Jason Lee has spoken to the Daily Mail about Fantasy Football League and his current role at the Professional Footballers’ Association…
PFA Equalities and Education executive Jason Lee amassed over 600 league appearances as player, playing for 19 teams over a period of 23 years.
However, for many football fans his career will be always be associated with 90’s cult TV show Fantasy Football League.
It was whilst Lee was playing in the Premier League with Nottingham Forest that he caught the attention of the show’s hosts David Baddiel and Frank Skinner.
“I loved it,” Jason tells Daily Mail’s Craig Hope.
“I can't sit here now and say I didn't, although I changed my opinion slightly later.
“At the time I watched it with my room-mate and we laughed. If I'd had a bad game the week before I'd be like, ‘I should be on tonight’, and I didn't mind.
“For me to be recognised in the first place was because I was playing at the highest level. I didn't just get there, I grafted, I came through all four leagues and my hard work outweighed my talent.
“The more stick I got, the more stubborn I became. Every ground it was the song, ‘He's got a pineapple on his head…’.
“I thought, ‘You know what, I ain't cutting this off for you, that would look like I'm giving in. Instead, I'm going to score a goal and ruin your weekend’. I went on a run where I scored six in seven.
“The thing was, it got to a point where I really wanted to change my hairstyle. It was ridiculous, for more than a year I kept it out of defiance.
“I was offered deals for adverts and all sorts and they did invite me on the show, but I didn't want to go on and be like, ‘This is great, everyone is taking the p*** out of me’.
“I didn't want to be part of that, I just wanted to be remembered for playing football.
“Eventually, it got to the point where I cut my hair off and it was my way of saying to everyone, ‘It's gone, I'm moving on’.”
Jason Lee playing for Nottingham Forest in the Premier League...
Shortly after cutting his hair, Jason recalls playing at Stamford Bridge, where Baddiel was a Chelsea season ticket holder…
“I was on the bench and every time I warmed up I was getting stick, of course I was, it was Baddiel's team.”
“I was saying, ‘Come on gaffer, put me on, I'm on my way out of the club, I know that, but come on…’.”
As the match approached injury time The Blues were leading 1-0, when Lee broke through to equalise with a half-volley.
“What a great way to shut people up,' says Lee. “Their fans were like, ‘Anyone can score, but not this guy…’. It was nice to have the last laugh.”
Looking back now, Lee does recognise that being the target of the show and the surrounding notoriety it brought with it, also carried a more sinister side, especially for his family...
“They were very defensive about it.”
“There would be racial stuff. In the end, I would tell them not to come. It can't be nice, supporting your child or partner and seeing him get so much abuse.”
Lee has never met Baddiel and Skinner since the show, but this is purely down to circumstance, he explains…
“It's not an avoidance thing, I just never have. If I did there'd be no animosity, but I'd ask them if they realised the significance of what they were doing.
“It was, looking back, a form of bullying. I work in equalities now, and it can affect different people in different ways. I don't think people appreciate the possible harm it can cause. Not everyone has the make-up to deal with that, and they shouldn't have to.
“With me, there was always something - if it wasn't my hair, it was the colour of my skin or my height, and it made me resilient.
“What did they expect me to do? Give up my career? I was always going to continue and I played until I was 40 - I have to remind people of that.
“The easiest thing for someone to say is, "He's s***". But you're not, you've made a success of yourself to be at that top level in the first place.
“Leaving London in the early Nineties, I found it very hard to deal with the racial element and the brutality of the game. It was GBH, some of the stuff, and I retaliated a lot. I missed a lot of games and you learn, ‘I have to find another way to deal with these things’. It was the best education.”
Now working with the Player’s Union, Lee delivers Equality and Diversity training to players across the country and also signposts educational opportunities to members, helping them to prepare for a career after football…
PFA Equalities team: Terry Angus, Simone Pound and Jason Lee.
“I love what I do, but it's hard to break down the egos.
“Players now are rewarded without achieving anything - the contracts only represent potential.
“It should be more incentive based, that's the way it was for me. I will ask them, ‘What do you want to get out of your career? Do you want to be remembered?’.
“I wrote it down when I was a teenager, I made a promise to myself - make my debut, get a pro contract…
“Now, I fear they worry about the money and the cars first. So I try to remind them there is more to it than talent, it's about hard work and doing all you can to get the very best out of yourself, like I did.”