Britton the second swansong in Llanelli revival

Llanelli Town pulled off one of the biggest signings in JD Welsh Premier League history on Friday as Swansea City legend Leon Britton was unveiled to the assembled press and media at Stebonheath,writes  Mark Pitman.

It has been an expectedly testing season for Llanelli on their return to the top-flight, and manager Andy Hill has wasted little time in the January transfer window as he looks to move his side out of the relegation places. Britton is the marque addition, and his arrival mirrors another high-profile arrival from the summer of 2016.

Llanelli won the Welsh Premier League in 2008, but in 2013 their financial woes resulted in the club being wound-up, and they regrouped in the fourth tier of the pyramid system. Learning from the past, the club put a plan in place to return stronger.

Promotion followed, and it was in the summer of 2016 that Trundle announced that he had come out of retirement to play for the club. His presence was the catalyst to take the club to another level both on and off the field, while nine hat-tricks and 51 goals in the process proved that he was just as valuable from a playing point of view.

Now in his forties, Trundle continued to cause problems for defences in Division One as the club planned for a return to the domestic top-flight, and they succeeded in their aim last summer as their latest league triumph confirmed their return to the national league. However, it brought with it an end to Trundle’s memorable and influential time at Stebonheath.

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Trundle had a massive impact on and off the field. From increasing attendances to bringing the best out of the players around him, he carried an aura with him that resonated with a generation of Swansea City fans who remembered watching his natural talent at the Vetch Field.

A folklore figure at the Swans, his name remains just popular today as stories of his best moments continue to be passed down through generations. His latest move has taken him to Welsh League Division Three side Trefelin BGC, and they are the latest club keen to build on the impact his presence alone continues to have at this level of the game.

But Llanelli have also moved on from Trundle, and it is Leon Britton who will now carry the talismanic baton into their remaining games. Although he is a different player to Trundle in every conceivable way, the comparisons are strong because he is as much of what Llanelli need now as what they did when they brought Trundle to the club back in 2016.

Playing in the lower reaches of the Welsh football pyramid system, Trundle was just as effective with his back to goal as he was facing forward, and he proved to be simply too much for those coming up against him. Llanelli had attracted a talented squad, and they were complimented by Trundle’s ability to act as both creator and finisher as they eased their way back to the top.

But a key fixture occurred in January 2017 when Llanelli travelled to full-time Welsh Premier League champions The New Saints in the 4th round of the Welsh Cup. A yardstick to where the club were in their long-term ambition, TNS ran out convincing 7-0 winners. It was a result that epitomised the gulf between the top-flight and the feeder leagues.

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Of course, Llanelli have suffered heavy defeats again this season, but their commitment to play good football has also brought them positive results. It is a philosophy that they have now invested into continuing with the signing of Britton. For a Trundle-type signing to be effective at this level he would need service, and that is why Hill has now turned his attention to the creative elements of his team.

A incredibly talented footballer, Britton continually defied the critics that questioned his size throughout his professional career. With the ability to turn his vision into reality, Britton comfortably kept possession and sprayed balls around the Football League for a number of years, while showing the battling spirit necessary to complete the defensive part of his role just as effectively.

His job for Llanelli now will be to make space and create chances for those ahead of him, and he joins the Welsh Premier League at the right time to be able to complete such a task. If he had signed a decade ago he would have found himself struggling on difficult surfaces at this time of year, but with the majority of surfaces now artificial, it is a league that is made to measure for him.

In addition, the requisite coaching qualifications and arrival of more and more ex-professional players and managers has improved overall quality of the Welsh Premier League significantly. Britton’s position in midfield may have been missed out in the past, but it is now central to how most teams choose to apply their tactical plans.

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Attracting Britton, 36, is a major coup for Llanelli and the Welsh Premier League as a whole. Trundle returned to the league with Neath in 2010 at the age of 33 and proved to be hugely effective during his time at the club. Britton will know that he cannot afford to take the league for granted, and he will understand that his performances will be scrutinised from the very start.

Players like Damien Duff and Keith Gillespie returned to Ireland to play domestic football at the end of their professional careers. What sets Britton and Trundle apart from them is that neither of them are from Wales, but they have been adopted by the city of Swansea for their commitment and dedication to the club, and to them this is now home.

Both players have already made immeasurable contributions to the Welsh Premier League just by being a part of it. The league has carried a negative stigma amongst the wider Welsh football press and public for too long, and it is only when players like Britton and Trundle show it the respect that it deserves that others will follow. Meanwhile, another exciting chapter at Stebonheath may just be about to begin.

Mark Pitman is a freelance football reporter and contributes to a number of publications including the official websites of UEFA and FA Wales. Visit www.markpitman1.com and follow @markpitman1 and @UEFAcomMPitman for more.

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