Foreign players making the move to Welsh football is not a common occurrence Of course, Swansea City have turned themselves into a global club over the past few seasons; a Spanish invasion, a cluster of Dutchmen and a host of other nationals, ranging from the Caribbean to Asian, have all helped propel the Swans up the Football League and into the Premier League stratosphere. Cardiff City have also looked abroad to aid their goal of promotion to the Premier League with Icelanders, a South Korean and their controversial Malaysian ownership although perhaps to a lesser extent to their South West rivals. Even non-league Wrexham and Newport have looked overseas in recent years to improve their bids to break back into the Football League. However, of the collection of foreign exports that have crossed into the Land of my Fathers, I’m sure there has been no-one as committed to make a name for himself inside the Welsh borders than Steven Le Cefel.
Unlike the expats that currently play throughout Wales, in the Welsh leagues and the English leagues, undoubtedly there is no-one that strives to play for his club more than Le Cefel. Whilst Michu, Chico and Rangel make their way from their Swansea homes to play at their Liberty Stadium home, they should spare a thought for Rhyl FC’s Steven Le Cefel who completes an unrivalled commute to work; for every Saturday afternoon kick off, Le Cefel makes the 1000+ mile commute from Paris to Rhyl via Manchester just to play in the Cyrmu Alliance. Dedicated or crazy?
Scouring the internet there is very little information on the earlier career of Le Cefel apart from the fact that he played for some lower league French teams. The first time Le Cefel’s career made its presence felt on British shores was in 2011 when Barnet FC gave the Frenchman a trial. Unfortunately, then Barnet manager Lawrie Sanchez opted not to sign up the Frenchman and Le Cefel appeared to disappear off the footballing map again.
2011/12 saw Rhyl FC finish in 2nd place in the Cymru Alliance league, the second tier of the Welsh football pyramid. Rhyl had found themselves demoted from the Welsh Premier to the Cymru Alliance at the end of the 2009/2010, after their Welsh Premier license was surprisingly revoked following the league’s agreement to cut the league from 18 to 12 clubs. In the Lilywhites’ first two seasons in the Cymru Alliance they found themselves finishing runners up to GAP Connah’s Quay on both occasions; after failing to attain a domestic license at the first attempt, GAP Connah’s Quay achieved promotion second time around and Rhyl were installed as the league favourites for the 2012/2013 season. As part of their promotion push, Rhyl made sure they restrengthened in the summer with players like Mark Evans and Steven Lewis joining the club, as well as the club signing their French trialist, Le Cefel.
The club encountered Le Cefel for the first time in a preseason friendly against Hyde FC with Le Cefel playing for the Manchester-based club. Le Cefel impressed enough for Rhyl manager Greg Strong to talk to Hyde’s French trialist and having outlined his plan for Rhyl and Le Cefel’s role in the team, the Frenchman went along with Strong for a successful trial at the North Walian club. Le Cefel was eager to work with Strong citing him as a major reason why he joined Rhyl, claiming that the former Wigan, Bolton and Motherwell player Strong was the perfect manager to improve him as a player.
Amazingly, on signing for the club Le Cefel was still based in Paris and there appeared to be no sign of that changing in the near future. Le Cefel weighed up the pros and cons of moving to Rhyl with his young family, but he decided it was best for him and his family if they remained in their homeland. Of course, like almost all teams in the Welsh football leagues, Rhyl are not exactly affluent and paying expenses for their French signing to complete the 1000 mile round trip every weekend was nigh on impossible for the club to afford. Perhaps the most amazing aspect of this whole story is the fact that Le Cefel pays for all the travel back and forth to North Wales out of his own pocket with the money he earns from his telecommunications company. In a recent interview on BBC 5Live’s Non-League Football Show, Le Cefel was asked how much he paid to travel back and forth over the Channel; he replied by saying that he tries to book early flights to get them as cheap as possible, but unsurprisingly refrained from giving the exact figure to how much his weekly sojourn over the Channel is costing him. Obviously, Le Cefel only completes the trip for matchdays on the weekend with the player training with a local fourth division French club through the week.
This brings up the obvious question: why on Earth does Lecefel not play his football in his native France? When asked by the BBC’s Steve Phillips this very question Lecefel replied with:
“Because I like the UK football. For me my style of game is better in the UK because I’m fast, very fast and I know you like the ‘kick and rush’ in the UK, which for me is good. I know the football in France, but I prefer the UK football.”
Le Cefel is clearly passionate about being a part of British football. As a left-footed striker, Le Cefel also claimed that he was suited to the British game as it was more ‘kick and rush’ which he believes better compliments his powerful style.
Unfortunately for Le Cefel, there is no direct Paris to Rhyl flight (Rhyl doesn’t have an airport for one thing) which means that the Frenchman has to catch a flight from Paris to Manchester on matchday morning, before being picked up by his coach at the airport and driven to Rhyl. Following kick off, Le Cefel then makes the return journey back to Paris that very evening. If the Lilywhites are playing away, Le Cefel will occasionally spend the night in a hotel.
As predicted in the buildup to the Cymru Alliance season, Rhyl have stormed to the top of the league with a 15 point lead over Newi Cefn Druids (as I write anyway) and they look certain to achieve promotion to the Welsh Premier League. Despite his epic journey to make it to Rhyl’s Belle Vue ground for matchday, Le Cefel has not even been a regular starter for the Welsh club, although he did make a great start to his career at the Lilywhites by scoring as a second half substitute on his debut in September 2012
The brilliant story of Steve Le Cefel does not finish there. In September 2012, the same month he made his debut and opened his scoring account for Rhyl, Le Cefel earned an international call-up. Unsurprisingly, it was not for the country of his birth, France, but for the French Caribbean island of Martinique. Le Cefel was to make his international bow for the island nation in their Gold Cup qualifiers in Guadelope against Guadelope, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico. Victories in this competition would mean that Martinique would go on to play in the Gold Cup against the likes of USA and Mexico. Le Cefel would go on to play in the Caribbean Cup for Martinique later in the year with a spirited effort from the nation leading them to a semi-final against Trinidad & Tobago, who could only defeat the overseas French department on penalties. Unlike the usual club v country spats we see in the Premier League, the Rhyl fans and staff have got behind the popular Le Cefel’s international exploits.
Strong has spoken glowingly of Le Cefel and in an interview with the BBC, Strong was full of praise for the Frenchman’s work ethic and strong character:
“His attitude and commitment to the cause is absolutely fantastic.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. I’ve always said that people who work hard and give everything deserve all the rewards they can get. He deserves his rewards.”
For someone who virtually never trains with his club or team mates it seems strange to suggest that there is no-one more dedicated to their club than Le Cefel. Here at Lost Boyos, we hope that life with Martinique remains magnifique for Le Cefel and we wish well for the foreseeable future, which will hopefully be with Rhyl. Lets hope that Welsh football can provide him with the platform he desires to improve as a player.