WHEN former Rotherham United captain Lee Frecklington makes his first return as a player to the AESSEAL New York Stadium tomorrow, he will feel more than a tinge of regret.
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There may have been an understandable amount of sentiment and practicality involved in electing to move back ‘home’ to first club Lincoln City in early 2018 – at the age of 32 and with a young family to consider – but leaving South Yorkshire after five-and-a-half special years was still the toughest of decisions.
Frecklington’s attachment to the Millers ran deep after back-to-back promotions and becoming a folk hero in the process.
If circumstances had been different, he feels he could still have been wearing the red and white jersey of Rotherham and not Lincoln.
Frecklington, hoping to make his comeback from a spell out with a groin injury at his old stomping ground tomorrow, said: “If I had my way back then, I would still be there now. I could not ever see myself leaving.
For so long, I loved playing for Rotherham and that football club. But I am a Lincoln player now and will be trying to get the points for them. Although a 1-1 draw with me scoring would be nice!Lee Frecklington.
“But things happen very quickly in football and I had to leave and it was sad really. I thought I would see out my football career there, but it never turned out that way.
“We were doing well with the promotion push from League One (in 2017-18), but my contract was running out at the end of the season and the club made it clear that they were trying to reduce the wages for the next year and I had too good an offer from Lincoln to turn down.
“For the sake of my family and the logistics of it and geography, it was the perfect opportunity and one I had to take up.”
Despite playing his part in a hugely successful campaign at Sincil Bank last term, which saw the Red Imps clinch the League Two title in some style, the summer has proved a frustrating one for Frecklington due a deep-seated groin problem.
When the 33-year-old was doing the hard yards of rehabilitation in the close season, there was one silver lining with the Millers fixture coinciding with his likely return to the first-team fray.
Frecklington, desperate to be involved tomorrow, added: “It would be the icing on the cake.
“I had this game in the back of my mind as my comeback game and it is funny how things work out.
“Every player wants to play football and I was frustrated that I spent all summer having the injections and trying to get it right and it did not work.
“For that last six weeks, I have been chomping at the bit to get out there and I cannot wait to play proper football again.
“It will be emotional for me on Saturday. I did not really have the chance to say goodbye to everyone properly when I left. It all happened so quick.
“I only had one opportunity to go back to the New York and that was to watch a game last year against Aston Villa and just to drive to the stadium and not play for them any more did feel quite emotional.
“Going back and being in the away changing room rather than the home one and being with another team will be strange and a bit emotional.
“For so long, I loved playing for Rotherham and that football club. But I am a Lincoln player now and will be trying to get the points for them. Although a 1-1 draw with me scoring would be nice!”
Despite moving to Lincoln over 18 months ago, Frecklington has remained in contact with Paul Warne, with the pair catching up earlier this summer when the Millers chief attended a pre-season game at Sincil Bank.
Frecklington’s respect and gratitude for his former boss remains strong, with the pair involved in some golden moments during the club’s history.
Frecklington, whose most iconic moment in a Millers jersey saw him net the key second goal during the club’s 2-0 victory over Aldershot in April 2013 which saw them clinch promotion amid ecstatic scenes, said: “Warney came to watch our last pre-season game against Stoke and I sat with him for that. We have exchanged a few text messages since.
“I miss the man, I miss him as a bloke and a manager. I think anyone who plays for him knows what an unbelievable person he is and it is great he keeps in contact with old players and it just shows what sort of guy he is.
“I had a connection with Rotherham from the moment I signed. Wembley was a big highlight (in 2013-14) and when we got promoted (in 2013-14). There was a pitch invasion before I scored with the fans almost on the goaline. But the win against Reading to stay up (in 2014-15) was probably the greater achievement than the two promotions.”