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at 21:49 24 Jun 2020

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Extraordinary Lee Trundle or prolific Ross McCormack – who is the greatest to never make the top flight?

In the next in our series debating the greats of sport, Tony Cascarino and Gregor Robertson discuss two talented strikers who failed to make it in top tier of English football

Tony Cascarino,
Gregor Robertson
Friday June 19 2020, 12.00pm, The Times
Lee Trundle
By Tony Cascarino

In terms of technical ability I think Lee Trundle was up there with the best players in the country for a time. I remember watching him during his Swansea career between 2003 and 2007 and wondering which of the English top-flight clubs were going to take a chance on him.

Trundle came up through the non-League system in England, as well as playing in the Welsh leagues, and only joined Swansea when he was 26. He scored 78 goals in 146 games as the club were promoted from League Two to League One, but it wasn’t just his goals that caught my eye — it was his touch and skill with the ball. I played at a higher level but I couldn’t lace Trundle’s boots in terms of skill and technical ability.

He had extraordinary talent and was capable of pulling off moments of magic, scoring screamers with his left foot or overhead kicks. But he also scored strange goals and goals from weird angles, the sort of thing you’d watch and wonder not only ‘how did he do that?’ but also ‘how did he even think to try that?’

He also looked like a big-time player off the pitch, with an image rights deal, the fancy (dodgy!) haircut and he dated a pop star, Liz McClarnon of Atomic Kitten. He had the lot but never made it to the top flight.

He reminded me of a Football League Matt Le Tissier, a player who, like Trundle, was a superb talent but was someone who finished his career with questions still lingering: Could he have played for one of the big teams? Should he have had more caps for England?

I wonder if those questions and a debate around why Trundle didn’t play higher come down to the physical demands of the game. Neither player was blessed with pace and neither of them were great in the air and there were questions marks over Trundle’s fitness too. Perhaps that all counted against Trundle and maybe some clubs considered him a luxury player, an idea which is supported by the fact he liked to play in that No 10 role.

Then there were all those silky skills. If you type in Lee Trundle on YouTube some of the first suggested options are ‘skills’ and television show Soccer AM and maybe his use of tricks made some think of him as something of a Harlem Globetrotter.

Trundle, pictured here for Swansea in 2004, is still playing in the game now
Trundle, pictured here for Swansea in 2004, is still playing in the game now
After Swansea he joined Bristol City for nearly £1 million — a hefty price for a Championship club to pay in 2007 — but he didn’t settle and a failed stint at Leeds followed. I look back at that move and wonder what might have been if someone in the top flight had taken a chance on him, somewhere with a manager who might have got him a bit fitter and a bit sharper. Or if he’d been spotted earlier in his career.

Of course, in the modern game your physical ability is as important as your skill with the ball but when I saw Trundle play he just had that spark that I thought only the best have. His ability was extraordinary and he could embarrass defenders at all levels. It’s good to see that even now, aged 43, he is still playing and enjoying the game, most recently in the Welsh leagues for Ammanford AFC.

There are a few defenders I can think of who were big enough and tough enough that they could have made it at the top, and I’m sure Gregor will make a good case for Ross McCormack, but if we’re talking about greatness outside the top flight, for me there is no one better than Trundle.

Ross McCormack
By Gregor Robertson

Ross McCormack in his pomp could have walked into more or less any Championship team in the past decade. He would, to my mind, have been a valuable addition to numerous top-flight teams, too. There are a number of reasons why the former Cardiff City, Leeds United, Fulham and Aston Villa striker, who has fallen from grace in recent years, failed to reach the top flight, but was he good enough? Absolutely.

Before we go any further, let me address the elephant in the room, which some of you may have noticed. McCormack did, of course, play in the top flight — in Scotland — albeit briefly, for Rangers, where his career began, and Motherwell. Now, I’m Scottish and have no inclination to debate the the standard of the Scottish Premiership here. I’m writing this for The Times of London and constructing an argument that McCormack had what it takes to play top flight football in England, so let’s agree to park that to one side . . .

I should also point out that our paths crossed, briefly, in 2005. McCormack was called into a couple of Scotland Under-21 squads of which I was a part, for games against Norway and Belarus. He was 18 at the time, stayed on the bench during both games, but his quality in training was blindingly obvious. He was highly thought of by Rangers, bristling with confidence — had a swagger, even — and had a steely, determined stare. He also struck a football as sweetly as anyone I can recall seeing at close quarters.

I remember, after training one day in Norway, watching as he took a bag of balls and belted them, one after the next, into either top corner from 25 yards. He had the kind of strike that made a crossbar shudder. Coaches had to drag him off the training ground back then. He played with a childlike freedom I don’t think he really lost until, well, he joined Aston Villa — of which their fans won’t need reminding.

But first, let’s remember the good stuff, because there was plenty of it. McCormack, in his prime — and in particular a three-year period between 2013 and 2016 — was a bullish force of nature, and a prolific finisher. The kind of forward who loved to roam and be involved and link play, to rain down strikes on goal with either foot from audacious distances or angles. A player who made supporters quicken their step to the stadium each Saturday.

His record of 120 goals in 333 Championship games is made all the more impressive by the fact he played more than half of those, over eight and a bit seasons, as a second striker and laid on 58 assists for team-mates in that time. He got 20-plus league goals in a season for three clubs: 21 in his first full campaign for Cardiff in 2008-09; 28 for a Leeds United team labouring in the bottom half in 2013-14; and 21 for Fulham as they narrowly avoided relegation in 2015-16. His talismanic status to those Leeds and Fulham sides was underpinned when he was handed the captain’s armband.

McCormack, centre, became something of a talisman during his time at Leeds
McCormack, centre, became something of a talisman during his time at Leeds
So why did he never reach the Premier League? A combination of poor choices and, perhaps, advice, plus misfortune all undoubtedly played their part. His second season in Wales, which was also hampered by hamstring issues, ended with the Bluebirds losing 3-2 to Blackpool in the 2010 play-off final.

At Leeds, whom he joined three months later, the club were floundering between managers under the erratic ownership of Massimo Cellino. Still, McCormack was linked with, or subject to bids from, West Ham United, Wolves, Newcastle United, Sunderland, Blackburn Rovers and Middlesbrough, among others.

And yet when a whopping £11 million bid was finally accepted, in 2014, it came from Fulham, who had just been relegated from the Premier League. Both Fulham and Aston Villa — who paid £12 million for McCormack two years later after their own descent from the top tier — were promotion favourites, but bloated squads and expectations initially weighed them down.

Maybe, had he stayed at Fulham, I would have had to pick another nearly man. But hindsight is a wonderful thing and, in truth, it is clear McCormack has been difficult to work with at times over the years. There was always an underlying sense, too, that he played the game for himself more than for the team. Many forwards do, of course, but what followed at Villa has not reflected upon him kindly.

Just three goals in 20 appearances. Those headlines in January 2017, which he will never shed, about failing to show for training because the electric gates at his home in Solihull wouldn’t open. Four loan moves away from the club, including to Australian A-League teams Melbourne City and Central Coast Mariners, where instead of adding to his 13 Scotland caps he was laying on an assist for the world’s fastest man, Usain Bolt, to score his first goal for the club.

Loans to Nottingham Forest and Motherwell flopped too and indiscipline reared its head again amid reports of personal issues. A friend who worked with McCormack said his love for the game had, by then, evaporated. McCormack’s contract, which reportedly rose from £40,000 to £70,000 per week after Villa’s promotion last May, was cancelled by mutual consent in June. He’s a wealthy man, but remains without a club aged 33, and this is not how McCormack, or those of us who saw him illuminate the Championship, would have envisaged his career burning out.

We can, of course, be quick to judge a player we perceive to have fallen short of fulfilling his talent. I am always hesitant to do so. Regrets are personal, as are the choices we make in football, and in life. McCormack has made mistakes, but he was good enough to grace the Premier League and with a bit of luck he might have.

So better, therefore, to remember the thrilling young tyro who terrorised Championship defences than to ponder, for too long, what might have been.

Alan Jones gets his cap
at 19:04 17 Jun 2020

One of cricket’s great injustices was rectified today when, at the grand old age of 81, Alan Jones was at last capped by England.

It is fifty years to the day since Jones, the Glamorgan left-hander, walked out at Lord’s to open the batting for England against the Rest of the World.

Jones and his partner, Kent’s Brian Luckhurst, believed they were winning their first caps. As did Ken Shuttleworth, the Lancashire fast bowler. They were all handed caps, sweaters and blazers, just like any other Test debutants.

The five-match series, hastily arranged in place of a tour by South Africa cancelled by public protests over apartheid, was against formidable opposition that included the likes of Garfield Sobers, Mike Procter and Graeme Pollock, and had been billed as a Test series. Indeed Sobers said he only played on condition it was given that status.

But then in 1972 the ICC announced that the matches were not Tests, arguing they had never originally granted such status (Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack actually continued to recognise them as Test matches until 1980 before deleting them from their records, “much against my will,” said the editor Norman Preston).

That was not such a problem for Luckhurst and Shuttleworth, who both played in the Ashes that winter and earned 21 and five Test caps respectively (Tony Greig, Peter Lever and Chris Old all made their debuts later in this series and went on to play in official Tests), but for Jones, who made just five and nought at Lord’s and was instantly dropped —never to be summoned by England again — it was a shattering blow. His cap was lost. Nobody even told him. He read about it in a newspaper.

As John Arlott, the great broadcaster and journalist, once wrote: “It is a savage irony that his [Jones’s] only selection for England was in the massive con trick — as cynical as any ever pulled in cricket.’’

Contrary to some speculation, however, Jones was never asked to return his kit. In fact his son, Andrew, who played one game for Glamorgan in the victorious Sunday League campaign of 1993, had it all framed for him some years ago.

But Jones has not been properly able to call himself an England Test cricketer, not even three years ago when kindly invited by Andrew Strauss, then the England director of cricket, to a special dinner at Lord’s for all living England cricketers, men and women.

Jones, like the other 229 people present, was presented with a commemorative cap, but, unlike the others, his did not have a number on it.

It is no surprise that Jones and his former county colleague, the late Don Shepherd, who, quite remarkably, took 2,218 first-class wickets at 21 each, have long been the instant and obvious answers to the question asking for the unluckiest players never to be capped by England.

Today, though, that all changed for Jones, as the ECB decided to award him a playing cap with a number on it — 696 — with Kent’s Zak Crawley having been given number 695 when making his Test debut last November in New Zealand.

Jones accumulated 36,000 first-class runs, including 56 centuries, and he passed 1,000 runs in 23 consecutive county seasons between 1961 and 1983
Jones accumulated 36,000 first-class runs, including 56 centuries, and he passed 1,000 runs in 23 consecutive county seasons between 1961 and 1983
He is now Alan Jones of Glamorgan and England, and his photograph can quite rightly sit alongside Glamorgan’s other 16 Test cricketers in the players’ dining room at Sophia Gardens. I was always embarrassed that my mug shot was up there and his was not. He is Glamorgan’s greatest ever batsman by some considerable distance after all.

There is the small continuing glitch in that the ICC will still not recognise those 1970 matches as Tests in their record books — despite being implored to reconsider by Lawrence Booth in his editor’s notes in this year’s Wisden (the Australia versus the ICC World XI match in 2005 is considered a Test) — but it is to the ECB’s credit that they have now made this wonderful gesture on the occasion of the fifty-year anniversary.

Jones knew nothing of it until this morning, with some frantic and emotional preparations having been undertaken by his wife Megan and son Andrew, along with Glamorgan chief executive Hugh Morris, before a virtual presentation was made by Tony Lewis, the former Glamorgan and England captain, with England Test captain Joe Root and outgoing ECB chairman Colin Graves also in virtual attendance.

It was the most lovely of surprises for Jones, the most gentle, modest and personable of men, a Welsh speaker born in Velindre near Swansea, the eighth of nine brothers. It is telling that he has never expressed an ounce of bitterness at the unfairness of his lost cap. It is just not in his character.

But there is no doubt the cap is richly deserved. Jones was nervous in that match in 1970, unsurprising given the quality of the opposition and, with players like Geoffrey Boycott, Colin Cowdrey and John Edrich unavailable, the need to impress quickly.

Jones was very nearly out first ball, edging it over the slips, and was out caught behind to Procter in both innings, later describing his first-innings stroke with typical honesty as “rash, appalling.”

There were clearly some excellent candidates for opening berths but it remains a mystery as to why Jones was not granted more opportunity. He was universally respected and rated in the game (he also featured successfully for Natal, Northern Transvaal and Western Australia), having made more than 36,000 first-class runs, including 56 centuries, as well as passing 1,000 runs in 23 consecutive county seasons between 1961 and 1983.

Sound of technique, with a delightful cover drive, fearless against the quick men with a productive hook shot in the locker, Jones was also particularly aggressive against the spinners, often dancing down the track immediately upon their introduction.

His first-class average of 32.89 might look quite low, but remember that he batted on uncovered pitches without a helmet until late in his career (he finished in 1983) and he was often carrying a poor Glamorgan side.

Jones simply loved batting. At the start of every innings he would set out his stall to bat all day long. It was a mindset inculcated in this young Glamorgan professional, who, as a student at Swansea University, was fortunate enough to spend many winter Friday afternoons at the Neath indoor nets, with Jones feeding the bowling machine and talking me through the requirements of opening the batting as a profession. It was the ultimate grounding. A hero had suddenly become my coach, mentor and friend.

“Aim to still be there at six o’clock, Jamer, you will have a hundred by then,” he would say.

But that required facing a lot of balls to reach that point, so that was what we would do, hour after hour. Every ball had to be treated with the utmost respect, nicely encapsulated in Jones’ lovely habit of referring to the ball in the feminine.

“If she is out there [pointing to a spot well outside off stump], leave her alone,” he would say.

Jones still coaches a little even now and some of his favourite batting coaching mantras (“head/leading shoulder” and “pick up, position, stroke”) can often be heard these days in coaching halls around Wales. I certainly use them.

His influence on cricket in Wales has been profound. The cap is long overdue recognition beyond just there of his outstanding achievements and service.
Racist Killay
at 18:19 10 Jun 2020

Matthew J Watkins' funeral today
at 22:25 31 Mar 2020

The things you don't think that are affected by this bollocks

[Post edited 31 Mar 2020 22:29]
BBC doc
at 22:48 4 Mar 2020

Tonight about tiger 'farms'.

Storm Dennis is a big one
at 16:43 15 Feb 2020

The Amber warning for Wales

European egg
at 18:53 13 Jan 2020

Just about the best piece of (rugby) skill you'll see.

Premier league 'League of the decade'
at 23:53 30 Dec 2019

Respectable top 3rd finish

[Post edited 30 Dec 2019 23:56]
Pdc world darts
at 22:29 17 Dec 2019

Congratulations Fallon Sherrock, first woman to win a world championship match!
My brain hurts, wtf is going on
at 14:14 30 Nov 2019

at 09:48 18 Oct 2019

Wtf was that?
Enzo Homes
at 22:03 15 Oct 2019


I actually thought, when the judge did his summing up, that he was going to slam these two hats. 300,000 is a joke.

Call me sentimental, but the destruction of this tree is akin to murder for me.

Anyone buying houses from this company, hang your heads in shame and also think, if they're prepared to be this reckless, they'll cut corners on your house too.
at 18:04 11 Oct 2019

There's no hope
at 21:16 14 Sep 2019

'Large' woman pushing pram walked past me earlier. Behind was a 2? Year old eating an apple with two hands like they do.

It was actually a chocolate orange.


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at 10:33 12 Sep 2019


They've got the right detective on the case.
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at 20:16 29 Aug 2019

Off to Orlando next month, in our American fans' view, what are the best wings from chain restaurants?
New Hoff album
at 17:26 21 Aug 2019

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Lost only once in 2019 and that was the Man City robbery.
Christian Wade showing that NFL is easy...
at 11:29 9 Aug 2019

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