Trundle heads west with Europe in mind
Edgar Davids, Craig Bellamy, David James… the star names are rolling into the Championship this season. But the Principality Building Society Welsh Premier League has a star name of its own. And, as Defensive Midfielder blogger Martyn Fisher outlines, he is not just there for one last pay day. There is a very specific goal in sight for a Swansea City legend in his new life at Neath.
Despite only turning professional at the age of 24, Rhyl’s Lee Trundle always seemed tailor-made for the English Premier League.
A subsequent spell at Wrexham was ended in 2003 when Trundle joined Swansea City. During four spectacular years in South Wales, the gifted striker became the first player outside of the top-flight to sign an image rights deal. In his spare time, Trundle was a Soccer AM regular and dated Atomic Kitten’s Liz McClarnon. He joined Championship side Bristol City in 2007.
But his career stagnated and, after leaving Ashton Gate this summer, Trundle signed another lucrative deal in South Wales. Fans of Neath FC were overjoyed, and Trundle is now the star-turn in a squad that also includes former Swans midfielder Kristian O‘Leary and one-time Wolves winger Kevin Cooper.
Trundle has responded professionally to his new low-key life in the Welsh Premier League, scoring seven times in eight appearances. The sugar daddy financing ambitious Neath remains unknown, but locals are adamant timber magnate Geraint Hawkes – the millionaire at the helm of Neath’s rugby union side – is responsible.
After allowing the football club to ground-share with Neath RFC at The Gnoll in 2008, Hawkes said: “By joining forces, Neath community and the surrounding areas will benefit hugely. The prospect of European football is a truly exciting one.”
After finishing ninth in 2009/10, Neath FC had no European dates this season. A radical overhaul of the Welsh Premier League means 12 clubs now compete instead of 18, and only first and second positions guarantee European football. At present, Neath are in second spot, 10 points behind runaway leaders Bangor City.
The teams met on the opening day of the season, and Bangor won 2-1 in front of 507 fans. When Neath met Newtown in their first home game of 2010/11, 882 people were in the Eagles’ 7, 000-seater stadium. In comparison, just 234 fans paid to watch last season’s home-opener.
Swansea not having a match and the chance to see Trundle and O‘Leary convinced some nostalgic Swans fans to make the short trip to watch Neath play Newtown.
But if Trundle gets injured, the novelty of watching Neath disappears for the part-time fan. Injury would also leave the club paying £2,500 a week to an unavailable player whose absence halts the supposed stream of turnstile revenue paying his wages.
Despite never reaching the English Premier League, Trundle is happy to be back in the Swansea area and has recently released his autobiography. Reflecting on the Neath move last week, the 34-year-old said: “It’s completely different to Swansea and Bristol, playing in front of far smaller crowds.
“But at least I’m playing – in the last couple of years I haven’t played enough, and that’s when I’m enjoying life.”