England news January 1, 2012

Flintoff reveals battle with depression

ESPNcricinfo staff

Andrew Flintoff, the former England captain and allrounder, has revealed he went through a phase of depression during the 2006-07 Ashes in Australia, where, as captain, he was at the receiving end of a 5-0 whitewash. Flintoff admitted he wasn't aware then of what exactly he was suffering from, but the illness drove him to drink and lose his love for the game.

A year earlier, Flintoff was the toast of the nation for helping England regain the Ashes after 18 years.

Flintoff is now among several high-profile cricketers, particularly from England, who've been plagued by the illness during their playing careers. Flintoff, who quit the game in 2009, will explore the problems suffered in private by sportsmen in a BBC 1 documentary: Freddie Flintoff: Hidden Side of Sport.

"I was having a quiet drink with my dad Colin on Christmas Eve 2006 and as we made our way home I started crying my eyes out," Flintoff told the Daily Mail. "I told him I'd tried my best but that I couldn't do it any more, I couldn't keep playing. We talked and, of course, I dusted myself down and carried on. But I was never the same player again.

"I was captain of England and financially successful. Yet instead of walking out confidently to face Australia in one of the world's biggest sporting events, I didn't want to get out of bed, never mind face people."

Flintoff took over the captaincy from the injured Michael Vaughan after the 2005 Ashes win and enjoyed mixed results. He helped England square the Test series in India in 2006 and the expectations grew when England landed in Australia at the end of the year. It was also the same series in which his team-mate Marcus Trescothick suffered a breakdown at the start of the tour due to depression and separation anxiety and never played for England again after that.

I didn't understand what was happening to me. I knew when I got back to my room I couldn't shut off, which is why I started having a drink. It got to the stage where I was probably drinking more than I should

After leading England to a come-from-behind win in the one-day tri-series in Australia, Flintoff handed the captaincy back to Vaughan before the World Cup. Flintoff was stripped of the vice-captaincy after a drunken night out following England's defeat against New Zealand in a World Cup match in St Lucia, which culminated in falling off a pedalo.

"The whole time I was on the field and throughout that World Cup all I could think about was that I wanted to retire," Flintoff said. "I didn't understand what was happening to me. I knew when I got back to my room I couldn't shut off, which is why I started having a drink. It got to the stage where I was probably drinking more than I should.

"All I wanted was for the doctor to tell me what was wrong but no one suggested it was depression."

He said his condition was so serious that even victory meant nothing. "There's a certain sense of shame when I remember sitting in the dressing room after winning a one-day international in the West Indies," he said. "The lads were celebrating and I didn't want to be a part of it, I didn't want to do anything but sit on my own in the corner.'

Cases of depression in modern sport aren't uncommon and Flintoff admitted that he wasn't as aware of the problem as he should have been. "Because sporting stars earn high salaries and have a privileged life compared to the majority of people, there's a perception that they can't possibly suffer from mental health issues. They don't want to seem ungrateful or whingeing and may be hiding their suffering rather than getting help for it."

Besides Trescothick, other England players who've admitted suffering from depression include Flintoff's close friend Steve Harmison, Michael Yardy and Matthew Hoggard. New Zealand players Iain O'Brien and Lou Vincent have also suffered similar problems.

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Alan on January 4, 2012, 12:16 GMT

    @atthipatti: No offence taken. If I can try and explain the high opinion in which Flintoff is held in certain quarters, notwithstanding his limited (but not poor) overall career statistics, I would observe two things. Firstly Flintoff contributed very largely to England's first win in an Ashes series for18 years in 2005, and (to fans of other teams' consternation) England fans tend to place too much emphasis on what happens in the Ashes, so that they overlook Flintoff's struggles against other opponents. Secondly there has been some massaging of Flintoff's reputation (in which Flintoff is only partly complicit). The way he's been talked up in the media has turned him into a sort of cross between Hercules, Oliver Reed and Stephen Hawking, i.e., a successful sportsman notwithstanding laddish exploits and private pain. It's suggestive that what he seems to be doing here is plugging his BBC programme 'Hidden side of sport', using the medium of the Daily Mail ..

  • vijay on January 4, 2012, 4:43 GMT

    I seriously don't understand the "legend" part of Flintoff though! One or 2 serious series contributions have never made anybody legend....remember Lee Germon scoring 89 vs Aussies in Chennai in 1996 WC and disappeared for good? Flintoff is the same, but of a superior category/version of Lee Germon. No offence, no need to come ballistic...just was an opinion. Had he escaped his injuries part, he would surely have been among the likes of top all rounders like Kallis, Sanga, Gilli etc.

  • Chatty on January 4, 2012, 1:31 GMT

    Murali always talked highly of Freddie. So I assume Freddie is a good bloke. It's a shame that tough things happen to good people all too often. I think if all those who have depression were accurately diagnosed, we will find the numbers among sportsmen to be extremely high.

  • Faisal on January 3, 2012, 21:11 GMT

    This is really amazing! I feel stressed out trying to meet the expectations of a handful of team members and bosses whereas these crickets, with all their gloom, had a burden of expectations not just from their countrymen but all cricket lovers! When Flintoff was on top, all not just the Brits, expected him to be instrumental, when Tendulkar walks in to bat, not just Indians all crickets want to see him score many many runs, when Afridi comes to bat, all want to see him score a six off every ball and on and on....but we forget the instant they fail us and we start commenting about their failure, forgetting they are afterall, humans like us!

  • Alan on January 3, 2012, 13:15 GMT

    @ LillianThomson: Though some people may suggest you are an Australian wind-up merchant, I do think you have a point. What Flintoff is describing here, while painful, is not necessarily depression. I also don't think that the current media hype regarding depression in sport (and elsewhere) is actually helpful in terms of understanding or treating mental illness more widely. There are a huge range of mental illnesses, some of which are far less well understood than depression. To focus on depression can lead people to misunderstand what their problems are and to trivialise other difficulties.

  • Alan on January 3, 2012, 13:08 GMT

    @ TRexGotPhD: Actually if you watch closely Rocky Balboa is actually portrayed as quite a sensitive chap in those films: when his wife goes into a coma in the second film he almost completely went to pieces. But otherwise I do take your point.

  • Alan on January 3, 2012, 12:35 GMT

    Well, I think Flintoff has a point that people tend to assume too much that modern professional sports players have some how got it made and don't suffer from great pressures. There are unfortunate cases of depression in sport. And I do give him some credit in being prepared to talk about how the pressure got to him during that Ashes series. However, I really am not sure that what he is describing comprised depression. I think depression, which is an illness which can be clinically diagnosed, is not the same as having moments where you crack up in a high-stress situation. It's significant that no doctor told Flintoff was depressed. While he treats this here as a failure on the part of doctors, surely it's possible that the doctor didn't disgnose depression because he/she realised that Flintoff had a slightly different problem.

  • Satish on January 3, 2012, 12:12 GMT

    What a transformation he had as a cricketer.. He gave his all to become a terrific bowler who will give his everything each ball.. A good hitter and he did play some dramatic innings in test as well as ODIs.. I love his attitude.. Never did he utter a tired delivery.. Best example for supreme fighting qualities.. Just love him.. What a hero he had been for England..

  • Dummy4 on January 2, 2012, 22:40 GMT

    cricket is psychological largely. momentum... is a psychological concept 5 days of psychological warfare and strategy

    unless the respective boards appreciate this fact... it will plague each and every territory

  • Martin on January 2, 2012, 21:57 GMT

    @Lord_Dravid; you really haven't got a clue have you.

  • No featured comments at the moment.