The nearly man wants to leave a lasting mark
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.
“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.”
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