The nearly man wants to leave a last­ing mark

The Football League Paper - - LEAGUE ONE - By Chris Dunlavy

LIKE foot­ball’s an­swer to Pete Best, Michael Flynn found him­self watch­ing from the wings as the party kicked off.

In Fe­bru­ary 2005, the mid­fielder was of­fered a con­tract ex­ten­sion by Wi­gan Athletic, then just months from pro­mo­tion to the Premier League un­der Paul Jewell.

Fear­ful that his al­ready scant game time would dwin­dle fur­ther, Flynn ac­cepted an of­fer from Gilling­ham and was rel­e­gated from the Cham­pi­onship on the very same day the Latics went up.

“That is prob­a­bly my biggest re­gret in foot­ball,” ad­mit­ted the 36-year-old. “I took the move for the sake of my ca­reer, but I missed the chance of be­ing a Premier League player.”

Five years later, af­ter a storm­ing sea­son for Bradford City, Brighton and their new boss Gus Poyet made in­quiries about Flynn’s avail­abil­ity.

Con­vinced the Bantams were head­ing for League Two glory, he stayed put. By May, the Seag­ulls had soared to the sum­mit of League One. The Bantams, mean­while, swerved the Con­fer­ence by just five points.

Then, in 2012, ill­ness and in­jury forced Phil Parkin­son to ter­mi­nate Flynn’s three-year stay at Val­ley Pa­rade. The sea­son that fol­lowed – pro­mo­tion to League One and a run to the League Cup fi­nal – has gone down in Bradford leg­end.

Ul­ti­mately, how­ever, those events con­spired to give Flynn his golden mo­ment: pro­mo­tion to the EFL with New­port County, the club of his home, his heart and the place where it all be­gan.

Raised by his great aunt and un­cle in Pill­gwen­lly, South Wales, Flynn was such a shy child that his fam­ily were forced to watch furtively to see him play. “I’d get so em­bar­rassed and go mad if I caught them,” he re­called in 2015. Not that there was any­thing to be em­bar­rassed about. At six, he was play­ing for the lo­cal Un­der-10s. At 15, he was rep­re­sent­ing Wales Un­der-16s. By 17, he was fast-tracked into New­port’s first team, though he was nearly fast­tracked straight out again af­ter man­ager Tim Har­ris caught him play­ing Sun­day League. A re­prieve prevented Flynn turn­ing his su­per­mar­ket shifts into some­thing more per­ma­nent, though he did work as a post­man to sup­ple­ment part-time wages. “I’d be play­ing games in the evening af­ter a 5am start,” re­called Flynn, who made his first-team bow as an 18-year-old in 1999. “It was hard work, but it made me ap­pre­ci­ate ev­ery­thing that came later.” A “life-chang­ing” move to Barry Town brought full-time foot­ball and, in 2001, a fa­mous Cham­pi­ons League qual­i­fier against Porto. Smashed 8-0 in Por­tu­gal, Flynn scored in the re­turn leg as the Welsh side tri­umphed 3-1 against a side fea­tur­ing Deco, Ri­cardo Car­valho and a host of other play­ers who would win the Cham­pi­ons League just two sea­sons later.

Wi­gan took note, signed him, and so be­gan a suc­cess­ful lower-league ca­reer tak­ing in Gilling­ham, Black­pool, Huddersfield and Bradford.

At each, Flynn is fondly re­mem­bered. At Wi­gan, he and Alan Ma­hon were prankster pals of Jimmy Bullard.

“They loaded the bul­lets, I pulled the trig­ger,” said the for­mer Ful­ham star in his au­to­bi­og­ra­phy. “It was a great dress­ing room, the best spirit I ever knew.”

Else­where, sup­port­ers re­mem­ber a mo­bile, com­mit­ted mid­fielder whose in­tel­li­gence al­lowed him to adapt his game as the years ad­vanced.

Tac­ti­cal

“He was a great lad to have around the place,” said Ron­nie Jep­son, who named Flynn skip­per at Gilling­ham. “Al­ways one of the lead­ers. Trained like he played. He was pop­u­lar, worked hard. And he al­ways had a good in­put in the tac­ti­cal side of things.

“Tech­ni­cally, he wasn’t a bad player ei­ther. He just lacked that bit of pace which would’ve al­lowed him to play a touch higher.”

Lee Bul­lock was Flynn’s mid­field part­ner at Bradford. “He was a real good player to have along­side you,” said the Teessider.

“We’d both talk and moan at each other all game long, but as soon as the whis­tle went we were good mates. We had a very good un­der­stand­ing.”

The re­turn to New­port – mo­ti­vated by a de­sire to live closer to his teenage daugh­ter – came in 2012. This time, Flynn’s tim­ing was spot on.

Within 12 months, he was mak­ing his Wem­b­ley bow at the age of 33. Ninety min­utes later, Wrex­ham were van­quished 2-0 in the Con­fer­ence play-off fi­nal and Justin Ed­in­burgh’s side were back in the Foot­ball League.

“He’d had a great ca­reer when he came to us and got in­stant re­spect,” said team­mate Lee Min­shull. “He was a calm head, a leader on and off the pitch who loved the club. All the lads looked up to him and he was a big part of what hap­pened that year.”

Ev­ery­thing since has been geared to­wards life af­ter foot­ball. Di­rec­tor of New­port’s acad­emy, a short-lived role as the club’s ‘foot­ball and busi­ness de­vel­op­ment di­rec­tor’, coach­ing roles un­der John Sheri­dan, Warren Feeney and Gra­ham West­ley.

Two years as player-man­ager of part-timers Undy Athletic looked scant prepa­ra­tion for pro­mo­tion to the top job when West­ley was sacked in March with the Ex­iles 11 points from League Two safety.

Yet five wins from nine matches hauled New­port to within touch­ing dis­tance of sur­vival and left many call­ing for Flynn to be ap­pointed per­ma­nently.

“I still speak to Flynny quite a lot and I got the im­pres­sion ev­ery­thing he did was lead­ing up to this,” added Jep­son.

“It was an im­pos­si­ble task but he’s done fan­tas­tic re­ally.

“The run they’ve gone on, the re­sponse he’s got from the play­ers. He’s cer­tainly do­ing some­thing right and it would be great to see him get them over the line.”

PIC­TURE: Ac­tion Im­ages

WEM­B­LEY JOY: Michael Flynn, left, cel­e­brates with David Pipe af­ter win­ning the Con­fer­ence play­off fi­nal with New­port

MOV­ING ON: Flynn missed out on a host of hon­ours when he moved clubs ear­lier in his ca­reer

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