Football/Soccer

Former Irish League star Gerry Flynn: 'We will smile again and start enjoying life when this nightmare is over'

Cliftonville's Marty Quinn (left), Rory O'Boyle (extreme right), Tim McCann, Mickey Donnelly, Mickey Collins and Gerry Flynn talk tactics during the halcyon days

Former Cliftonville star Gerry Flynn may be under lockdown in his adopted home in Spain, but he is still spreading some light to Irish League followers back home as everyone battles the isolation of Covid-19. Brendan Crossan spoke to the affable north Belfast native from his home in Los Alcazares...

IF Gerry Flynn closes his eyes he’s in paradise. It’s Tuesday lunchtime at his home in Los Alcazares in the south eastern coast of Spain, just 15 minutes away from La Manga.

The sun hangs in clear blue skies but there’s a stiff breeze blowing. Due to the deadly outbreak of coronavirus, Spain is currently in lockdown.

Up until he decided to post his daily Irish League video diaries, the highlight of his day was going to the supermarket for essential goods.

Over the past few days he’s become something of a social media hit. In just over two minutes he tells a story from his playing days at Cliftonville and Coleraine.

The first story featured Marty Quinn, his former manager, throttling a Stuttgart fan by mistake; the second was a yarn about mercurial midfielder Mickey Collins and how he tried to apply basketball rules to a football match.

Arguably the best so far in the Flynn’s irreverent ‘My Football Stories’ series was the fight over Jaffa Cakes during a half-time team-talk at Coleraine and how one of them ended up in the turn-up of Quinn's trousers.

These afternoon yarns are worth tuning in for - @GerryFlynn3 – just to escape the incessant wave of Covid-19 tragedies.

Flynn has been living in Spain for 10 years. He runs several successful businesses in the Murcia region including The Celt Irish Bar, the Shamrock Lounge, Dream Spanish Homes, DHS Invest and a car hire company, Menor Car Hire, which he’d initially sold before buying it back recently.

Following the dramatic events of the last couple of weeks and the abrupt economic shut-down every one of Flynn’s businesses sway on a cliff edge.

“It’s scary times,” he says. “The water tap has been literally turned off. We’ve spent the last week back and forward with the accountant and bank managers. In the Shamrock Bar we have 28 staff.

“We were due to open the Shamrock Lounge LA on March 16 – so we had six new staff ready to go, and you wonder will you be able to get that staff back? I sold a car hire company two years ago and we bought it back a couple of weeks ago and we’ve staff there too."

Flynn is used to adversity. When the property crash occurred in 2008, the north Belfast man owned dozens of houses.

“When things went pear-shaped back home I lost everything. I had a villa over here at the time and I had a mini-bus. I came over here with literally €50 in my pocket. I had nothing because the property market had crashed.

“I’ll never forget it; there were 330,000 kilometres on that mini-bus and I was driving people back and forth to the airports.

“Then I bought a car and another car. I had the car hire company and built that up to 10, 15, 20 cars and then I got the chance to lease the Celt Bar. Within two years I was able to buy it. I played five-a-sides with another guy from Sheffield and he said: ‘Let’s open the Shamrock Lounge.’ It’s more an upmarket bar.

“And I was selling a house once a month. People don’t see the spadework that goes in. I was doing 18 hours for seven or eight years and I still do it. I still have that work ethic.”

He adds: “My dad [who passed away two years ago] worked in Richardson’s [Belfast Harbour Estate] and he was doing three consecutive shifts; 24 hours and maybe more sometimes. I just love work. Out here you’re in the sun – I don’t like the sun as in sun bathing – but you’re working in the sun, you’re in flip-flops, people are happier and chilled, there is colour in the sky…"

The morale of the story is that Gerry Flynn has been knocked down before, he’s dusted himself down and got up again. While there is something inescapably tragic and bleak about coronavirus and the spiralling death toll, Flynn believes the Spanish people will emerge from the human wreckage and build again.

“Debbie, my wife, had a wee wobble last Monday, saying: ‘What are we going to do?’ The only thing that’s important right now is my family and everyone around us, that they are healthy. We’ll all get through it.

“We’re trying to budget for three months. Our season starts after St Patrick’s Day and that’s when the tills start ringing. There are people still keen to buy out here, but you can probably write the season off. It could be July, August, September, October and then we’re just hoping people have the confidence to start flying again and the airlines don’t put the prices up. There are actually good opportunities to get well priced properties during this crisis, but of course that's not on anyone's agenda right now given the terrible circumstances we're living through.

“But I do think Spain have taken a fantastic approach over the virus. There was complete lockdown and they’ve extended it to the 12th of April.

“When you go out to get groceries you’ve to stand five metres apart and when you go in, the security guard is there with the mask on and the gloves, really pleasant. There is a massive sanitiser; you’ve to wash your hands and then you put gloves on. When you go into the supermarket they only let about 20 in at one time. And the shelves are absolutely packed.”

Flynn has been stopped three times in 10 days by local police on his way to the supermarket, a fleeting security check that is designed to let its citizens know the government is in control of the lockdown and the movement of people.

Unlike Ireland, north and south, the Spanish are not allowed to go out jogging.

Part of Flynn’s daily routine is a 5km walk along the beach, which is now prohibited. Since the lockdown he’s set up circuits in his garden to keep fit.

Over the past few weeks, he's had plenty of time on his hands to think about things, and has delved into his back catalogue of football memories to spread a bit of fun and create a bit of escapism during some dark days.

One of the most assured Irish League footballers of his generation, Flynn (49) confesses that his biggest problem during his playing days was a chronic lack of self-confidence – even if his polished displays conveyed otherwise.

“It was only when my best mate ‘Simba’ [Colm Girvan] started living with me that I realised that maybe I wasn’t too bad a footballer. I always lacked confidence. I always had desire, grit and determination but I always used to think: ‘I shouldn’t be here.’

“It was only when I’d played about 300 games I began to feel I belonged at the top level of Irish football… ‘Simba’ sensed that my confidence wasn't high and he'd say to me: ‘Is there something wrong with you?’

“Because I’d no education - I’d one ‘O’ Level in PE - that always held me back. I was at Hull City when I was younger and I probably should have stayed in England longer than I did. If I knew then what I know now, it was just a self-confidence thing.

Laughing, he says: “I’d no pace, I’d no right peg, I was half blind in one eye – so maybe I did okay.”

He adds: “I’ve a wee daughter and I say to her: ‘You need to be humble, but you can be anything you want.”

Flynn, of course, became one of the ’98 league-winning legends of Cliftonville, managed supremely by the charismatic Marty Quinn.

Sift through the old footage of the Reds squad anxiously pacing the changing room floor of Solitude awaiting word from Coleraine’s home game with Linfield and you’ll spot the fresh-faced, floppy-haired left-back a bundle of nerves.

Gerry Flynn (right) in action against John Devine of Glentoran

Nothing in his playing career compares to that unlikely feat of 22 years ago.

“I spent 10 years with ‘Quinner’ – seven at Cliftonville and three at Coleraine. Legend is used too lightly these days - but ‘Quinner’ is a legend in the truest sense.

“I actually went to Ballymena first after leaving Cliftonville, and at that time I was just getting involved with the soccer coaching with Tiernan Lynch.

“‘Quinner’ and me had a fall-out. One week he dropped me and I said: ‘I’m not just going to sit here and pick up the dough, I want to play.’ In hindsight it was silly. About four weeks later, ‘Quinner’ ended up leaving Cliftonville and going to Coleraine.

“I went to Ballymena and we were relegated in the second season and ‘Quinner’ was straight on the phone about going to Coleraine. I’d a shaky start up there, it’s didn’t go well, my confidence was at an all-time low. But I turned it around and we went on and won the Irish Cup in 2003.”

Right now, Flynn is thinking about his next Football Stories yarn that will undoubtedly appeal to his ever-growing followers on social media.

One of his bite-size stories is bound to feature Joe McDonnell – a fine midfielder he had at Newry City several years before the club ran into difficulties.

“Joe, as only Joe would, came down one night for training with flip flops on and he said he had an in-grown toe nail. He said he wasn’t allowed to go into the gym. He was about to get into the car and I said: ‘Joe, do six laps of the pitch.’ He wasn’t too happy but away he went in his flip flops for six laps of the pitch.

“Anyway, fast-forward a few years and I’d been living out here in Spain and I used to get these phone calls every Saturday and Sunday night at three and four in the morning. I never knew who it was. They were an absolute nuisance. It was only when I changed my number the calls stopped.

“I was home one time and Joe and me and a few friends were in town and Joe turned round and said: ‘That was me who was making those phone calls.’ I said: ‘What! You wee f*****’

"I think it was because I made him run round the pitch in flip flops!"

In the midst of these awful times, Gerry Flynn is keeping his head up and looking forward.

Meanwhile, his businesses hang by a thread. But he’s been down that road before. He knows the drill by now.

He’ll bounce back - just as he believes the Spanish people will.

“My glass is always half full,” he says. “We will overcome it and we’ll start enjoying life again.”

Gerry Flynn's all-time Irish League XI: Davy O'Hare, Stevie Small, Marty Tabb, Gareth McAuley, Gerry Flynn, Packie McAllister, Peter Murray, Jim McFadden, Tim McCann, Jody Tolan, Ron Manley

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Football/Soccer