Rotherham United: Farewell, Frecks. This is why you're a Millers legend
Pain. Anger. Disappointment. Embarrassment.
They were all written across the face of Rotherham United skipper Lee Frecklington.
The midfield man took his captaincy duties seriously. After a bad defeat, he saw it as his responsibility to bear the weight of the loss in front of the Press.
Last season saw him suffering in the face of questions on the touchline at Loftus Road after a 5-1 drubbing at the hands of QPR.
Similarly, he faced the music this term when the Millers threw away a 1-0 lead at the Memorial Ground to gift Bristol Rovers a 2-1 victory.
It was obvious he was suffering. Pride was dented. There were tiny flashes of annoyance at questions he didn’t like. He kept his composure. He answered everything. A good man. A strong man. Honest. Direct.
Just like during the heat of battle on the pitch, Frecklington never hid.
The player everyone grew to know as ‘Frecks’ arrived, from Peterborough United, at AESSEAL New York Stadium in October 2012.
Yesterday, the 32-year-old moved to home-town club Lincoln City where he began his career more than 14 years ago.
After 170 games, 30 goals, two promotions and a three-year stint in the Championship, he leaves as a Rotherham legend.
Frecklington scored on his debut as the Millers won 3-0 at Aldershot Town and helped Steve Evans’ side climb out of League Two. He was simply too good for League One the following year as he scored 12 times in Rotherham’s second successive promotion and he had many memorable games in the second tier.
Injuries and age meant he wasn’t quite the irresistible, impish force of old as the Millers returned to League One for the 2017/18 campaign, but he remained so important to the cause.
He was still the heartbeat of the side, the epitome of the hunger, relentless running and never-say-die attitude at the core of the side boss Paul Warne is building.
“He’s my leader,” the manager said. “He drives the team on.”
The stats show that when Frecklington played, the Millers fared better.
With Rotherham only a point away from the play-off places, a fit Frecks would have been an asset in the second half of this season.
However, his contract was due to expire in the summer and Lincoln came calling with a two-and-a-half-year offer and the willingness to pay the Millers a six-figure fee.
The player had recently sold up in Bawtry and moved back to his birthplace. It’s where his extended family are. He had a son in the summer. “The future captain of England,” he calls him. Lincoln is home.
Frecklington has been a wonderful servant to Rotherham. They could have insisted he saw out his deal. But if the club have a younger midfield replacement of the required quality lined up, the move makes sense to all parties.
That doesn’t mean we’re not all gutted to see the last playing link with the double promotion side depart. The midfielder felt it as keenly as anybody and says he will be back as a supporter. “I’ve spent too many years here to just walk away,” he said.
There were never any issue with the midfielder’s coruscating contribution on the field. The problem was keeping him on it. There were too many injuries, too many missed games.
Being out killed him. He just loved to play and compete. In his own mind, he was always close to a comeback. He cut a frustrated figure heading to the treatment room, usually with a couple of pieces of fruit in hand. Whenever he was asked how far away he was from a return, he’d nearly always suggest within a fortnight. It was his way of coping.
Every manager made him a first-choice pick. First Evans, who would have loved to have taken him to present club Mansfield Town, then Neil Redfearn, Neil Warnock, Alan Stubbs, Kenny Jackett and Warne.
Jackett spoke of how his former club, Wolves, used to fear the Frecklington/Richie Smallwood axis. Evans, long after he left, was as effusive off the record as he was on it about arguably his greatest ever Millers signing.
“Frecks was magnificent for me,” the Scot said.
The diminishing number of appearances told their own story. He played 41 games (six of them for Peterborough) in 2012/13 and 49 times as the Millers rose from League One in 2013/14. Then, the next three seasons, as ankle and calf injuries bit, brought figures of 31, 29 and 22.
He was the last player to deserve that kind of luck.
This term, before being laid low by another calf complaint, he was already on 20, a welcome move in the right direction.
His final goal of a remarkable Millers career came in a 3-0 win at Bury on Boxing Day. He would feature just once more, at Walsall in the last match of 2017.
He was invited to speak to reporters after the triumph at Gigg Lane. “What do they want me for?” he asked the Rotherham media team. “We’ve won.”
Well-liked and respected by the media pack, he was good company. Sometimes on Press-conference days, when he had time before training, he’d sit among journalists for a while, laughing in all the right places and demonstrating his own quiet, engaging wit.
Many were the presentation evenings for kids’ teams that he attended in his own time.
He had a knack of scoring crucial goals. His was the late, late strike against Aldershot at New York that sealed promotion from League Two. There was a League Cup derby screamer against Sheffield Wednesday. A bullet header put Rotherham 2-1 ahead in the famous 3-1 home triumph over Preston North End in the second leg of 2014 League One play-off semi-final. The year after, his New York winner against Reading secured Championship survival.
There were delirious mob scenes, maybe New York’s best ever moments, in that Aldershot match. Just for an instant, everything seemed to stand still as Ben Pringle played him clear and he shaped to shoot. Then, after hitting the target, he was buried under a North Stand avalanche of pitch-invaders as real time returned with a glorious vengeance.
“I always remember that goal,” Warne grinned. “A portly gentleman jumped on his back and nearly broke his ankle.”
This season’s high point was his hat-trick in the 5-1 home destruction of Walsall on a Tuesday night in September.
Ironically, the Saddlers were also the opponents when the Frecklington era came to an end on December 30 in sadly familiar fashion, the captain limping out of the action in the 63rd minute of a 2-1 victory at the Banks’s Stadium.
Typically, he had played a major part in Rotherham’s full-blooded pursuit of three points and his side had already established their match-winning lead when he went off.
Warne’s favourite goal of his managerial reign so far was the one which saw Frecklington complete his Walsall treble.
Here came the leader. With hunger, relentless running and never-say-die attitude.
Just two minutes remained when the Millers wrested possession on the edge of their own penalty area from the visitors. Despite already being 4-1 ahead, they had the desire to race to the other end of the pitch where Frecklington provided a trademark sharp finish.
Who was it who had won the ball to begin the move 80 yards away and only a few seconds earlier?