An insight into Brentford's number one goalie Richard Lee.
Richard Lee is one of Brentford FC's most popular players currently in the squad, having risen to first choice goalkeeper last season and is now reliably expected to stop any ball that goes anywhere near him. It's about his first season at Brentford that he has written in Graduation and the mental journey that he undertook to get to the number one spot.
It is unusual for a footballer, especially not a famous Premiership player with an over-sized ego, to write a book. It's even more unusual for a player not to need a ghost writer. More unusual still is one who can actually write coherent prose. A quick glimpse at Brentford's squad on twitter shows that written English is not necessarily their strong point, but then that's not why we like them.
Graduation is a warm, conversational read. It's carefully crafted as a mixture of autobiography and personal development techniques. As such it's for the football supporter, or the armchair psychologist or both.
Last season was a roller-coaster year for Brentford supporters and Rich gives us an insight as to what that roller-coaster looked like from his position in goal. At first assigned to the bench he had to fight his way to favoured goalkeeper, beating Everton on penalties at home in the process ("better than sex") and reluctantly but sensibly giving Wembley a miss. Brentford had managerial problems and eventually got rid of the then manager Andy Scott with team mate Nicky Forster taking temporary charge with a dramatic effect on the squad's attitude. If you were there you know all this. Rich shows admirable professional reticence in discussing his differences with Andy.
What makes this interesting is that Rich talks about the struggle and self-doubt that he goes through and ultimately conquers to become the solid goalkeeper he is today. Goalkeeping is a difficult role with long periods of relatively little physical exertion interrupted with short bursts of extreme activity. This applies both mentally and physically and Rich talks about his mindset and thoughts before, during and after a game explaining how he's learned to maintain focus. The pressure and focus of the crowd and pundits also puts a spotlight on a goalie with no mercy given.
It's not just about the psychology of the game or of goalkeeping but more the psychology of life. It's about how to change your mental attitude to get what you want, whether it's career or personal success. Just as he's improved his physical fitness and capabilities by picking what suits him best, including basketball exercises designed to improve his spring (£2.99 on ebay, money well spent), his mental development has been helped by a combination of hypnotherapy, goal setting, positive thinking, letting go of what you can't alter or predict, NLP, striving for constant improvement that is all summarised in a beautiful 3 page methodology (should be a cut out and keep section.)
One is made aware of the place football has in his life. From "I don't even like this game" and "I hated football more than ever" to "I chose to like football" at the end, and regular mentions for his business enterprises he makes it clear that football is not his life. It's part of his life, and a big part, but it's not, and shouldn't be, all of it. He also contemplates his future post-football.
It's not all serious of course. If you don't have a chuckle at his teenage encounters with girls you're probably not human.
This is not the greatest autobiography ever written; there are occasional clunky phrases and the psychological techniques he describes are not new or unique. I'm not convinced of the value of the appendices. But what makes this worthwhile is Rich's honesty as he describes his personal journey during those twelve months. He asks and answers questions of himself that many of us would do well to consider.
He is generous with his thanks to the people who have helped him along the ways, fully recognising that you can't do it alone. If you've been, or are on, a personal journey of your own then you will find this thought-provoking, with many opportunities to contemplate how you handle some of the philosophies described with respect to your own life.
You don't need to be a Brentford supporter and I'm not even sure you need to be that fond of football to appreciate this book.
NeighbourNet, the parent company of these websites, is proud to sponsor Richard Lee's home shirt for this season as well as his first.
January 17, 2012