
Despite a horrendous hangover the next day – he was “sweating alcohol” – unbelievably he scored 142.
“That was one good story, but there’ve been a few when it didn’t quite happen like that,” he confesses wryly.
The Lancashire all-rounder’s cricketing career is littered with tales of his drinking exploits – and his hangovers.
He was famously pictured looking worse for wear on an open top bus tour through London and at a Downing Street reception after England beat Australia to win the 2005 Ashes series.
And he was sacked as the England vice-captain in 2007 after getting drunk and taking a pedalo out to sea in St Lucia following a World Cup defeat.
But he says: “There were times when I didn’t drink nearly as much as people thought.
But I didn’t mind them thinking that. I wanted people to think I was different.
“I played a lot on personality, and the drinking and the occasional cigarettes were all part of the act, part of my stage persona.”
However, he eventually realised alcohol was becoming a problem, and gave up the booze completely about a year ago.
“I don’t drink at all now – well, I do drink water,” he laughs.
As with everything, the likeable lad from Preston is utterly frank about his difficulties with booze, and seems a little perplexed that some people might think it’d be hard for him to talk about.
“I find it just as easy talking about the weather. It’s not a big deal.”
And neither, apparently, is being teetotal.
“It seems a bigger thing for everyone else than for me,” he says.
“It’s fine – I still go out with my mates, I just don’t get terrible hangovers.
“To be honest, I would get no pleasure in having a pint. If I had one in the past, I had a lot, but now I don’t really feel the need.”
Flintoff says depression is something he now realises he’s suffered from since childhood, and still needs to keep a check on it.
“One strange thing about depression is that it doesn’t always strike when you expect,” he says. “You can be going through the worst time ever, professionally or personally, and you’re fine.
“Then you might be having a good spell and all of a sudden something will send you completely out of kilter.”
But now he knows how to cope with it.
“Some days, although they’re very few and far between, you just feel not right, but you know it passes.
“In the past I’ve tried to change that by having a drink or doing something to try to change the way I felt. But now I just stick with it and I know it’s going to pass.
“I’ll say to the missus, ‘I’m having a bit of a dicky one here’, and it’ll be fine. You just chill out and it goes away eventually.”
Flintoff struggled to maintain a steady weight throughout his early career, and after getting abuse from the crowd for being fat, he started making himself sick to lose weight.
Now, he eats well and his weight isn’t a problem, partly because he goes to the gym nearly every day.
“I enjoy going to the gym,” he admits, “and it’s bizarre that I do, because I hated it when I was playing.
“I think I’m like a dog, I need walking – I have energy that I need to get out of my system.
“It’s for my head as well - you come out of the gym and you feel a lot better about things. If I don’t go, I feel a bit lazy.”
Flintoff insists he doesn’t miss playing cricket, and explains that he’s turned back into a fan instead.
“I don’t sit around thinking, ‘I wish I was still playing’.
“Yes, I still think every now and then I wish I was out there, but I reckon I’ll still be like that at 80 – that’s always going to be there.
“But it’s not something that keeps me up at night.”
Flintoff has two sons, Rocky and Corey, and daughter Holly, aged seven, nine and 11, with wife Rachael, who he says is “always there” for him.
He insists he’ll be open with his kids about his personal struggles.
“Hopefully they’ll learn through my mistakes and not have to experience them themselves,” he said. “But everyone makes mistakes.
“I don’t think I should have done this or that differently, I don’t really look back, to be honest. I just get on with life.
“I can’t complain. Well, I can, but I won’t.”
And one thing he most certainly won’t complain about is Rachael and the kids.
“Looking at my family today, I think, I could not have done any better,” he said.
“That’s one thing I have got right.”
n Second Innings: My Sporting Life is published by Hodder & Stoughton, priced £20. Available now.