Sun, Apr 14, 2013 - Page 18 News List

French ace commutes to Welsh club

AFP, PARIS

Welsh soccer club Rhyl FC’s French striker Steven Lecefel speaks to a reporter in Paris, France, on April 3. Lecefel, 26, who lives in Guyancourt, outside Paris, makes a 1,600km round trip between Paris and north Wales every weekend to play for Rhyl.

Photo: AFP

Heard the one about the French former-cellphone-boss-turned-striker who commutes 1,600km each week from his home in sthe Paris suburbs to play for Welsh side Rhyl, paying all his travel expenses out of his own pocket?

That is the improbable life of 26-year-old forward Steven Lecefel, who moved from the backwaters of the French lower amateur leagues to the equally humble surroundings of the part-time Huws Cymru Alliance league last year.

Lecefel, who used to run a cellphone company, has become a star at Rhyl, the popular north Wales seaside resort who are now on the verge of promotion to the Welsh Premier League.

And his exploits have been spotted further afield, in Martinique, where his father was born, with the French Caribbean island rewarding him with an international call-up.

His unusual match-day preparations begin by boarding the red-eye flight from Paris to Manchester, where he is met by Rhyl manager Greg Strong. He normally stays with Strong the night of the match, before returning home the following day.

“What I’m doing is not normal, but I’ve got the backing of the manager,” the left-winger said. “When I signed my contract last August I asked him [Strong] if he’d be okay with me continuing to live in France. He said yes, as long as I paid my own travel expenses and continued to train during the week.”

“His attitude and commitment to the cause is absolutely fantastic,” Strong told the BBC.

“In the past there’s been some local guys we’ve tried to sign, who don’t have the same dedication or commitment that Steve’s got, to travel from France to play for Rhyl,” Strong said.

Lecefel, who is shelling out up to 1,500 euros (US$1,966) a month on plane tickets, is reveling in his Welsh adventure.

“It’s huge when the crowd chant my name or shout: ‘Go ahead Frenchie.’ I’m really happy there. I have many favorite things about Rhyl,” he told rhylnewswire.com.

“The way we play, the supporters, the stadium and the lads. They give me strength to play and the mood is good, as we joke and laugh — everybody is friendly here,” Lecefel said.

“I like UK football. My game is better in the UK. I am very fast. I know you like the ‘kick and rush,’” he added.

Lecefel’s unlikely link-up with the Welsh town, population 25,000 and the birthplace of Ruth Ellis, the last woman to be hanged in Britain, began when he was spotted by scouts from English League Two outfit Barnet.

That trial brought him into contact with Strong, who liked what he saw and lured him to Wales, and eventually the chance to play for Martinique.

He has turned out for his father’s country in Caribbean Cup wins over Cuba and French Guyana, and is set to compete in this summer’s Gold Cup.

“It was back in October that I first received an e-mail from the manager asking me to play in the qualifiers. I couldn’t believe it, I thought it must be a joke,” he said.

“But it wasn’t, which I’m very glad about, because I had to pay for my own ticket to Guadeloupe and the matches went better than I could have hoped for, really. Even now it’s still hard for me to believe that if I can stay fit and in form, then in July I’ll be in the US, playing Mexico, the US, Jamaica and Canada,” he added.

Lecefel is to meet Strong in the arrivals hall at Manchester Airport on Tuesday as Rhyl host Llandudno Town — just another day in the life of Rhyl’s international star.

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