Continuing our series ‘Where are they now?’, we find out what happened to Scottish full-back Stephen Frail after he left Rovers in February 2000. He also speaks about his involvement in the infamous ‘sub incident’ against Sunderland and how he made it to the Worthington Cup Final.
- This article was first published in April 2005 (By Richard Ault)
After coming through the youth ranks at Dundee in the mid 80’s, Frail went on to establish himself as a first team player at Dens Park. A serious knee injury hampered his progress, but despite this he earned a move to Hearts in 1996 after making more than 100 appearances at Dundee.
After a superb first season at Tynecastle injury struck again in the 97-98 campaign, and after failing to win back his place in the first team, Frail fulfilled an ambition by moving to England. Talking to Rovers Rearguard this week, he explained how the move to Prenton Park came about.
“I wasn’t featuring in the Hearts team at the time and I was looking to get away. I was playing regular in the reserve team up here (Hearts) and we made contact because I knew Neil Pointon who was good friends with Kevin Sheedy (assistant manager at Tranmere). They came up and watched me in a couple of reserve matches and it went from there.
The move was an attractive one for Stephen, and one that offered a fresh start. “It was a different country with different games and grounds. I was really excited by it.” he said.
Another set-back was just around the corner though, and no sooner had his Rovers career begun, he was on the treatment table again in what was a frustrating time.
“It was incredible. I was only there two years but I got injured in my fourth game. Having started quite well I was really enjoying it and the injury was a re-occurrence of an old one, and then it was basically stop-start from there.”
During his two years at Prenton Park, Frail managed only 19 appearances. When Rovers fans cast their minds back to think of Stephen’s time at Prenton Park, one game probably stands out more than most. An FA Cup tie at home to Sunderland in January 2000 is most notable for the infamous substitute incident in which he was introduced as a sub in place of Clint Hill who had just been sent off for a second booking. I asked Stephen if he knew what was happening at the time.
“Not really, if I did I wouldn’t have ran on!” he said.
“It was a long story. I didn’t realise he (Clint) had been booked ,but Kevin Sheedy did. When he brought the lad down again on the edge of the box, he (Sheedy) wanted to sub him before the referee sent him off.
“So they tried to get Reuben (Hazell) on, but he had actually left his top in the dressing room so they shouted me to go on. In the melee, I obviously didn’t realise what was going on so I just thought that it was Clint that was coming off. When I saw him running towards me I thought he had been subbed and I ran on, and then all hell broke loose.” recalls Frail.
Despite appearing in both the Sunderland game and the Worthington Cup semi-final first leg victory at Bolton, it is another game that provided him with the highlight of his time at Tranmere.
“The game that sticks out for me is Reading away when we won 3-1 and I played really well. I was really enjoying it, so in terms of playing, that was the highlight.
“I was hoping I could kick on from there, but it was the Tuesday after I injured my knee against Swindon.” he added.
He left Prenton Park in February 2000, but still keeps an eye on Rovers’ results and attends the odd game, the most recent being the 5-0 win over Peterborough two weeks ago. Frail believes Tranmere are in with a real chance of promotion.
“I think the chances of promotion are excellent. I don’t think it will be automatic as there is quite a few points between yourselves and second, but hopefully though the play-offs. You have a lot of good young players such as Iain Hume and Ryan Taylor.”
Frail still remains in contact with Les Parry as well as former team mates Andy Thompson and David Kelly. “I still keep in touch with Les Parry, so it’s a result I always do look for.
“I may have only been there (Tranmere) two years, but I thoroughly enjoyed every minute, apart from being injured.” he explained.
His move away from Tranmere took him back to Scotland as he joined St Johnstone. At the time of the move, rumours were that he would only join the McDiarmid Park club if he was allowed to go and watch his former Tranmere team mates in the Worthington Cup final a few weeks later. Although this wasn’t quite true, he still made it to Wembley.
“I did get to the cup final, but it had nothing to do with the move.” he said.
“I needed to get playing again and it wasn’t happening down there, so Sandy Clarke (St. Johnstone manager) decided to come in and buy me again, he bought me at Hearts too.
“So I just wanted to be back playing and lucky enough it was back in Scotland, but I did say when I signed that the cup final was coming up and I would like to be able to go.
“We played Dundee United on the Saturday and we won, it was great to then fly south after that. Then the night out in London. I should have asked for the Monday off and went out on the Sunday night because I’m quite sure I’d have been able to join in the celebrations, although the result wasn’t great, it was a great day.”
Despite not being a Tranmere player any more, Frail still managed to get closer to the action than most.
“I managed to get down to the dressing room too which was good. I thought; ‘I’ll try and blag it!’ As I walked down the stairs, the players were coming in after having just been out to have a look at the pitch., so that was great to go in and see all the players, the manager and the staff and it made it that wee bit more special was well.” he said.
After making 17 appearances in around 18 months at St Johnstone, Frail joined Grenock Morton on a free transfer in August 2001. He played 27 times for ‘The Ton’ before hanging his boots up at the end of the 2001/2002 season. It was at Morton where he took his first steps into coaching, fulfilling a variety of roles up until his departure in 2004.
“When I first went there (Morton), there was the manager and assistant. The manager didn’t last long so the assistant became manager and there was basically just the two of us (Frail as assistant).
“Then that manager left and another one came in, and again it was just the two of us. There was a number of hats (roles) really, youth, first team and reserves. Very varied really, but very enjoyable.”
After leaving Morton last summer, Frail joined the coaching staff at former club Hearts where he remains today, a move that has been a success.
“I’m loving it” he admitted.
“They have brand new facilities that opened up at the beginning of the season. The academy is all self-contained and is very much state-of-the-art which gives us a big advantage over other clubs, at the moment anyway.
“They scrape around looking for training surfaces and we’ve got a big indoor area (below) which is about 60 x 40 with artificial turf, and then another five grass pitches outside and one more with artificial turf.”
Despite his injury problems, his time with Hearts and Tranmere remain the highlights of Stephen’s career.
“I got a move to Hearts having suffered a serious knee injury at Dundee which I thought I would never get, a move to a bigger club, and that was a highlight.
“In terms of my playing career, Hearts was definitely the most successful, but I definitely wanted to be in England like a lot of Scottish players do and I enjoyed my time down there.
“So I’ve got a lot of highlights and also a lot of things I look back on and think ‘I wish that hadn’t happened’, but you play the hand your dealt. If I think about the injuries I suffered I would go stark crazy.”
I’d like to thank Stephen for taking the time out to talk to me and wish him all the best for the future.