*IS*Today is day one of the doverathletic.com advent calendar – each day, a new piece of content will be uploaded onto the site for fans to enjoy.
This will range from interviews with ex-players, fans and volunteers, to a more in-depth look at how the club is run behind the scenes and a 2014 year review – and more. If there is a player you would like to be covered then please do let us know.
*BS*DAY ONE: SIR LENNIE LEE*BF*
*BS**IS*”I still even pick my lottery numbers by the goals that I scored for Dover – 9, 16, 18, 21, 35, 38. They haven’t been lucky yet..”*IF**BF*
Born in 1959, Lennie Lee developed an early love for football, being introduced to the game by a Margate-supporting cousin. Travelling home and away to watch them play, it was not until he reached the age of sixteen that he set his heart on playing, rather than simply spectating.
Lennie was offered a trial by Monkton, a Thanet Premier Sunday League side who his brother played for, and quickly displayed the natural ability which Kent football fans knew he had within him.
A move to Margate FC materialised for the 1977/78 season. Despite mainly being used as a substitute during his first spell at the club, his first competitive goal came two weeks after joining, in a 2-1 victory away at Basingstoke Town. Lee said: “I was delighted after that game. Playing for the club I’d supported since a boy, and scoring on my debut – it couldn’t have gone any better.”
Whilst naturally on cloud nine after netting on his debut for his boyhood club, his emotions swiftly changed, as he admits: “My next game though, at home to Waterlooville, was different. I played poorly, and was down in the dumps. Alan Fagan, who was captain of the side and an ex pro, picked me up though – he reminded me that we don’t get paid any less for a bad performance than for a good one, and that I just had to deal with it and improve. That really stuck with me.
“I was really lucky at Margate. I was still very young but there were a few experienced guys there who looked after us.
“I knew I had to raise my game if I wanted to be successful. From an early age, I started to analyse my own games and work on my weaknesses, and was very critical of myself. That way, if I had a bad game I knew it myself – on the other hand, if I had a good game I knew about it.”
By the end of the season, Lee had played eleven games for the first team, and over a dozen for the reserve team – scoring sixteen goals for them in total.
Two seasons later, in the 1979/80 campaign, Lennie played in all but one of Margate’s 56 matches and was the club’s top goalscorer for the season, finding the net on fourteen occasions. The local press were quickly picking up on his natural ability; indeed, Lee finished the following season with a further fourteen goals and found himself at the top of the goalscoring charts once again.
Lennie moved to Folkestone Invicta during the summer of 1981, having been persuaded to join the club by then-manager Alf Bentley. Lee said: “Alf had been asking me for quite a while to join him, so I gave it a go. They were paying good money, but the style of play didn’t suit me.
“He wanted me to play wide right, hugging the touchline, and I was rarely touching the ball. I much preferred playing in the middle of the park, seeing a lot more of the ball and having more control over what happened – like I did at Margate.”
When speaking to Lennie, it was genuinely refreshing to hear this. So many players these days – in both the professional and semi-professional games – are likely to be happy simply to pick up their pay cheques every week, not overly worrying about their side’s style of play.
*Q1*But not our Lennie.
It was this frustration at his role in the side that saw him leave the club just three months later. Unhappy, and not feeling at home, he spoke to Bentley and requested that his contract be terminated – and his wish was granted.
Lennie continued to work his way around the Kent coast and soon signed on with Ramsgate, where he found his shooting boots once more. After scoring thirteen goals in 23 appearances for the Rams, who were playing in the Kent League at the time, Lee went back to Margate – who had now changed their name to Thanet United – on loan and scored two goals in five appearances.
This was enough for United to bring Lennie back to Hartsdown Park on a permanent basis. At this time, however, he was still playing Sunday League football for Monkton, which United manager Peter Donnelly was not happy about – indeed, playing two games every weekend is quite unimaginable in this day and age.
However, Lee’s passion for football and his dedication towards his first side was admirable: “I played for the two clubs simply because I could – I wasn’t under contract, and was very fit, so I played for both sides.
“I don’t understand how some professional footballers these days aren’t able to make it through 90 minutes. They have everything sorted for them – their fitness plans, nutrition and their diets. They’re only tuned to play for 90 minutes. If they tuned themselves to play for 100, or 120, minutes then they’d get through a game easily. In my day, we worked for a living, trained, and played twice a week.
“Football has definitely changed. Players now aren’t any more hard-working than we were – they’re just better at making the ball do the work for them. I helped lay the cables at Arsenal’s Emirates ground, and was amazed by the facilities they have there. We weren’t so lucky in my time!
“If you compared the fitness of players now against when we were playing, I’d like to think we were fitter but in all honesty we probably weren’t. Players look after themselves much more now, especially with regards to the way they treat their bodies. We had fish and chips and a pint after a game, now it’s probably M&S salads.”*Ppic2*
The situation escalated when Lee suffered an injury whilst playing for Monkton: “I pulled my hamstring slightly, but Peter wasn’t happy. I had physiotherapy at Margate on the Thursday, and it was then that he said I wouldn’t be playing in the game on the following Saturday.
“I wasn’t offered a fitness test, which was gutting – I felt I was fit enough to play. I’d brought my own ultrasound machine so was doing my own physiotherapy work. I wasn’t selected for the game on Saturday so turned out for Monkton on the Sunday – Peter fined me a week’s wages and wrote about what had happened in the club’s programme.”
It was this disagreement that largely caused Lee to leave the club in February 1983, moving to Herne Bay, but he was back at United just a few months later.
Alan Fagan had brought him back for his fourth spell at Hartsdown, and made the kind of impact that everyone knew he could – seven goals in 20 appearances meant Lee had started to find his old form. Fagan left the club in November 1983 and was replaced by John Wickens, who had managed Lee during his short spell at Herne Bay.
Lennie decided to once again leave the club and joined Dover, making his debut in the side’s home match against Poole Town FC on December 10th 1983.
Lennie played 25 games in that season, scoring 9 goals. Despite this, his first spell at Crabble lasted only nine months and he left the club in August 1984 in a dispute over wages: “I joined them nearly halfway through the season and had a decent few months. During the following season I was negotiating my wages with then-chairman John Husk. I asked for a slight pay rise to cover my increased travel costs from my house to Dover, but he rejected this.
“It was a matter of principle. Neither of us would budge on what we thought was right, so I ended up leaving.”
Lee returned to Thanet and made 43 appearances under John Wickens, but he was soon back at Crabble.
Alan Jones brought Lee back in the summer of 1985, and it was here that he reached his obvious potential. His first season back in a white shirt saw a return of 21 goals in 51 starts. Lee recalls a conversation he had with John Husk upon his return: “He told me that he was regretful that our first negotiations broke down.
“He was new to the role at the time and hadn’t had to deal with wage negotiations before, and wasn’t sure how much flexibility he had – he told me that, if he had been more accustomed to the role, he would’ve paid the extra money I was asking for at the time.”
The following season – 1986/87 – saw Lee fire 18 goals in 50 starts, and he was voted as the club’s player of the year.
Kinnear was evidently getting the best out of his striker and his return of 38 goals in the 1987/88 season went a long way to him winning the player of the year award once more. It was this fantastic return which saw the club promoted to the Southern League Premier Division.
Lee highly rates Kinnear as a manager, but confesses the two didn’t always see eye to eye: “We had our ups and downs, especially towards the end of my time at the club.
“He was fantastic at getting players in and playing them to the best of their ability though, and was a great scout. Some of the players he got in to play around me – Frank Ovard, Timmy Dixon – we all complimented each other perfectly and our success came from that.*Q2*”
In seven games between March and April of 1988, Lee scored sixteen goals, including three hat-tricks. He scored in seven consecutive games, a record which stood until it was broken by Adam Birchall in the 2010/11 season.
He netted another 35 goals in the 1988/89 season, cementing his place as a vital cog in Kinnear’s side. The 1989/90 season culminated in another 29 goals for The Whites as they finished top of the division, but grading issues with Crabble meant that promotion was not forthcoming.
The 1990/91 season should have seen Lennie as a Conference player. We can only wonder if his incredible goalscoring record would have continued at this higher level. The 1990/91 season saw Lee ease past fifteen goals for the sixth season in a row – until injury struck. Lennie broke his leg in a match against Hythe on March 28th 1991, but recovered from this relatively quickly – having made a comeback for the reserves in October of the same year, later in that month he suffered another broken leg in a match at Folkestone Invicta on October 26th.
Kinnear released Lee at the end of the 1991/92 season, primarily down to the striker’s injury problems: “I had fallen out of favour. It was largely down to my fitness, and I asked Chris if I could leave the club. He wanted a fee for me, and Margate had been interested for a while, but an agreement couldn’t be reached. Once I broke my leg again, though, the fee was waived and I left the club.”
By this time, Lee had become Dover’s all-time record goalscorer, scoring 166 goals in 373 games. His partnership with Peter Kemp was of special mention, with many of Lee’s goals during this period being assisted by Kemp.
One of Lee’s more memorable goals came in a home match against Moor Green: “I remember it well. I was coming down the left hand side, and cut inside into the box, and hit the ball. It went wide, but ended up going through the side netting and hit the back of the net.
“I half-celebrated, more sarcastically than anything – but Nigel Donn came over to me, saying “come away – the ref’s giving the goal!” The Moor Green players were, rightly, furious – they were complaining and pulling at the net, showing the gap it had gone through. The ref told them that their pulling the net made it come away further, so he was giving the goal. Thankfully, every other one of my goals was more legitimate!”
Lennie was awarded a testimonial shortly before his departure, which was against Division One side Crystal Palace. A friend of his, Mick Beer, was commercial manager at Leeds United – the club Lennie supports: “Mick was a great bloke and said he’d help out with my testimonial. He tried to get Leeds, and a few other big sides down, but they couldn’t fit another game into their schedules.
“In the end, we got Palace – they sent a team out of mostly reserves and fringe players, but they were a fantastic side. Gareth Southgate played for them that day, and he went on to have a fantastic career.”
A crowd of 1,796 saw The Whites win 3-2, a game refereed by Dover-born David Elleray.*Ppic1*
It was evident throughout my time speaking to Lennie that he considers his time at Dover to be the pinnacle of his career: “Football at Dover was the best period of my life. It was, and still is, a great club with great fans and I made some very good friends.”
On a personal level, I’m somewhat disappointed that I don’t have more memories of Lennie during his time at Crabble. Despite attending my first game in 1989, my footballing memories don’t really start until around 1993 and my era was much more Leworthy than Lee. My father, and those I have spoken to over the years at the club, have recalled many tales of Lennie’s ability and his eye for goal was seemingly crucial during his time at the club.
We were certainly blessed during Chris Kinnear’s first spell at the club to have a string of top quality strikers. Lee and Kemp were a menace to opposition defences, and the aforementioned David Leworthy – who scored 61 in 127 between 1993 and 1997 – continued the tradition of a menacing centre forward.
The afore-mentioned Adam Birchall is arguably the only striker in recent times to rival Lennie for his prowess. Birchall’s 64 goals in 78 appearances certainly gave him a better goals-per-game ratio and many rate him as the best player in Dover Athletic history, however it’s difficult to compare the two.
Playing in different eras, with different styles of football, and a good 20 years between the two – who knows. What I’m certain of though, through personal memories and recollections of others, is that both Birchall and Lee would make it into many all-time Dover Athletic best XI’s.
His desire to play football was still evident. Mark Weatherley was now in charge of Margate and brought Lee back to the club for the 1992/93 season, over seven years since his last appearance for Thanet United.
Lennie’s spell at Hartsdown Park was brief and he made just three appearances before leaving the club for Ramsgate in September 1992.
Ramsgate’s chairman at the time was Richard Lawson, who Lee had been friends with since childhood. His return to Ramsgate, where he played for them eleven years before, was fruitful. He scored 25 goals before the end of the 1992/93 season, and ended the season as the club’s top scorer.
It was then that he made his step into management: “Paul Rimmer was in charge, but one day Richard and his wife turned up at my doorstep and asked me to take over. I had a good time at the club, but it was an eye-opener as to how a club is run. I had a low budget and trying to keep everyone happy was tough.
“When you’re a player, you’re only focused on your own wages and you want the best you can for yourself. When you’re on the other side of the table, though, it’s different – it’s about what’s best for the club. I won the Kent League Cup three seasons in a row, which hadn’t been done before and hasn’t since.
“Football fans can be fickle, though. I remember a game against Waterlooville – a side I always seemed to score against – I was playing down the right hand side and having a bad game. There was one guy, I could pick him out so clearly from a 2,000 crowd which was strange – he was berating me throughout the whole game. I scored the winner late on, and came off feeling good that I’d score but disappointed with my overall game.
“I saw him after the game and he was full of praise, congratulating me on my goal and saying how well I’d played. It’s like he thought I couldn’t hear him throughout the game. I believe that if you criticise players in a game, they won’t play any better – quite the opposite. I’ve played with guys that regularly only played at 30% of their ability, when they raise that to 70% in one game they’re heralded for playing very well.
“If your normal level is around 80-90%, as I feel mine was, and you drop down to 50% in one game then it’s much more noticeable.”
Determined to continue playing, Lee played Sunday league football all the way up until the age of 51 until a third broken leg in November 2010 caused the prolific striker to finally hang up his boots: “I was still fit, all the way up until my retirement, but the aches and pains were lasting longer. When I broke my leg for the third time I decided that was it.
“I knew that if I carried on playing and broke my leg again, I was risking amputation. I’m still having physiotherapy and corrective surgery now, and had to put my family first. It was a tough choice but one I had to make.”
Lennie is currently self-employed, working as a window installer. His work schedule means that he doesn’t get to many Whites games, but still keeps an eye out for how the side are performing. He’s more than aware of how different the matchday experience is for players now, though: “It’s certainly a bit different to my time at the club – we had the old cage as our tunnel, and the showers? Don’t even get me started..”