Book Review: Graduation
Our latest book review comes from Tom Bodell, editor of Vital Watford. Tom can be followed on Twitter at @TBBodell and here casts his eye on the autobiography of Richard Lee, one time Hornet and now a Bee.
Graduation: Life Lessons of a Professional Footballer By Richard Lee
Published by Bennion Kearny
August 2010, £9.99,
Brentford custodian Richard Lee is not the kind of footballer you would expect to be releasing a book. For one thing, he’s only 29 years of age, his time as a goalkeeper hasn’t been ended prematurely and his career to date has been entirely unremarkable to the casual observer. Just fewer than 100 appearances scattered between serial bench-warming at Watford less two seasons with the Bees would hardly make compelling reading on their own. Dig deeper though, and you will quickly find out that Lee’s experience has been rather less ordinary than it looks on paper.
Graduation is not your ordinary footballer’s autobiography and Lee himself is shrewd enough to admit, ‘Even I wouldn’t read my autobiography!’ As a result, the book offers a lot more than the regular tedium of a superstar name. His numerous dabbles into the business world — he appeared on Dragon’s Den with his Dr Cap business and has a scheme called Goalkeeper Icon, have proven that if nothing else, he is a young man with his head screwed on. Here, however, he goes further and provides a fascinating mixture of science, philosophy and a fair few anecdotes as well; charting his turbulent first season at Griffin Park.
There are a number of shockingly frank admissions from a man who within only the confines of the preface admits that he ‘doesn’t love football.’ It’s a common preconception that all footballers are doing the job they adore and are extremely lucky to be doing so. Lee bucks that trend and is candid enough to admit as much within the opening few pages, quickly admitting why he got into the sport in the first place and – if your first guess was money, I reckon your second would be girls. Incidentally his blossoming career didn’t even earn him the lust of his high school crush.
After nearly a decade of sitting on the bench at Watford with 92 appearances strewn erratically in between, Lee moves to League 1 Brentford and almost immediately regrets his decision. Cast aside by now ex-Bees boss Andy Scott following a disappointing debut, reoccurring worries quickly return to haunt the Oxfordshire-born stopper. A loan arrival between the posts sees Lee demoted to third-choice within a matter of weeks and by his own admittance, he wallows in self-pity to begin with.
It’s at this point that Lee takes a long hard look at both himself and his career and decides to fight rather than take flight and his decision proves to be well worth it – by the end of the season he cleans up at the ‘Player of the Season’ awards do.
It all begins with simple alterations in order to boost his self-esteem — the sort of changes that you would never expect to have any impact on a professional footballer. However, following a different haircut and a change of boots and jersey size, Lee is a new man.
Whilst the recently acquired Ben Hamer takes league duties, Lee is tossed the bone that is cup matches – but this quickly proves to be the best thing that could have happened to him. While the Bees cough and splutter in the league, with Hamer impressing nonetheless, Lee turns in the performances of a lifetime in both the League Cup and Johnstone’s Paint Trophy, dragging Scott’s side kicking and screaming through a grand total of five penalty shoot-outs throughout the course of the 2010-11 campaign.
Memorable displays in the Carling Cup against higher league opposition such as Hull City, Everton and Birmingham City provide him with the footing to prove his ability and eventually a first league start comes in November against Bournemouth.
But having dislodged Hamer, fellow Reading youngster Alex McCarthy arrives on loan at Griffin Park and Lee would surely have been forgiven for thinking that Scott simply didn’t rate him. The manager’s baffling insistence that he wants two number ones hardly inspires confidence in either of those involved in the battle for the jersey. Perhaps the Lee of old would have relapsed into self-pity, but not the new Lee, now motivated by his ‘why?’ — the reason he continues to fight defiantly to achieve his ‘process’ and ‘outcome’ goals – the former providing a route to the latter.
The input of trusted mentors such as Keith Mincher; first introduced to Lee as the sports psychologist under Aidy Boothroyd at Watford, Bob Patmore and his own enterprising father, Peter, is never undersold, to the point that Lee actually becomes a qualified Neuro-Linguistic Programmer — yet another business venture he enters into.
Despite claiming all five club gongs at the end of May, the campaign does not end perfectly for Lee and he misses out on the JPT Final at Wembley, a tournament in which he had contributed more than most en route to the final. Despite a glimmer of hope that he will make the big day out at the old stadium, Lee is left disappointed when his dislocated shoulder fails to recover fully in time.
On top of the techniques Lee exploits in order to meet his Optimum Performance State, Lee also reveals a handful of interesting titbits from his move and subsequent debut season at Griffin Park. Most notably for me, that his much-vaunted appearance on Dragon’s Den didn’t actually earn him and his business partner Darren the £150,000 stake agreed with Duncan Bannatyne on the show — who knew?!
There is also a smattering of blog entries from Lee’s personal website about football and goalkeeping in particular which reveal someone who thinks about the game a lot – even if he doesn’t actually love it.
All in all, Graduation is an excellent read and to be frank, you really don’t need an inherent interest in Lee in order to enjoy the book for all it’s worth. The intended reading is good, the interpreted reading is even better and I can certainly admit I have learnt more life lessons from Graduation than any other book I’ve ever read; it would certainly not be out of place in the self-help section.