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My Secret Passion: Richard Lee

14 March 2013

Footballers often like to delve into different activities whilst they're not on the pitch or putting the hard yards in on the training ground.

And that's certainly the case for Brentford goalkeeper Richard Lee - a 30-year-old with an eye for business.

In fact, the stopper is just as likely to be juggling figures as he is attempting to prevent footballs from finding his team's net. He even appeared on BBC2's Dragons' Den in 2006.

The Bees' custodian offered the fearsome fivesome a stake in his business, Dr Cap, a company specialising in selling sports headwear, in exchange for some investment and expertise.

"My business partner applied [for Dragons' Den] for a bit of fun without telling me a few years ago," Lee explained.

"We were asked to go to Manchester to meet their production team and explain our concept. A month later we were told we'd made the show and were invited to London.

"I remember it well. At the time I was playing for Blackburn Rovers and we had a big game the night before we were due in London. I travelled down after the match and got there at about 4am. I had to be up three hours later for filming of the show, I was shattered.

"It was great, though, and because it wasn't my main source of income there was no pressure. We prepared as well as we could and although we got caught out on one or two small bits, we gave a good presentation and one of the Dragons, Duncan Bannatyne, invested.

"It was crazy. As soon as it happened we all shook hands and went downstairs for the interview afterwards. When the show eventually came out it coincided with a big match for me, so it was a really good time in my life.

"In the end, the investment didn't actually go through, but it certainly gave us a bit of a boost at the time. It taught me a lot of lessons."

The proactive stopper had initially set up his headwear business in a Leicester shopping centre - first with a stall and later a shop - before talking his idea to the hit TV show.

The business has since gone from strength-to-strength and Lee believes the entrepreneurial genes are in his blood.

"My dad used to work for a company called New Era, who are very big in the headwear world," he explained. "That's how the idea of our venture came about, as we saw the potential success of a specific hat shop.

"We started with a stand. A lot of people used to walk past it, so they knew what we were up to when we opened the shop.

"And even though we were quite niche - a lot of shops do headwear, but not on its own and with hundreds of different styles - the business seemed to work well with the local demographic."

Although Dr Cap tasted success in a shopping centre, Lee made the decision to make it solely an online retailer.

And that has proved to be a wise move by the Oxford-born Football League stopper.

"The good thing about hats is that most people know how they fit, which takes away the need to try them on.

"Obviously people can return them if they don't fit, but it costs us less to operate online and we're now working with web developers going forward."

Lee's success in the hat business has spurred him on to get involved in other ventures he hopes will help keep his mind occupied when his playing days come to an end.

But he insists his focus remains on a game that has treated him well since he broke through the Watford youth academy and made his debut for the Hornets in February 2003.

"Football is the main priority and will be until I retire, but having this business gives me something to do when I get home. It's a bit of fun I suppose.

"My ultimate goal [when I retire] is to have several different projects. I want to work for myself, so a lot of what I'm setting up is with that in mind.

"I've also set up some worldwide goalkeeping centres, written a book and now I'm also studying for a media degree which has already led to a column in the Daily Mail online.

"I'm just trying to add strings to my bow, learn and add value to myself, which will keep me busy for now and give me options when I finally do retire.

"I've always been aware that football is a short career. It can be great if you make it to the top level and earn enough money to sustain your lifestyle, but you also hear stories of players earning huge money who find a way of losing it all.

"I've always wanted to maintain the lifestyle football has given me and I know that if I can be careful with my money and invest it well I can come out on the other side without being forced to do a job I don't want to do. If I can slide into something I enjoy as much as football I'll be a very happy man."

For all the talk of retirement, Lee has a lot of football to play first. This season, Brentford are pushing for promotion and he has been integral to the London outfit's good standing in the League 1 table.

They currently sit third, just two points adrift of second-placed Sheffield United, and got back to winning ways in midweek by beating Swindon Town 2-1 after two disappointing losses.

The Bees face a tricky run-in and the top of the League 1 ladder is tighter than the skin of a drum, but the Bees have proved stiff opposition and Lee believes Uwe Rosler has built a squad worthy of its lofty position.

"The manager has got us playing a style of football which is a mile away from the way we were playing a couple of years ago and it's enjoyable for fans to watch.

"We're creating a lot of chances, too, so it's a very productive style and I think we're very deserving of our league place right now.

"We know that if we have a good end to the season automatic promotion is very much up for grabs.

"When you look at the fixtures there are some tough ones in there, including Doncaster on the last day of the season. We'd definitely take being in a position for automatic promotion when we go into that game.

"It could be an exciting climax, but we have to take one game at a time."

Given the head start, promotion to the npower Championship would definitely represent a profitable year for the proactive stopper.

Not to mention his ever-growing business portfolio.

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