Lee Grant interview: On the line and on the button – Clarets stopper keeping it on track
Burnley goalkeeper and former Sheffield Wednesday favourite Lee Grant is preparing for a reunion with his old club this Tuesday, and after his time as the team DJ in his Hillsborough days he is still working at striking the balance in the thankless task of catering for a squad’s diverse music tastes.
Now in his third season at Turf Moor, the ex-Derby County man had been an immensely popular figure in his three years with Wednesday and aside from being The Owls’ last line of defence he was also tasked with compiling the team’s pre-match playlist. Lee’s colleague from both Derby and Wednesday, one-time defensive stalwart Michael Johnson, told on here last year of how Lee and striker Marcus Tudgay would choose the sound selection during his loan spell in S6 in 2007. As is often the case, there were those who were on Lee’s musical wavelength and those whose preferences did not quite confine to the general boundaries of credibility, with homegrown defensive players the main culprits!
“I’ll have to remind myself who the good ones were! Jermaine Johnson had good taste, Leon Clarke, Etienne Esajas, Lewis Buxton’s was decent.
“The bad ones – Tommy Spurr and Mark Beevers were terrible, and Richard O’Donnell’s were not so clever either. With Tommy Spurr you’d find him listening to Britney Spears and anything cheesy like that!’’
Finding a mix of songs that satisfies and motivates a group of players before they step out onto the pitch on matchday is a considerably tricky responsibility but it has been a more testing task for Lee at Burnley in comparison to his time at Wednesday, where the more experienced pros were the ones who voiced their displeasure.
“People do complain but I got away with it a bit when I was at Wednesday. I got a few converted and managed to play the stuff that was more up my street with the r&b and hip-hop but the main ones who complained were Francis Jeffers, Tommy Miller and James O’Connor.
“To be honest, James O’Connor never seemed to like any music! At Burnley it’s myself who plays the music and we’ve currently got a bit of a mix of house and r&b, with a little bit of chart music.
“You always get complaints from some who say it’s too loud or too aggressive or that they want something else on but never mind! Out of the good ones, David Edgar, our Canadian defender, often comes to me with the new stuff he likes.
“Ross Wallace is one of the bad ones, and Keith Treacy with his random heavy dance music – terrible!’’
Another of the 29-year-old’s ex-colleagues, PFA Chairman and York City defender Clarke Carlisle, mentioned on here how Lee had spent some time DJing in the past and he confirms this, as well as his overall love for music.
“My sister’s into her music and since I was quite young we always had a set of decks. I’ve still got mine now but with my kids it’s not really possible to be playing music late, but I use the decks now and again.
“I’m really into music in a big way and I’ve got a broad spectrum of taste really – hip-hop, r&b, old school garage, dubstep, drum and bass, a bit of house music. I’m trying to think who I’m listening to in my car at the minute… Frank Ocean, and ASAP Rocky and Big Sean’s mixtapes as well.
“I’m not hugely keen on mainstream pop, now and again stuff comes through that I like but I’m not a fan of really banging dance music.’’
Away from the aforementioned current artists, Lee’s first ever record bought was a double purchase, and it came some time in either late-1992 or early 1993 (by my calculations!). The well-known songs in question came via a Jamaican artist and a white rapper from Canada who just sounded Jamaican!
“The first record I bought, I got two on the same day on cassette – Snow ‘Informer’ and Shabba Ranks ‘Mr. Loverman’.’’
Lee has also experienced the music culture of two very reputable cities during previous summer breaks from the game and it is probably fair to say they offer a change in climate and atmosphere to destinations in the North West of England!
“I went to Barcelona this summer and it was really good in the clubs. I’ve also been to Miami in the past with my wife and there’s a lot of good tunes out there.’’
Players can sometimes find it difficult to fix their attention firmly on the next game with other occurrences and thoughts entering the mind and this happened to Lee when he first joined Burnley in 2010. He made it through the distraction though, with the help of a signature hit from an r&b singer who has since become a worship leader!
“I have had to (sing in front of teammates) but not until recently, when I moved to Burnley it was the first time I’ve done it because it’s a bit of a tradition at the club. I sang Montell Jordan ‘This Is How We Do It’ and it went really well, thank God.
“I couldn’t sleep the night before the game because of it or even concentrate on my pre-match meal!’’
There are two fellow Clarets players who instantly sprung to mind when the question of others’ memorable singing renditions was asked, one ex-West Ham youngster and a teenage Australian goalkeeper from Sydney FC.
“Junior Stanislas quite recently was one of the worst – he did ‘Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star’ and it was painful! A young goalkeeper we’ve just signed, Daniel Nizic, did an attempt at an Adele song which was pretty poor too.’’
A fitting way to wrap up the music part of the interview is to get Lee’s take on his manager Eddie Howe’s own tune choices. In June, Howe’s former Bournemouth teammate and later one of his players, veteran striker Steve Fletcher, confirmed the Burnley boss’ liking for the Norwegian group A-ha but it seems he may have recently found some new preferences!
“To be honest I must admit I’ve caught him lately bopping his head to some of the dance music. He tries not to be too obvious about it but maybe he’s got a secret passion for old school garage!’’
Lee was still a teenager when he made his debut for Derby following their relegation from the top flight in 2002 and he went on to make 79 appearances for The Rams over five seasons. In the last of these he had played something of a bit-part with Stephen Bywater having become Billy Davies’ preferred choice, and he left the club in 2007 after playing eight times in a season that saw the club win the Championship play-offs.
At the age of 24, still extremely young for a goalkeeper, Lee joined Sheffield Wednesday as part of Brian Laws’ two keeper signings that summer. After early competition from Rob Burch he made the number one position his own with 48 appearances in his debut season at Hillsborough. It was a campaign in which The Owls were fighting an uphill battle throughout, with six Championship defeats in a row to begin with and the loss of key players from the previous year’s play-off-contending squad.
On the last day of the 2007/08 season Wednesday needed a win to stay in the second tier and faced Norwich City in front of over 36,000 at Hillsborough. Darren Huckerby put the away side in front and the masses of Owls supporters had their hearts in their mouths as former Newcastle midfielder Matty Pattison looked to have doubled the Canaries’ advantage, but for a magnificent save from Lee. Wednesday went on to win 4-1 with Leicester City the relegated team on the day, but Lee’s stop was simply pivotal and he rates it as the best from his time at the club.
“That save you mention was the best, more so for the timing of it than anything else. Funnily enough I made one at Turf Moor after a deflection off Mark Beevers which personally was one of my best but people perhaps might not remember.
“There were a few great memories but the one in particular was the game against Norwich. We needed to win to stay up and the atmosphere that day was something I’d not really experienced before.
“The place was packed out, it was like a carnival and we hoped that we’d replicate that with a win to keep us up against (Crystal) Palace a couple of seasons later but you know what happened there unfortunately.’’
It was Lee’s third and final season at Wednesday and in a final day showdown with Crystal Palace at Hillsborough in May 2010 it was a case of ‘winner stays up’, or a draw and Palace survive, and that was how it transpired. In front of over 37,000 in the televised game the 2-2 draw saw Wednesday relegated under Alan Irvine and in the summer that followed the club’s financial plight began to hit home all the more.
The club was issued with a winding-up order over unpaid tax and it came to a head in the winter, with Milan Mandaric completing his takeover to rescue Wednesday from the abyss. Lee had been sold to Burnley before the start of the 2010/11 season to raise desperately-needed funds and he rues the way his fond association with the club ended.
“It was a tough time and it left me feeling like I had unfinished business with Wednesday because I had three really good years there. While it was going great for me personally, as a team we went down on the last day and the club fell into further financial problems.
“At that point the writing was on the wall for me and I was sad to leave because I had a great relationship with the fans, the staff and the players and Wednesday were the perfect kind of club for me. I’ll always look back fondly on my time there and maybe one day in the future there’ll come a time when I’ll go back – never say never.’’
Lee played 145 times for Wednesday from 2007 to 2010 and his integral part in survival in his first season, three Steel City derby victories over Sheffield United, numerous impressive saves and performances, and his bond with the fans made him a unanimously popular player. This Tuesday he faces his old team for the first time since leaving as Burnley host Wednesday at Turf Moor in the Championship.
There have been many departures from The Owls’ ranks since Lee bid farewell to Hillsborough with Lewis Buxton, Mark Beevers and Jermaine Johnson the only prominent first-teamers remaining. Nevertheless, he is eagerly anticipating the game and he predicts continued progress for Wednesday in a wider sense, despite six recent consecutive defeats that have dampened the early-season optimism.
“I’m excited actually, I was ecstatic to see Wednesday come up, even though it was a year overdue, and it was the first fixture I was looking for. I’ll look forward to seeing one or two faces, although there’s not many left from when I was there, and playing in front of those fans again because there’s still a few I keep in touch with, but hopefully we get the right result.
“For me it’s looking bright for the club, the feeling from the players when I was there was that all it needed was the impetus off the field because the stadium and the fanbase were always there. All that was missing was the right backer and I think with the chairman (Milan Mandaric) and manager (Dave Jones) there now it’s looking up.
“I know they’re going through a sticky patch at the moment but it happens in this league. You can lose four or five in a row and you can then go and win four or five, and I think with the quality there now they’ll definitely hold their own this season and from there, who knows?’’
Many people have put Lee’s name forward in the past as a possible candidate for the England squad and it is not a wholly unreasonable suggestion when you consider that Birmingham City’s Jack Butland went to Euro 2012 and played at the Olympics for Team GB despite his only previous professional experience having been in League Two with Cheltenham Town. Other examples in the past have been Joe Lewis who was called up in 2008 after promotion to League One with Peterborough, and Derby’s Frank Fielding.
Lee has almost 300 league appearances in the second tier to his name but he politely laughed off the suggestion that he could be in Roy Hodgson’s thoughts and explained that he has never been contacted in the past about being under consideration.
“No it’s definitely not crossed my mind that one. It’s not something that I think about and I don’t think the England selectors are thinking about it either.’’
Domestically, Lee has been part of a Burnley side who have taken 10 points from their first 8 league games to leave them in 16th place in the Championship. In that time the Clarets have scored 15 and conceded 15 with striker Charlie Austin the league’s leading scorer. Lee is optimistic about moving up the table but wants to help firm up the defensive aspect with some sought-after clean sheets.
“We’ve got a squad capable of competing in every game so I’m really confident. We’re not blessed with a big or experienced squad but what we have got is a really committed, honest and talented group.
“If we can keep everyone fit like we are doing then we can cause teams trouble. It would be nice to keep more clean sheets because at the moment it’s a bit like Newcastle in the old days of ‘you score two, we’ll score three’.’’
Lee also counts a single game on loan with Burnley and 16 with Oldham in the 2005-06 season amongst his career appearances, and factoring in his time with Derby, Sheffield Wednesday and his current stay at Burnley, he completed the site’s regular feature of the 5-a-side team he would choose comprising of the best he has ever worked with. This question works by the player in question selecting four others to play alongside themselves, and Lee emphasised the difficulty of choosing his team, but he managed it in the end!
“That’s a really tough one, but I’ll start up top and I’d have to say Jay Rodriguez. I think he’s underrated by some, he’s a top, top player who earnt his move to the Premier League and he’s definitely in there for me.
“I’m going to go for a couple of strikers so Charlie Austin, why not? He’s absolutely on fire at the moment and it would be rude not to, you never know what might come his way in the future.
“The best midfielder is tough but from the very short time we were together at Wednesday I’ll say Brunty (Chris Brunt). It was literally a case of me coming in one door at the club and him going out the other soon after but he’s absolute quality, a wand of a left foot and rightly established in the Premier League now.
“For the defender I’m trying to think back to my Derby days. For a 5-a-side team, as you don’t often get past him I’ll go with Michael Johnson.
“It would be nice to have him in there, he’s a great lad, a great motivator and a good leader. He made a big impact when we had him on loan at Wednesday and he played a big part in Derby going up to the Premier League.’’