Flicker? He dragged the others along with him...
TO those who played with David Flitcroft, it is no surprise that the 39-year-old has dragged Barnsley back from the dead.
A robust midfield destroyer, the Lancastrian was never renowned for his pace, his touch or his eye for goal. Sweat, not skill, was the primary product of his labours in a 15-year career with Preston, Chester, Rochdale, Macclesfield and Bury.
Yet what ‘Flicker’ brought to those teams was arguably more valuable; strength of character, irrepressible belief, unwavering positivity.
“As a character in the dressing room, there was none better,” said Paul Simpson, his manager at Rochdale in 2002-03.“Flicker was just fantastic – his work rate, his enthusiasm, his geeing-up everybody else. He was different class.”
Just as he did at Rochdale that year, Flitcroft won player of the season at Bury in 2006-07, a shining light in a relegation-haunted season.
“I don’t like to pick players out, but David was outstanding right through that season,” said Ian Miller, assistant to manager Chris Casper that year. “He picked the lads up and carried the fight to them. He dragged the players along with him, had the belief and the desire and was outstanding.”
As he said in an emotional inter- view after last week’s victory at Hull, it is a trait bestowed upon him by dad John, who died aged 59 in 2008.
A painter and decorator before setting up the family property business, John would work long shifts before taking David and brother Garry – who went on to play in the Premier League with Blackburn – all over the country to play games.
“Our dad inspired us and pushed us, as much as any dad could,” said David Flitcroft. “We owe everything to him. Anything I have ever done is down to my upbringing.
“My dad taught me work ethic, courage, never give up and if someone wants to fight you, fight them. If you don’t beat them, find another way to fight them. He always maintained that. He was the greatest leader you could have.”
That family bond is also why Flitcroft – who spent his entire career in the basement division – never felt any jealousy towards his elder brother.
“I never felt that because I always felt part of his success,” he said. “I watched him, supported him, just like dad. When he did well, it felt like we all did well.”
If family gave Flitcroft his start in football, then it was a friend who gave him a springboard into man- agement. He met Keith Hill when they played at Rochdale and the pair swiftly became best mates.
And when Flitcroft gave up on football to help his dad run the family business, it was Hill who persuaded him to become his assistant at Rochdale in 2007.
“He said it might last two weeks or might last two years and it was a hard decision at the time for me,” recalled Flitcroft. “But he said to me: ‘How would you handle it seeing someone else stood on the Wembley touchline with me on TV as my right-hand man?’
“Those words were the deciding factor in me leaving the family business and moving back into football and it proved the right decision as within two years we were at Wembley.”
As ‘Hillcroft’ the pair became one of the most renowned double acts in the business, lifting Dale out of League Two for the first time in 36 years and then to the cusp of the League One play-offs a year later. T hey also nurtured an incredible crop of strikers, including the likes of Glenn Murray, Adam Le Fondre, Jordan Rhodes and Chris Dagnall, now with the Tykes.
“Keith is an inspirational character,” said Flitcroft. “He taught me communication, organisation, the power to forgive a player after he’s made a mistake, how to coach, to mentor and discipline. He showed the way in punctuality and leadership.”
Then came the move to Championship Barnsley. Having kept the Tykes up, a run of defeats cost Hill his job in December.
And but for public rejections from Sean O’Driscoll and Terry Butcher, Flitcroft may well have followed him. As it was, the Barnsley board asked Flitcroft to steady the ship and, nine wins later, he was handed a full-time contract. Now he is once more using that force of will to rally the troops.
“His enthusiasm is ridiculous,” said midfielder Jim O’Brien. “When we see that it helps us get motivated and want to do well for him and for ourselves.
“As a leader he is right up there and he kept calm and positive even when we lost a couple of games.”
DRIVING FORCE: Barnsley boss David Flitcroft and, below, in his playing days at Rochdale