Number one of a kind
June 14, 2012
David Flatman en route to the try line for Bath © Getty Images
It's never nice having to write about a player retiring from the game before his time, but it's even worse when it's someone you consider to be a friend and one of rugby's true characters. Being a front-row is a difficult business, but managing to get through 80 minutes every weekend over a spell of 14 years and still managing to come out of it making a joke about the fact that your body has been to hell and back most Saturdays is a credit to the man.
But although he can joke about much of his career, retirement is not one of these moments for David Flatman, who announced that he would be hanging up his boots on Thursday evening. "It's mixed emotions really," Flatman told ESPN. "I feel very sad that I won't be able to play for Bath anymore because playing for them and being able to wear that No.1 jersey for so many years made me incredibly proud but at the same time to have had such a good knock and to have overcome some significant hurdles in my career and to have carried on trucking means a lot.
"Being a Bath rugby player has motivated me at all times to get through those situations but I won't be a player anymore. The club have stepped up and have been incredible and I'm looking forward to working with them in a different capacity in the near future."
While most props retire due to neck, shoulder or back injuries, Flatman's is a bit uncommon - a hand injury. "It happened a couple of games before the end of the season. It's something that I didn't take too seriously at the time as you get a lot of bumps and bruises but it got progressively worse to the point where I had to go and see a specialist about it.
"The news wasn't getting any better and after a couple of difficult conversations it became a situation where it no longer became a 'decision' for me, the choice was taken away from me. If you had asked me to choose I'd be there on Monday, but unfortunately the ramifications meant that it was right that I had to call time on the rugby. Had I been 22 and only played a handful of games for Bath then I'd have felt different, but I'm 32 and have enjoyed a long career.
"I think most people would have expected me to retire from a shoulder injury, but they've hung in alright. I asked the doc about how important the hand actually was, but when you get to the point where you can't actually catch a ball - not that I could anyway -, can't pass a ball and can't bind on the hooker as it's my right hand then you have to re-consider your future in the game."
When Flatman started his career 14 years ago with Saracens, it was at the turn of professionalism. Greeted with the likes of Tim Horan and Michael Lynagh on his first day at training, he was still stuck between that awkward balance of attempting to retain your teenage years and pursuing the dream of being a rugby player.
On Heineken Cup duty against Ulster © Getty Images
"My first exposure to the professional nature of rugby was as a 17-year-old and I was in the Lower Sixth at school. I was invited to pre-season at Saracens and was immediately thrown into the mix alongside rugby greats like Lynagh. While my mates were all in Gran Canaria and Faliraki I was at pre-season and I'm still not quite sure why I chose that!"
Saracens and Wallaby World Cup-winners aside, Flatman identifies himself as a Bath man. He will now embark on a new career behind the scenes at Bath and they have got a man that all the recruitment agencies in the UK could not find. But on the field for the club it was never boring down at the Recreation Ground and Flatman never gave anything but his all.
"I have no regrets at all. I managed to get my eight England caps and in that time I was part of a team that won in South Africa and won in Buenos Aires. And at Bath we also lifted the European Challenge Cup in 2008.
"And in terms of regrets, it's a career based on what you make of it. A World Cup winner once told me at the end of his career that he would not be counting trophies but instead, he'd be counting friends. Had I retired from Old Boys RFC aged 32, then I'd be feeling exactly as I am now. What counts are the mates I'm left with and the memories they've given me."
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Tom Hamilton is the Assistant Editor of ESPNscrum.