Former England cricket captain Andrew ‘Freddie’ Flintoff said he is not been surprised by the immediate impact close friend Steve Harmison has made as a football manager.
Preston-born Flintoff, like Harmison a two-time Ashes winner, drove into the Woodhorn Lane ground last week with his mobile fish bar and a film crew.
On the same night, his home town team were playing a pre-season friendly against the Colliers which they won 1-0 thanks to a goal on the hour from striker Jack Ryan.
But despite his roots, Flintoff, who was named as one of Ashington’s substitutes although he did not come on, said he had been willing Harmison’s side on throughout the 90 minutes.
“I played for a few years, as a kid, for Preston, although I wasn’t very good, and all my family still live there,” he said.
“We were up this part of the world with the fish van and when I spoke to Steve he invited us along.
“Steve asked me into the dressing rooms to meet all of the lads and it was brilliant. He loves it.
“Although he was a cricketer, he is so keen and his attitude is infectious in the way he speaks to his players.
“I wasn’t surprised he put in for the manager’s job because I know what this area means to him.
“I have been up here quite a lot myself; I know his family and his mates and he always speaks very passionately about Ashington and the north east.
“So when he got the chance to manage his home town, it was a no brainer for him.
“Ashington have got someone in charge who actually loves the place and that will rub off on the players – and the club.”
The gauge of Harmison’s initial success can be measured from the fact that under his charge, a club with relegation clouds hovering over it last term only lost four of 15 matches, which not only ensured safety but also saw them finish just below half way in the table.
Flintoff added: “I have followed Ashington’s results since Harmy took over and I was not surprised at all.
“One thing when you play cricket with people, especially your mates, you always follow what they do - and good on Steve.
“I sat in the dressing room with him for years and he’s the type of lad you want to play with.
“He’s loyal, honest and gives everything all of the time, and what he is doing here is no different.
“I wish him every success and I’m sure that all the lads will do anything for him because he’s a great man.
“It’s terrific to see him enjoying himself and having some success.”
Flintoff reflected on the two magic occasions when the Ashes urn was won by England.
“My best bit of the Ashes successes in 2005 and 2009 was as Steve and myself, who always used to change in the same spots in the dressing rooms at the Oval, sat in the corner, looked at each other and thought ‘how has this happened to us’.
“Here was a lad from Ashington with a background very similar to me from Preston, so I can relate to it a lot.
“Winning the Ashes on both occasions were surreal moments. ‘I’ve done it, this is amazing I thought’, and to achieve it twice with my best mate alongside me made it even better.”