Alan Pardew once called football management a “lonely, horrible job.”
In the agonising days after a 4-0 defeat, especially, the oft-embattled Newcastle United manager might find friends in the North East difficult to come by.
Yet in Newcastle Eagles player-coach Fab Flournoy he has an unlikely ally and a sporting colleague willing to speak up for his “integrity” and determination to “stand up for what he believes in.”
The information exchange between Flournoy and Pardew is one of North East sport’s best-kept secrets. Having met two years ago when the clubs came together to celebrate each other’s success (Newcastle were on their way to fifth in the Premier League, the Eagles heading towards a clean sweep season), the pair have exchanged regular calls and text messages ever since.
So when Pardew talks of engaging a “mentor” to help guide him on touchline behaviour, it is not an idle proclamation.
The pair throw around ideas about man-management, handling the pressure and how to run a professional sports club in an area hungry for success.
Flournoy admits it has been a huge help to him to have a hotline to Pardew’s training ground telephone.
He hopes the Newcastle boss feels the same, especially in light of the Newcastle manager’s own chastening experience at the KC Stadium recently.
Flournoy said: “It’s a funny thing when you are the boss. You are the main man and you have that ultimate responsibility but who questions the boss? Who questions the guy at the top?
“You always make calls which you believe are right but my belief is you always have to have those checks and balances. It is natural to search out someone in a similar position to wonder ‘Am I right here?’
“What Alan has really helped me with is to take a different approach and a different view to certain problems I might have.
“That is invaluable, to tap into the knowledge of a guy who has immense experience.
“In one sense it is a real privilege to have that type of situation where I can pick up the phone and speak to him.” Flournoy has looked on at some of the criticism of Pardew and seen a kindred spirit. Both have been criticised for being outspoken, both feel pressure to deliver for the North East.
Flournoy added: “One of the things I truly like about Alan is he stands up as a man of his word.
“He stands up for what he says and what he’s trying to do. If you ask his players he is very transparent. They know what he is about and I have a lot of respect for him over that.”
At a time when scrutiny is intense, Flournoy believes Pardew’s biggest asset, ironically, is he has a cool head and stays true to his principles.
He said: “In this job you take hits from all over – from outside pressures and from inside your own camp as well.
“I have a great amount of respect for Alan. He has shared a lot with me and I have had the privilege of seeing how they prepare. He has shared a lot of information with me in how they prepare and how to get the best out of players.
“There is something there in terms of trying to keep athletes motivated.
“I have a group of 10 guys but Alan has a larger group and it is hard for him. You will have 11 guys who are going to love you and 11 or so guys who will not love you at all. It is a real eye-opener for me and we have shared a few ideas about things like that.
“I’m a real believer in sharing that information because we are all working in an area which wants to succeed and wants to win and Alan wants the same things that I do.”
Flournoy has previously been reluctant to talk too much about his relationship with Pardew, which he admits is a professional one. They are not quite at the stage where they would “knock back drinks in the pub”, as Flournoy is eager to admit.
Yet, in a period where Pardew is being questioned over his abilities and the direction the club is going, Flournoy is an interesting advocate for the former Premier League manager of the year.
Flournoy added: “In all honesty I try not to make a big deal of it out of respect to Alan but he has shared a lot with me and I am privileged to be in that position. He has extended a welcoming arm to me and he’s only a phone call or text message away.”
While Pardew’s team take on Manchester United tomorrow, the Eagles look to rediscover their role as the Manchester United of basketball.
They take on Sheffield Sharks tonight in a match which is effectively a BBL title decider – and it promises to be a fantastic night.
Flournoy said: “I am looking forward to this game. You work the entire year for this opportunity and now we have to go out there and prove what we’re about,” he said.
“This is a team which has always had the talent but we have started to learn how to win games. Now we need to do it all over again.”