Freddie Flintoff: 'We lost the Ashes and it was my lowest point professionally. I carried on, but I was never the same player again'
22:45 GMT, 16 November 2012
22:46 GMT, 16 November 2012
The former England cricket captain, 34, on signing the contract that led to his record-breaking career
When I was just 16, in 1994, former England cricketer David Lloyd came to our house and offered me a contract to play for Lancashire County Cricket Club.
At that age I had no idea you could make a living playing cricket, let alone that it would spawn a 16-year career. When I got back from school that day I was told to go into the front room. Mum got the Bourbon biscuits out and told me to hand them round.
Freddie has played cricket for England, won Sport's Personality Of The Year, battled depression and is now pursuing boxing
My dad Colin’s jaw dropped when David offered me a three-year contract worth 2,500 a year. I thought, ‘Great, it doesn’t matter if I don’t pass my exams,’ but in the end I got nine GCSEs.
I have my parents to thank for my passion for cricket. Dad worked shifts for British Aerospace and cricket was his release – my childhood had been spent watching him play for our local team, Whittingham.
But my school was on a council estate in Preston where cricket was considered posh, so I played outside school for Lancashire under-11s and Dad ferried me around to matches. Lancashire monitored my progress, and by the time I was 15 I’d graduated to the second team.
That first match for them was intimidating, but it was nothing compared to playing with stars like Mike Atherton in the first team once I got the contract at 16.
I made my debut for England in 1998, and when we won the Ashes in 2005, beating Australia for the first time in 18 years, it was a reward for everything I’d worked towards.
I've taken on many other challenges and have now qualified as a professional heavyweight boxer
I didn’t want the day to end so I kept going until 9am the next morning – and then I had to go to No 10 to meet the Prime Minister Tony Blair. Contrary to popular myth I wasn’t blind drunk, but it was all a bit of a blur.
I was starting to realise what winning the Ashes meant to the nation – it spawned cricket mania. The same year I won BBC Sports Personality of the Year and was awarded the MBE. By the time the Ashes came round again at the end of 2006 I was England captain.
But instead of walking out confidently to face Australia, I could barely get out of bed, let alone face people. After a drink with my dad that Christmas Eve, I started crying and told him I couldn’t play any more. No one suggested I might have depression, which was later diagnosed.
We lost the Ashes and it was my lowest point professionally. I carried on, but I was never the same player again.
We won back the Ashes in 2009, but when the series finished I announced the end of my Test cricket career due to a recurring knee injury. Instead of partying that night, I sat in the dressing room with my family, reflecting on the highs and lows of my career.
Since then, I’ve taken on many other challenges and have now qualified as a professional heavyweight boxer. But nothing will ever beat the look on Dad’s face the day I was given that first professional cricket contract.
Watch Freddie Flintoff’s journey to his first professional boxing match in a three-part documentary, From Lords To The Ring, starting on Thursday at 9pm on Sky1.