Gary Flintoff: The man behind BBC Radio 5Live

Gary Flintoff interviewing England Women manager Phil Neville. PIC: Gary Flintoff

Time is either a gift or a hindrance in journalism.

One minute you’re sat taking in the views at your workplace for the day, the next you’re asked to get an on-the-whistle report into your editor.

You get through one article and are thrown into an interview situation, or you’ve got to get back on the road again, on the way to another event. 

Never a dull moment in journalism, always something to cover.

But now, the world has come to a standstill and there’s next to no sporting events taking place.

So, you can breathe for a moment and take in the world around you with a period of reflection. A time to look back on what you’ve achieved, seen and done throughout your career.

With the globe constantly turning, your achievements are not usually talked of in journalism.

By the time you’ve been commended for an exclusive, someone has always done something bigger, something better.

And off you go, chasing after glory again.

But for once, one of the professionals did sit and take in one of those ever-so-rare moments of reflection.

The now BBC producer and member of the UCLAN alumni Gary Flintoff shared his tales with journalism students from UCLAN as he attended a live Q&A session.

Gary Flintoff from BBC 5Live

Not a situation the journalist ever thought he’d find himself in, Flintoff has taken his foot off the gas for once and embarked on a brief spell away from work amid the pandemic.

And so, this was not only his chance to share those sweet memories of times gone by but also an opportunity for the students to learn from his vast experience.

Since his focus has changed to being behind the scenes at the BBC, Flintoff has been fortunate enough to travel to some of the greatest places in the world of sport and work with some of the best professionals in the game. 

A well-respected figure himself, the 45-year-old reminisced of his love for commentary and vowed that he would never lose that same love.

“I love radio commentary.

“To sit alongside John Murray and Ian Dennis and seeing the way in which they find their words and weave their sentences together is an absolute pleasure.

“To listen to them hone their craft is an absolute joy and it’s something I will never get bored of.”

Enthused by the students’ passion for the industry, Flintoff gleefully explained that he had his relationship building skills to thank for where he is today.

A beaming smile could be seen upon his face as he rolled names off the tongue of sporting figures that he has had the pleasure of working with throughout his career.

Sam Allardyce, Alan Shearer and David Moyes to name but a few.

Then came the events that Flintoff has produced content for, the 2005 Champions League Final in Istanbul, the 2001 Championship Play-Off final.

Flintoff’s achievements are not to be made light of, his CV carries a wealth of talent and illustrious titles and yet, he could not have been more modest about his accomplishments.

“I’ve been very fortunate to be around good people throughout my career.

“Be around good people. Learn from them, watch them, listen to them.

“It’s amazing what you can pick up just from being around those kinds of people.”

Flintoff also took a step back to remember the earlier stages of his career where he attempted to gain work experience from every workplace imaginable.

With somewhat of an upbeat tone, the one-time commentator described how he would make mistakes but make sure he learned from them.

And Flintoff also removed the rose-tinted glasses from his career to inform students of just how tough day-to-day life as a journalist is.

“I normally arrive at games three hours before kick-off. At Wembley it’s more like eight hours before.  Then it’s usually an hour and a half after the full-time whistle.

“Press Conferences, seeing the same manager week in week out if you’re working in local radio can work out in your favour or otherwise.

“I’ve certainly been grabbed by various managers over my time, but times have changed now. It doesn’t really happen anymore.

“By the time the football comes around on a Saturday, you’ve normally put 50 hours in. That’s what people don’t see – or hear in this case.”

Whilst Flintoff bravely told these tales to the journalists of the next generation, he ensured that their appetite for the job would not be lost one bit.

Many pleasant tales were shared by Flintoff, not one of which was anything below outstanding, intriguing and capturing.

From Rafa Benitez sharing his secrets at the Bernabeu to Flintoff’s woes as a Sunderland fan, including the latest series of ‘Sunderland Till I Die’ being aired on Netflix showing the Black Cats losing at Wembley twice in one season.

Gary is a Sunderland fan

But perhaps the picture painting by the 43-year-old was at its best when he described covering England’s home games.

“Going through your emails whilst sat in Gareth (Southgate)’s seat at Wembley is pretty spectacular.

“It’s just such a good place to work.”

Whilst these are only words, some of the students will certainly be hoping to follow in the footsteps of Flintoff by working at world-renowned venues such as Wembley in the future.

And amid the shutdown caused by the Coronavirus pandemic, Flintoff will be returning to work within the next few weeks despite some decisions having not been made yet regarding the conclusion of some sporting competitions this term.

This Q&A session gave the students an insight into the man behind 5Live and it is certain that they weren’t disappointed, with many taking the opportunity to individually thank him at the end of the session.