Tom Flanagan sat down with Salop to discuss international football, Sunderland ‘Til I Die, and Hot Wheels.
Northern Irish centre-back Tom Flanagan joined Shrewsbury Town on deadline day in January 2022 and has since made his way into Steve Cotterill’s starting line-up and made that left-centre-back spot his own.
Flanagan returned to international duty earlier this year and spent two weeks away with Northern Ireland and played in two friendly matches against Luxembourg and Hungary. Speaking prior to his journey abroad, Flanagan said: “I do really enjoy international football and I think that’s a testament to the managers I’ve had. Whenever I hear about international teams not getting along, I think it’s probably down to the manager and how they manage the team with all the time they’ve got and the time they’re using.
“When you’re away on the international trips, they’ve got hold of you 24/7, so you end up having a meeting in the morning, a meeting in the afternoon, and a meeting in the evening. You almost get quite tired from the concentration and there’s a lot of information so it can be quite draining. International teams don’t play as regularly either so we’re watching clips from over a month ago and they’re running through all the possibilities for what they could do because it’s not as predictable as it is at club level.”
Flanagan played the full 90-minutes of Northern Ireland’s 3-1 win over Luxembourg at the Stade de Luxembourg as a right-centre-back alongside then Premier League defenders Jonny Evans (Leicester City) and Craig Cathcart (Watford). Then, as is often the case in international friendlies, Flanagan was rested for rotation purposes for the fixture against Hungary at Windsor Park. Northern Ireland lost out by one goal to nil.
Flanagan also recalled one of the funnier moments from his time playing international football: “Kyle Lafferty found a life-size cut out of Michael O’Neill and he went everywhere with him for the whole trip,” he laughed. “The best bit was that a lot of newspapers kept seeing Kyle around with who they thought was Michael O’Neill, so it was confusing people when Michael was in two places at once even though one of them was a cardboard cut-out. I’d say that’s probably one of the only safe stories I can put out there!”
Flanagan joined Shrewsbury from Sunderland – a club he had spent three-and-a-half years at – and of course, playing for Sunderland at that time guaranteed you a special slot in one of Netflix’s viral productions: Sunderland ‘Til I Die. “It was strange,” Flanagan began, “because I’ve never done anything like that before as such, but it was really, really intrusive and it wasn’t just your work life, it was intrusive at times in your personal life too. I said no to loads of things all the time and I’m fairly private in terms of what I do away from football and also with my family too, so I did find it strange. You were thrown in at the deep end and if someone asked now if I wanted to be followed around with a camera every week, I’d definitely say no way, but when the football club comes to you and you’re new and everything like that, it’s on your mind that the guy who wants you to do it is the same guy who is paying your salary which is a big factor.
“It was well made, well-produced, and all the people were really nice – we all got on. We spent so much time together that we built a good relationship with them but again, that’s when they’re at their most dangerous because you might say something you don’t want to say publicly or say what you’re really thinking but that’s what they want, they want to know what you’re really thinking, so it was difficult. There were a lot of battles with the manager at the time about filming on matchdays and stuff like that, so we were always getting pulled from pillar to post in that respect but yeah, it was well done and well run, but it was intrusive; that would be my simple assessment.
“It was constant and that was how we got to know the people making it. Most of them didn’t have an interest in football – they were just freelancers – but two of the boys had been on The Grand Tour so we’d be asking them about that and then the cameras would be switched on and you had your guard up again. They were there to do a job you know, but it was still good, and it was one of those experiences that you wouldn’t have expected to have.”
However, Flanagan revealed, Sunderland ‘Til I Die didn’t provide him with his television debut and he already had an acting CV behind him… sort of: “I used to do TV adverts for Hot Wheels cars when I was a kid. I did seven or eight adverts that were on over Christmas for the new toys. My Uncle worked for Hasbro – who own Hot Wheels – and they needed someone to do these adverts, so I ended up doing them but I’m not exactly a TV superstar!
“You can have a look and see if you can find them,” he laughed. “I’ve tried to find them online but haven’t had any luck. I think I was five or six, so it was over 20 years ago now but yeah, they’re out there somewhere.” Well Salop fans, you have been issued a challenge.
Talking about a young Tom Flanagan led the conversation towards the actual young Flanagans who – at the ages of just three and 18 months – have recently been moved down to Shropshire to join their father. “We’ve recently moved the family down here. We’ll all be down in Telford to begin with, and then we’re sorting a place in Shrewsbury in the summer. It’s good to be four hours closer to family – who are in West London – and Shrewsbury is such a nice place so it’s a good move and this is probably quite a good time to move the family because my kids probably won’t remember Durham. I’ve been to Shrewsbury quite a few times with my family and it’s just a really nice place; it reminds me of Durham a little bit because it’s an old town in the countryside with nice shops and nice walks around it. I’ve heard there’s a lot to do in the summer months so the kids will love it.”