THE Royal Welsh Show week is one of the busiest for journalists in Mid Wales and this year brought not only another chance to interview David Cameron but also former Swansea City player Lee Trundle.
The Prime Minister last year visited the opening day of what is known as Europe’s biggest agricultural show, signalling the start of the Tory general election campaign in Wales. Trundle, now an ambassador for the club where he enjoyed his most high-profile period, admitted the Welsh based English Premier League side were on a similar charm offensive in rural Wales.
While Cameron’s 2015 visit on the Thursday, the final day of the show, was a tightly controlled affair interviewing Trundle was as simple as walking up to the Swansea City stand in the ‘sports village’ where the former striker was playing ‘keepy uppies’ with passing children.
The Swans were sharing the football area with The New Saints otherwise known as TNS, the seemingly serial champions of the Welsh Premier League.
It’s perhaps forgotten that Trundle first made his name in Wales’ top flight, then known as the League of Wales. In a league littered with talent from Merseyside 15 goals in 18 games for Rhyl in the 2000/2001 season ensured the Huyton product stood out.
At the time Barry Town were the full timers and dominant force of the league, and perhaps the reason why it seemed to enjoy a higher profile on BBC Wales and in south east Wales generally than in recent seasons. The phrase ‘Lee Trundle scoring for Rhyl’ seemed to punctuate every results round up on BBC Wales news at the time.
Trundle returned to the Welsh Premier League towards the end of his career signing for Neath in 2010. The Eagles had attempted to challenge the dominance of TNS by also going full time, but were eventually wound up at the High Court in May 2012.
Despite the difficulties that have beset some of TNS’ challengers Trundle, who became the first £1m player from the Welsh Premier when he left the Swans for Bristol City in 2007, believes more investment is needed for other clubs to compete with the league’s only full timers.
“It’s hard and the Welsh Prem needs people who are going to back it with money,” said Trundle: “It’s hard for teams who are part time, the lads go to work and then have to go training.
“You only have to look at TNS, they are the best and have been for years and it’s likely to be the same until others in the league go full time.”
Despite Trundle’s belief the league needs more full time clubs, he doesn’t think it would be in the interest of Wales’ biggest clubs to enter reserve teams in Welsh football’s top flight.
“Erm,” was Trundle’s initial reaction to my, obviously, unexpected suggestion that Cardiff City and the Swans should field teams in the Welsh Prem. For Trundle the negatives would outweigh any benefits: “I think if you were to play under 21s it would be beneficial to the lads as it would be more competitive, but would you just get everyone trying to kick them? You’ve got to let players develop and the clubs would probably rather put them out on loan.”
Trundle, who infamously celebrated a Football League Trophy win with Swansea by wearing a t-shirt intended to insult Bluebirds fans, also suggested wider issues could come into play: “What would happen if Cardiff and Swansea were to play each other at that level? You would have more complications then.”
Though the prospect of fielding reserve teams in the Welsh Premier, once touted in his early Cardiff City days by Sam Hammam, wasn’t attractive to Trundle he would like to see competitive fixtures between all the clubs in Wales restored. He recalled a, for many, best forgotten invitation competition after I suggested the Welsh Cup as an alternative to fielding reserves in the Welsh Premier.
“I played in the Welsh Premier Cup, I would like to see that come back. It was a good competition and clubs got to test themselves against professionals,” said the 36-year-old fondly of the cup initiated by BBC Wales in 1997 and wound up in 2008. It was devised to fill a gap when Welsh sides competing in the English pyramid withdrew from the Welsh Cup as they were no longer able to secure European competition through it.
As Cardiff City have come within a penalty shootout of the Europa League and Swansea did win through to represent England in Europe it would seem the Welsh Cup is unlikely to tempt Welsh football’s ‘big birds’ back to the nest.
For both sides now regaining and retaining Premier League football is the priority and Trundle brushed off my suggestion the Swans are too small a club to continue to enjoy success at the highest level in English football.
“Not at all, that doesn’t matter,” insisted Trundle: “It doesn’t matter how big the stadium is. Swansea finished last season in eighth with their highest Premier League points total and have sold players like Wilfried Bony for £28m and brought top players in as well. The club is also talking about expanding the stadium, but it’s about doing things in the right way rather than trying to do them before the club is established.”
Swansea and the Liberty Stadium will be Premier League giants compared to newcomers Bournemouth this season. Perhaps bound by his ‘size doesn’t matter’ view Trundle is backing the Cherries over fellow promoted sides Watford and Norwich.
“I think it will be tough for anyone coming up but Bournemouth have the best chance of the promoted sides as they play the best football, similar to Swansea and like to keep it on the floor and play attractive football.”
Perhaps Bournemouth succeeding in the Premier League is an unlikely story. But is it any more unlikely than the story of a non-committal part time Scouse footballer establishing his name in Wales so that even eight years after first leaving Swansea City he is the club’s star attraction at Wales’ biggest agricultural show?
Photo of Lee Trundle courtesy of PRW Photography, Like its Facebook page.
Watch a video from when S4C football show Sgorio inducted Lee Trundle into the Welsh Premier League Hall of Fame here