This interview appeared in FYP issue 27 - August 2011.
There are players who come and go, there are players who make an instant impact and those who do very little, there are players we forget and those we can’t. But few are as fondly remembered as Alan Lee; the jovial centre-forward from Galway who had a hand in saving Palace in 2010.
The big man signed from Ipswich in 2008 and struggled to make an impact, however as the Eagles suffered through administration, a points deduction and a battle with relegation, he stepped up to the plate.
FYP caught up with Alan as he prepared for the new season with Huddersfield, having lost out in the League One play-offs in May; and a chance to face his old team-mates at Selhurst this season.
FYP: Working hard in pre-season, Alan?
AL: No, actually I have the day off today so just chilling out.
Oh. Well I guess you were in the play-off final not long ago. Wait, should we not mention that?
It was devastating. All that hard work undone in one match.
Streety and I had money on you bagging a hat-trick in the final but you only played 15 minutes.
I was about to come on with Jordan Rhodes at 1-0 and I said to him 'this is it, we can turn it around' and just before the board went up, they scored. I could see the game slipping away right then.
Another big game for you, just 12 months after Hillsborough.
I enjoy the big games, it's more nerve wracking but I think it helps you focus. That final year [with Palace] was without doubt one of my favourites in football. I didn't have a good first year at Palace and sometimes it's hard to win people round again. They didn't see the best of me but the reception I got and still get, I'm just very grateful, it's fantastic and always makes me smile.
Probably because you played a pivotal role towards the end of that season, as the lone man up front.
I enjoyed it, I enjoyed playing one up front. I had a very distinct job. It was a very special season, I can’t recall any other teams getting deducted points and then managing to stay up. We all pulled together, I guess that’s what made it so special, it felt like we'd won something at the end, it was amazing.
Same for us! Although there was a weird atmosphere in the stands, a combination of pride and anxiety. What was it like in the dressing room?
There was a lot of uncertainly but heads never dropped. There wasn't a lot of complaining from the lads about not getting paid, everyone pulled together. It took a while to sink in, at the time we were playing, like at Newcastle away; we'd been on a very good run and I think we were either sixth or seventh and to get off a plane and find that you've been deducted the points, that was it. It did take a while to sink in but I guessed it helped that we had another goal then. We lost some of our players and maybe some of our flair players but we certainly kept a lot of the lads with character and it was actually wonderful to be part of.
Rumours were you led the lads in singing and dancing before games??Please say it’s true.
Yeah! The worse things got the livelier the changing room got. Before the games we'd have all sorts of songs and everyone would be up dancing, I've never seen anything like it. People were dancing and singing at the top of their voices. Anyone that wasn't singing would be dragged up, it just really cemented everything together. It would have been very easy for people to let their standards slip but we had a lot of leaders and strong characters in the dressing room. Also the fans, they had a big part to play in it, it just kind of roused everyone. I know it didn't do much for our nerves but it turned out to be a much more special season than a mid-table finish! It was certainly my proudest season in football.
Come on then, let's talk about the goal at Hillsborough. You must re-live it every day in your mind.
Yeah, and on Sky +! I just remember going absolutely nuts. I saw the ball so clearly, so slowly, it seemed to be so large and I knew I was getting on the end of it. As a footballer you do think 'what a day it would be to score the winner or just score an important goal today' and it’s surreal when it happens. Going into the Wednesday game, I've never seen so many TV trucks, it all underlined just what a huge game this was. An early goal always helps as a centre forward, it helps with the confidence so I was delighted and was delighted with the way I played after that as well. Afterwards it was just the most draining, I remember I didn't feel like celebrating I think I was just crying in the corner because it just meant so much.
Well, there was certainly a lot of pressure. Talk was the club would have gone bust if we’d gone down. Pressure indeed.
Yeah, but our lads handled it very well. It was a tough game, Wednesday did not freeze they made it very hard for us on the day but whatever it was about us, it brought the best out of us. I like that sort of situation, the more pressure on the better for me. I’ve had a few times in my career that’s happened so im always confident going into those situations.
The home dressing room before a game was probably my favourite thing about that run. And that dressing room after Sheffield Wednesday with that feeling of contentment; being elated. Some of the lads went out to celebrate after the coach stopped back in south London. I didn't even want to go out; I just drove straight home and had a relaxed evening and just had that great feeling. Obviously you win big games and you just want to go out and celebrate but this surpassed that with that feeling.?We'd been through that season and to come out of that still in the Championship it made a very great summer.
And you came so close to returning to the Championship this summer and a chance to play in front of the Palace fans again.
I think people know you owe your fans. The same dedication I gave to the Palace fans I give to the Huddersfield fans and I've never changed. I'd certainly have a round of applause for the Palace fans to thank them.
We’ll be honest, we miss you Alan.
I was really looking forward to last season and I was a bit disappointed when George [Burley] told me they were accepting an offer but I’ve had a long experienced career - that’s part of the game - and there’s not much room for sentiments I’m afraid.
Oh, so you haven’t seen the Alan Lee Facts website then?
It’s full of Chuck Norris facts, amended for you. Like, when Alexander Bell invented the telephone he had three missed calls from Alan Lee.
Yeah, that's true.
When playing rock, paper, scissors, Alan Lee picks Alan Lee; and always wins.
(Laughs) Yep, also true.
Alan Lee doesn’t do press-ups, he pushes the ground down. Alan Lee can touch MC Hammer. Alan Lee doesn't plan football, football plays Alan Lee.
Ok I get it. My father told me about this. I have a rule that I never read the papers or look at message boards or anything like that. But that's fantastic, it's hilarious.
Do you still play guitar?
I very rarely play now, mainly because I gave Neil Danns one of my guitars and he still hasn't given it back yet. So I sent a message to him to ask for it back. I hope he returns it! It's my first guitar, it's a big black jumbo Yamaha. And it actually survived a house fire, being snapped in half and it's been taped up and has a little bruising. But it's a very good guitar and I’m still expecting it back in the same state. But no, I'm not particularly good.
Have you not heard the FYP songs??You’re better than us.
I'm sure there will be some fun fact about it .