THE NON-LEAGUE FOOTBALL PAPER LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD – BRIAN LEE
FROM inside the England camp before the 1966 World Cup win at Wembley to a Conference promotion final record attendance at the revamped national stadium, Brian Lee has truly lived a football life.
The Football Conference chairman is standing down this summer after eight years as Non-League’s top chief.
So it seemed fitting for the popular figure to leave Craven Cottage on Wednesday with The Non-League Paper’s Lifetime Achievement award.
“Surprised is not the word,” Lee said.“Shocked, more like. “A) you don’t think you’re that old and B) there are a lot of far more deserving people in the Non-League game. There are a lot of unsung heroes, which makes the game as attractive as it is.”
Lee has been involved in professional and community sport for more than half a century. An FA staff coach as well as manager of the England semi-professional team, he became Wycombe Wanderers’ manager in 1968.
His first game in charge was at Clapton’s Old Spotted Dog ground on December 28 –a goalless draw.
The then-manager of Bisham Abbey National Sports Centre was the Chairboys’ first conventional manager with the selection committee disbanded.
During his eight years in charge of the Isthmian League club, they won back-to-back titles on two separate occasions in 1971 and 1972, and 1974 and 1975. Success also came in the FA Cup when they took Middlesbrough to a third round replay.
“It was amateur so people had to come and play for you – you had to sell yourself,” Lee, who had previously been manager at Wellington Town, said.
“The players had to make sacrifices. The commitment was two evenings and a Saturday afternoon.
“We had a squad of 16, there were no substitutes in those days, and for a couple of years we played well over 60 games.
“We had some good success. It’s an endurance test winning championships. I spent eight years as manager and then eight as chairman.
“We’d been trying to move home for 16 years. The site we got (Adams Park) was in an area of outstanding natural beauty. I left Bisham Abbey and took three years out of my life to fulfil the dream of building a football ground.
“I designed and project managed it with Bill O’Neill, who is now the president of Boreham Wood.
“Then we had Martin O’Neill as manager and we had a good run, won the Trophy and went to Wembley a couple of times. They were exciting times.”
Lee, who had been in charge at Lilleshall when Sir Alf Ramsey’s England trained there ahead of the World Cup triumph, was also the first manager of the England semi-professional team in 1976 and took charge of representative matches.
“When we started the representative matches for the FA, players like Geoff Hurst, Bobby Charlton and Nobby Stiles played,” Lee said.
“They were more than happy to mix with players from the likes of Bishop Auckland, Eastwood Town and Crook Town.”
Lee highlights the formation of The Football Conference Trust as one of his proudest achievements while Conference chairman, and the solidarity payments from the Premier League that help fund community projects.
His replacement, former FA chief executive Brian Barwick, certainly has big shoes to fill.