“To me, they're still my club, and it's hard to let that go" ... Returning legend Lee Frecklington on his love for Rotherham United

By Paul Davis | 09/08/2019

“To me, they're still my club, and it's hard to let that go' ... Returning legend Lee Frecklington on his love for Rotherham United
Lee Frecklington

NEW York, New York, the scene of so many famous goal celebrations by Lee Frecklington during his illustrious Rotherham United career.

Yet there won't be one this weekend, even if the old boy scores for Lincoln City against his former side at the stadium he graced for more than five seasons.

Frecklington makes his first competitive return to Rotherham since his switch 18 months ago to his home-town club, the Imps, for tomorrow's shoot-out between two of the favourites for League One promotion.

He is closing in on a comeback after groin surgery and has an outside chance of making the Lincoln bench. Frecklington, being Frecklington, is giving everything he can to make sure he's involved.

But raise his arms if he enters proceedings and adds to his 74 goals as a pro? No chance.

“I wouldn't feel right celebrating,” says the former Millers captain who is a month short of his 34th birthday. “As much as I'd be happy that I'd scored a goal for Lincoln, I just couldn't celebrate.

“I couldn't bring myself to ruin my reputation at New York and the relationship I've built with Rotherham.”

Frecklington didn't have a career with the Millers. He had a love affair. The midfielder embraced the fans and the fans embraced him as he led the charge from League Two to the Championship.

“Rotherham United v Lee Frecklington ... it doesn't sound right and it doesn't feel right,” he says. “I think everyone knows that I have so much love for the club that it's going to be an emotional day for me going back there.

“Once I signed for Rotherham, I never thought I'd leave the club. But football moves on. To go back as part of the opposition will be really strange.

“It will be nice to go back and see some familiar faces. Hopefully, we''ll get a good result but I wish Rotherham all the best when we're not playing them.

“Rotherham are a special club and we have a special relationship. For whatever reason, we just seemed to fit. I enjoyed everything about the place — the people, the fans. And we enjoyed a successful period of time together. Everything just worked out.

“Rotherham will always be a special club to me. They're always the first result I look out for. As soon as we've finished our game and the results come in, I always think: 'How have Warney and the boys got on?'

“To me, they're still my club, and it's hard to let that go.”

The parting of the ways hurt him, even though he has gone on to great things with Lincoln, the club for whom he made his league bow in 2005, lifting the Checkatrade Trophy in his first year and winning promotion from League Two in his second.

“I found it tough to leave,” he admits. “I enjoyed my five and a bit seasons with Rotherham so much.

“Players don't stay at clubs for very long these days. For me to spend nearly half of my career there means that Rotherham are a very special club to me.

“I was reluctant to leave, I didn't want to go. But sometimes decisions are taken out of your hands. The opportunity came up to go back home and I think it suited me and Rotherham at the time.”

He arrived at New York from Peterborough United as plain old Lee Frecklington in October 2012. He left in January 2018 as Frecks. Skipper. Double-promotion-winner. Legend.

Then there were the goals. Thirty-four in Millers colours. So many important ones, so many manic, red-faced, grinning celebrations.

Particularly memorable is May 15 2014 when he headed Rotherham in front against Preston North End in the League One play-off semi-final before racing across the pitch to hug Denis Circuit, the physio who had worked so hard to ensure his quickfire recovery from a knee injury.

But none can top April 27 a year earlier when he was engulfed by a North Stand invasion after sealing promotion with a last-minute dink past Aldershot Town goalkeeper Jamie Young.

Frecklington has a new fitness battle on his hands after undergoing groin surgery at the beginning of July.

“They said six weeks and it just worked out that the Rotherham game was five weeks and six days away,” he says. “If I needed any motivation to try to get back within that six-week period then that was definitely it.

“It's a big game. I think everyone expects Rotherham to be up there at the end of the season. They've got an extremely good squad. We know it will be a tough game.

Now with home-town club Lincoln

“I know more than most exactly what Paul Warne and Richie Barker demand of their lads. One thing for sure is that it won't be an easy game for us.

“Even if Rotherham aren't playing well, they will still be trying their hardest because that's what Paul demands from his players.

“We're expecting a really tough game but we're in a good place at the moment as well. We're used to winning football matches on the back of last year's promotion and we had a good start to the season at home to Accrington Stanley last weekend.”

The player has returned to New York just one since his farewell, as a spectator with Lincoln teammate and fellow former Miller Michael O'Connor.

“It's difficult because we're usually playing games at the same time as Rotherham are,” he says. “The first opportunity I got, I came back to watch the Aston Villa game last season.

“Driving up to the stadium to watch and not be involved felt strange. We both said the same thing, that it was weird to be there and not be playing.

“I saw a few faces I hadn't seen for nearly 18 months and that was good because I'd never really got to say 'Goodbye' to anyone because the move happened so quickly.

“It's always nice to bump into old faces and people who you've built friendships with over five or six years.

“There has been a big turnaround of players in the summer, hasn't there? I think Richard Wood, Joe Mattock and Jamie Proctor are about the only ones left from my time there.

“I used to speak to Joe Newell quite a bit, but he's left now, and I've spoken to Woody a few times.

“Probably the person I have kept in contact with the most is the manager, Paul Warne. It's nice. We swap text messages.

“He's such a great bloke. Once you've played for him, you're sort of a friend for life. That's why everyone respects him and loves him so much.”

That same respect and love will alway be felt in Rotherham for Frecks. The bond endures. And it always will.

'Rotherham United v Lee Frecklington ... it doesn't sound right and it doesn't feel right.'

That's why, whatever happens on Saturday, New York won't witness the sight it saw so often between October 2012 and January 2018.

“I had special years there that I'll never forget,” the legend says. “It wouldn't feel right celebrating a goal at Rotherham if it wasn't for Rotherham.”

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FRECKS ON THE FUTURE

“My contract is up at the end of the season. Ideally, I like to think I'm fit enough and fresh enough to continue playing. I certainly don't feel my age so I'd love to carry on playing for a few more years.

“There is nothing like playing football. It beats working in the real world. My initial aim is to play football for as long as I physically can.

“I suppose you have to think about your life after that. It's on my mind all the time and has been really since I was 30. Once you hit 30 people think you're over the hill.

“Hanging up my boots is there in the background. I know it's going to come soon, but I'll concentrate on playing for as long as possible.”

FRECKS ON GOING 'HOME'

“It's been a good move. I knew I was moving back to a team that was striving to do well and that was a big draw for me.

“We finished in the League Two play-offs in my first season and lost in the semi-finals, but we made up for that by winning the Checkatrade Trophy. That was a special day for me - being with my home-town club at Wembley and seeing 30,000 Lincoln supporters in the crowd.

“Last year, it was amazing to be crowned champions of League Two. It was another proud moment to lift the trophy for my home town. All in all, I can't complain.

“I've been there for 18 months and have managed to get my hands on two trophies. I think you can say that makes it a successful move.”

FRECKS ON HIS FITNESS

“At the moment, everything is on track and I'm pushing for the game this weekend. I'm hoping to be available. I'm not ruling it out. I would love to be part of it. I've not had much of a pre-season but I would love to be involved in some capacity, maybe on the bench.

“My fitness level isn't an issue. It's just that if you don't play games for a period of time you lose that match-sharpness. That's what I need to get back.

“You can keep ticking over in the gym with your cardiovascular work when you're injured but it's games and being out on the training pitch that bring back the sharpness. I'm sure that if I need to I can get by this weekend, especially with it being Rotherham.”

CAREER STATS

Lincoln (2003/09): 141 games, 23 goals

Peterborough (2009/13): 102 games, 10 goals

Rotherham (2012/18): 186 games, 34 goals

Lincoln (2018/present): 50 games, 7 goals


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