Flynn Downes arrived in Ipswich Town in tears... but now he's one of the jewels in the Blues' crown
PUBLISHED: 11:32 09 September 2018 | UPDATED: 11:32 09 September 2018
Flynn Downes is one of a crop of Ipswich Town young players coming through the ranks. And he already has a promotion to his name! ANDY WARREN went to meet him.
‘Get up and get in there’.
Things could have turned out very differently had Flynn Downes not fought back the tears, resisted the desire to sleep and stepped out of the car.
He was tired and nervous following an hour-long drive from his family home in Brentwood, as he arrived to begin a trial with Ipswich Town.
He was adamant he wasn’t going into the club’s training dome at Playford Road but, after a little persuasion from both his father, Micky, and Ipswich coaches, the seven-year-old ventured inside to begin his journey with the Blues.
Fast forward 12 years and the teenager is one of the club’s crown jewels, a player oozing with potential and a young man driven to succeed by his love of the game.
So it’s a good job he got out of the car that day.
“It’s been a long old journey,” Downes reflects.
“It’s been a good one though – I’ve enjoyed every minute of it.
“I remember the start of it really well. I was playing for my local team, Ongar, and we lost 2-1 but I came off injured. I was only little so I came off crying and told my dad I was injured but he said, ‘there’s a card here’.
“It was a little card, not very big and it had a note about the trial at Ipswich and it’s all grown from there.
“I was the same then, always box-to-box and wanting to win the ball. I always wanted to play football, even when I was little, and I absolutely loved it.
“But I can remember the nerves before the first time I trained here, even now.
“We came and parked up at the training ground and all the boys were training inside the dome. I could hear them.
“But I had slept the whole way up and I threw a bit of a strop because I was so tired and didn’t want to come in. I was tired, a few tears, but my dad told me ‘get up and get in there’.
“Then Tony (Humes, former Town academy manager) came over and got me and made me feel welcome. I needed him to come and get me otherwise I might have not gone in.
“When you’re little you just want to do what you want, don’t you? I just wanted to sleep.
“But it went well and I trained more and more at Ipswich and I kept coming back.”
And still he keeps coming back.
The road to this point has not been smooth for Downes, who comes from a family of West Ham fans.
In fact, many of the most important moments in the 19-year-old’s journey to date have happened on the road or in the car.
Without his father, Micky, spending hour-upon-hour driving up and down the A12 to take his son to training sessions, he wouldn’t be where he is today.
Football remains Downes’ hobby – he still kicks a ball around with his friends in the evenings – but when he reached the age of 16 the prospect of it becoming a career became more and more realistic.
Decisions needed to be taken, with a serious one made in his dad’s car once again.
“When you’re little you don’t really think about that, playing professionally, for the first team in front of loads of fans because you just want to play,” he said.
“You dream of it, of course, but you don’t really think about it seriously because all you want to do is enjoy your football.
“When you get to about 15 or 16 then you start thinking about contracts – that’s when it’s really serious. I think when I got to under-16s it really hit me.
“We had an internal game where we played against each other, a proper match on this pitch right here, and I didn’t play too well.
“In the car my dad said to me ‘what do you want from this?’
He had been bringing me up here since I was seven all the way from Brentwood, an hour’s drive each way, and he asked me ‘what do you want from this, do you want to take it seriously?’
“I told him I really did and ever since that car journey I kind of realised it was what I really wanted.”
The summer of 2017 changed everything. Downes came out flying in pre-season and catapulted himself into the consciousness of Ipswich fans many of whom, until that point, barely knew of his existence.
That summer changed his life.
The last 12 months have been full of firsts for Downes. Everything’s been new.
His first Ipswich appearance, his first England under-19 cap, his first experience of moving clubs on deadline day and his first promotion.
He’s now spotted in the street and asked for autographs, he’s now being asked to perform tricks on demand for the photo-shoot to accompany these words.
Ask him for his thoughts on his rise to this point and he’ll tell you it’s been ‘crazy, mad, surreal’.
He doesn’t live the footballer’s life – he spends his evenings at home in the digs he shares with a group of young players. They play football, computer games and eat, just like any group of teenagers does.
You get the impression everything that has happened over the last year has taken him by surprise.
But one thing has never changed – his love for the game.
“I went home the other day to Brentwood and got out of the car and there was a boy looking at me,” he said.
“He was from Brentwood so I didn’t expect anyone to recognise me, but he kept staring at me so I looked back. Then he was like, ‘Flynn, can I have an autograph?’ And that really shocked me.
“I was so shocked by that – it doesn’t happen often.
“It’s been a whirlwind really, all a bit mad. But then I still feel the same.
“I still love my football, really love it, and everything else that’s come has just been a bonus on that. As long as I still love my football, that’s the main thing.
“I live at home but stay up here in digs. There are four of us in there and it’s a good laugh. It’s me, Corrie (Ndaba), Brett (McGavin) and Jack (Lankester) which is really good.
“It’s good being with people. In the last couple of years I’ve been in by myself and that can get a bit boring, so to have people like that around is fun.
“We have a little bit of a kickabout in the garden sometimes, just a bit of fun two-touch, but mainly we just chill, watch TV and eat a lot. We eat so much – all the right stuff though.”
It was a year packed with success, but what comes up, must come down.
Downes was flying, riding the crest of a wave after breaking into the first team, but then he suddenly vanished from the picture for almost three months.
His absence was mysterious at the time but, given how much had happened to him in such a short period, is it any wonder everything got too much for such a young man?
“I think everything that was going on was quite stressful for me and it did take its toll,” he said.
“I didn’t know what to expect and I just kept going up and up and up but then at some point you have to come down a little bit. I wasn’t making the team and I was feeling tired.
“The gaffer was really good with me. He knew how I was feeling in training and everything and could see I wasn’t 100 per cent. We spoke a lot and tried to get it sorted.
“There was stuff at home going on and everything was taking its toll on me. But we sorted it.
“If your mind is feeling fresh then your body usually follows, but my mind was so tired. I’d wake up and feel tired.
“Mick (McCarthy) got that right when he said that someone had just pulled the plug on me. That’s exactly how it felt.”
Downes is now firmly back on track and his Ipswich career is a success story which shows no sign of abating.
But arguably his biggest high, so far, has come away from Portman Road. It happened 310 miles away to be exact.
Carlisle’s Brunton Park was the scene as Luton Town secured promotion to League One in April, which was followed by an open-top bus tour a few weeks later.
Downes needed a change of scene, a new perspective and a temporary challenge, which the loan at Kenilworth Road provided.
It’s a time he’ll always remember.
“The gaffer asked me after an under-23 game if I wanted to go to Luton. Then, the next day, boom, it all happened,” he said.
“I felt like I needed a little bit of a change in some ways, just temporarily, because I’d been here so long and wanted to see what it was like at other clubs and experience something else.
“It ended up being a good experience for me and that little change-up was just what I needed.
“It was different. We’re in the Championship and they were in League Two so things here are done that bit more professionally, but I loved it at Luton. The change of scene was good.
“The promotion was a mad experience. We had a six-hour bus journey back from Carlisle after we secured promotion and it was mad. Crazy on the bus.
“I’ve never experienced anything like it and when I got back Luke Chambers said to me, ‘promotion is a once-in-a-lifetime thing and some players don’t ever win promotions’.
“So to be 19 and have experienced that already – I’m so grateful.”
So what’s the goal for this season at Ipswich?
“I want to secure my place in the team and help them win,” Downes said.
“But for me personally the goal is to start week in, week out. That’s what I have to aim for.
“All you want is a chance and, when you get it you just have to take it.”
Flynn Downes has certainly taken every chance he’s been given so far – it really is a good job he got out of the car that day.
This interview first appeared in the new Kings of Anglia magazine. OUT NOW. Featuring George Burley, Martijn Reuser and lots more Town features, as well as non-league football and news from the women’s game.
You can order this and other previous editions here