Newcastle Eagles: Age is no barrier for Fab Flourney

He may have turned 40 this year, but is at the height of his powers as the Newcastle Eagles bid for play-off glory

Fabulous Flourney
Fabulous Flourney

Fab Flournoy didn’t used to want to talk about his age. Now you can’t stop him.

Flournoy turned 40 this year, a milestone that he marked by getting up at six in the morning and heading to the gym to start an intensive, hour-long weights session. That was at the start of a season that will end on Sunday with the play-off final at Wembley, where Newcastle Eagles will be gunning for their 20th piece of silverware.

Before this year, he had always stepped in when people asked him about his age. It was not relevant, he would argue. “Age is just a number,” he once told this correspondent when asked whether he would continue into his 38th year.

Now Flournoy’s age has become a central theme to his continued mission to prove his doubters wrong – and retirement is a long, long way from his mind.

“To be honest with you, I don’t see a reason why I couldn’t go through to 50,” he tells The Journal.

“My mindset, to be honest, is that I could even go through to 60 and still be playing. That’s what I believe in myself, but the difference is that the Newcastle Eagles may be in a very different place by then.

“I’m serious. Playing at 50 and playing competitively and being able to do what I’m doing now will be tough. Tougher than it is now. To be honest what will stop me is that the club will be in a different place to where it is now.

“We’ll have potentially by that time our own venue and I probably won’t be needed in that way.

“There will probably not be a role for me then and then it would be wrong because I would solely be doing it to chase numbers and say ‘I’ve done it’ and I’m the oldest.

“But then again, when I was 30 I might have thought the club was not going to have a role for me at 40.

“The most certain thing is that I will know that when it is time, it is time. If I haven’t muttered anything about retirement and if the fire in the furnace hasn’t died down and I’m not lagging on the court there’s no reason to end it.”

The problem for Flournoy, ironically, is that the Eagles want to make massive steps in the coming years.

They have lanced a troublesome boil this season by preventing one season without silverware from becoming two.

They won the BBL title in arguably its most competitive year and head for the capital on Sunday as favourites to add the play-off title to their trophy cabinet.

There is more to come, though. A plan for their own venue is in the pipeline which in turn would open new revenue streams and encourage a possible tilt at Europe – something that the club have always wanted to do.

Flournoy, just like club stalwart Charles Smith, would love to make that step into European basketball, but there is an implicit admission that it is no country for old men.

He said: “I went on record 10 years ago and said I’d still be on top. I’m not going to be so presumptious this time around!

“When I first sat with Paul Blake we had a plan. We wanted to build basketball in the community, get basketball recognised nationally, getting the team its own venue and playing in Europe. All those things are coming into fruition now.

“We still have a way to go but that was the overall plan and that was the overall goal. I know that a lot of the things I have done will be felt five to 10 years in the future. I know that I might be playing when we see the benefits of those things.”

Flournoy knows that playing beyond 40 is rare, but he rails against some of the ageism in professional sport. It is rare but achievable to continue into your sixth decade.

“If I look across the board, the only other person as successful and as old as I am is (Ryan Giggs),” he admits.

“I’m not comparing myself to him in stature or success but in terms of being as old and still doing it.

“I haven’t reached out or looked at it but I know Giggs is old. For him to be that old and still playing in football is incredible. He has been playing just as long as me and he’s still playing for the same team. I’m not comparing myself but he is proof that it can be done.”

Unusually for a man whose British basketball career has been about sacrificing his own ambitions for the greater good fo the team, this has been a year of personal milestones for Flournoy.

He made his 541st BBL appearance this year and could collect his 19th piece of silverware on Sunday. When you take a step back and consider what he has done for the game, sport in the North East and the Newcastle Eagles, it is some CV.

Yet this year also ushered in another first: Flournoy’s mother Luce visited him in England for the first time since he left New York in the early 1990s. Regardless of everything else that he has achieved in his career, it was a poignant, memorable and incredibly important moment for the youngest Flournoy brother.

“I probably paused and took a moment when my mother came over,” he said.

“It was the very first time that she has come to see me. It was when I reached my 541st game just after Christmas, and for her to see that and then for her to actually be able to realise what I actually do and why I have been away for so many years was important.

“At many times she has asked ‘Will I ever come back home?’ and now she’s had an opportunity to see what I’ve been doing all these years. She even said to me, ‘They actually truly love you here’.

“That’s when I started to see it all and that’s when it all fell into perspective. That is when I stopped to take a moment.”

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