Sometimes, loan players come in and leave an indelible mark on you. Sometimes, you sign a player who you think is going to smash it out of the park, and it just doesn’t quite work.
So, when in 1997 Lincoln City signed a former Manchester United player, a teammate of Michael Appleton as a youth and a player who once roomed with David Beckham, it was time to get excited. That’s how I felt the day I heard we’d signed Richard Flash. In those pre-internet days, I used to boot up Football Manager to get some information on a player, although I did know a little bit about Flash.
Flash was a year behind Beckham – the so-called Class of ’92 were actually the 1991 intake of players, with Flash coming through in the ’92 intake, making him Class of ’93. Flash was on a trajectory with stardom – he’d been with Villa as a youth and had been chased by every big club in the country. The Villa manager during his days as a youngster there was a certain Graham Taylor, a man who would help shape the younger years of the attacking midfielder.
— Man Utd Vault (@ManUtdvault) April 25, 2020
He started to play for a team called Manchester Eagles, a feeder team for United in the Midlands. Players such as Terry Cooke, and David Johnson (father of Brennan) had already gone through them and ended up at United, and Flash took the same route, eventually signing as an apprentice with the Old Trafford giants.
Whilst at United, he looked to be a big prospect, pictured in the tweet above turning out in the same team as our former boss, Appleton, and Jovan Kirovski, who appeared for Borussia Dortmund and Crystal Palace, as well as securing 60-odd caps for his country. Flash was in esteemed company and looked to be a star in the making.
Sadly, he was hiding a secret. He’d dislocated his knee at 14, but never had it properly treated, for fear of losing out on his career. As a result, he was often injured, picking up another similar injury in a United ‘B’ team game. He had surgery, three times, and was even given an extra year by Sir Alex Ferguson to prove himself, but at 19, the game was up, and his United career was over.
Richard Flash with Paul Teather in the background, Manchester United 'B' 2 v 1 Carlisle United 'A' at Littleton Road on 6th May 1995. #MUFC #ManchesterUnited @pteatherphysio @richardtheflash pic.twitter.com/KkWlAFtcoc
— Man Utd Vault (@ManUtdvault) September 10, 2018
He left United for Wolves, where Graham Taylor was manager. Shortly after, Taylor left, partly as a result of trying to sell Steve Bull to Coventry, but when he appeared at Watford, he went back and took Flash with him. Our title-winning boss from 1976 saw potential in the youngster, and that paved a way for his loan spell with City.
He joined in October 1997 on an initial one-month deal. John Beck was in charge and looking to add to his options as we hunted automatic promotion. Flash arrived in the same week as Dean Walling, although one was a short-term loan, the other a club-record capture. Still, Beck was delighted with his signing. “Richard is a very welcome addition to our squad,” he said. “He is quick and athletic and will run all day. He is like a little bullet in midfield.”
Midfield. Not an area John Beck was famous for letting the ball enter, but Richard Flash didn’t know that. With a single appearance for Watford under his belt, he was eager to get some games at any level.
City were 11th in the table at the time, nine matches in, and it was hoped that Flash could add some attacking impetus – we’d scored just ten goals, the sixth-fewest in the league. Was the former United man the answer to the burning question?
His Imps debut came on October 4th as we were held 0-0 at home by Cambridge. He played 90 minutes, but the game was described as ‘drab fare’ by Brian Halford in the Echo. Flash partnered Jason Barnett in central midfield, with Paul Miller pushing on in a 3-5-2 formation. It resulted in just two efforts on target. In his second game, a 1-1 draw with Torquay, he was hooked after 55 minutes, replaced by Craig Stones.
It must have been a challenge, as a young player known for skill on the ball and pace in midfield, to come into a John Beck side. Prior to his next outing, his chances of making it here were reduced even further – we signed Paul Smith on loan from Forest. Smith would go on to be a solid signing for City, although he didn’t make an appearance as we beat Scunthorpe 1-0. Dean Walling got the only goal, and Flash came off the bench on 46 minutes, replacing Stones. He is described as having ‘neat touches’ on the ball.
In a tight league, City were up to sixth, and a couple of days later, it got even better against Brighton. It was a surreal game, played in front of just over 1,000 supporters at Gillingham’s home ground of Preistfield. Once again, Flash was named as a sub, and by the time he came on 75 minutes in, the Imps were 1-0 to the good, courtesy of Lee Thorpe. Flash replaced Stones, but the homegrown youngster had the assist for Thorpe’s goal. After coming on, Flash is described as ‘keeping the ball safe’ in the final 15 minutes.
His final outing came as City thrashed Darlington at Sincil Bank – the Imps won 3-1, with future keeper David Preece saving a Lee Thorpe penalty. On 70 minutes, Flash made an appearance, replacing Stones, but on 82 minutes, Darlington got their goal. City won and rose to third in the table, but for Richard Flash, the journey was coming to an end.
He didn’t appear for Watford again, and left the club in the summer of 1998, as Lincoln left the fourth tier. He signed for Plymouth Argyle, one of the teams we switched places with, and after a single outing from the bench, started three consecutive games, with Argyle winning all three. In his fourth start, a trip to Cardiff, he dislocated his other knee.
His football career was over before it had begun. After playing, he went to university and worked through to a master’s degree, eventually becoming a senior lecturer in sport’s business.