As Cray Valley Paper Mills FC celebrate their 100th year, the club have finished as Southern Counties East League Premier Division champions, but their upcoming trip to Wembley for the Buildbase FA Vase final has been rightly making headlines. With Kevin Watson’s Millers gearing up to face Chertsey Town this Sunday (19th May), some of the spotlight has also understandably fallen on striker Kevin Lisbie.
The London-born, 10-cap Jamaican international played over 100 games in the Premier League for Alan Curbishley’s Charlton Athletic, before noteworthy spells with Colchester United and Leyton Orient along the way in the years since. Playing for an old friend in Watson, the former Norwich City, Millwall and Derby County loanee has been a scoring star this season – all the more remarkable since he had initially retired.
Now 40, Lisbie has hinted that a Wembley win could be the ideal swansong for him, though a new dawn for the club in the Bostik League next season may prove tempting. With many of the questions he has faced recently naturally tending to centre on the Vase final, it seemed fair to serve up something at least slightly different for him here, with the ‘Players’ Bar’ Q&A…
Favourite team and player growing up
I’m from East London and I’ve always supported Arsenal, but Leyton Orient were around the corner as well, so growing up, I had probably two clubs. I used to watch Leyton Orient and I used to support Arsenal. The player I looked up to would have been Ian Wright.
Favourite game you’ve played in and why? The hat-trick against Liverpool (in a 3-2 win for Charlton) always springs to mind (a Premier League Years 03/04 special, for you Sky Sports viewers out there…). Would that be the standout?
Yeah, all my family are Liverpool fans so that was very memorable. Scoring my first Premier League goal as well (the winner at Ipswich Town in August 2001) was special.
A teammate/coach who taught you something new, made you see the game in a different way, or gave great advice you’ve always remembered
There’s been so many people in football so it’s difficult to single people out really, but Carl Leaburn at Charlton was definitely one. Mark Bright was there at the end of his career and was great to have around. Some people used to say Alan Curbishley was like my dad as well!
Funniest teammate/coach/manager in your career (or give more than one example)
I played with Mark Yeates when I was at Colchester. We used to drive in together and he’s someone that sticks out in my mind. He was full of life and he loved little jokes and would say things that were quite amusing – even at the worst times! He made me smile a lot, and even though we used to lose a lot when we were at Colchester, he was one of those who would get the boys going straight away on Monday morning.
Hardest moment/experience as a player
Probably be when I was at Orient and we lost in the (League One) play-off final (against Rotherham United, May 2014). Being 2-0 up and then to lose it on penalties, that was quite difficult, because I felt we had control over the game and I thought we were the better team. It probably stays with you until your next league game the following season. Even in pre-season, you come back in and there’s still 14, 15, 16 of the players that played in it. You’ve still all got it in the back of your mind and then you’ve got to go through the season again. We got relegated the year after that, so I think sometimes that can have an effect on the players and the fans.
What is a typical week like for you, in terms of routine?
Well I was told they train on Thursdays! I normally just keep myself fit; I go to the gym three or four times a week and then pretty much just turn up at games. Sometimes we have Tuesday games, sometimes just Saturday. I don’t always turn up on the Tuesday games; just find it a bit difficult at 40 to keep playing two or three games a week. I keep it quite simple; I turn up on the Saturday but I keep myself really fit and make sure I do what I can for the team on a Saturday.
What else have you got going on besides playing? Is there some work you do with Enfield Borough?
Yeah, I’m an ambassador for Enfield as well, so I keep an eye on the young boys they’ve got there; any young boys that they’ve got I try and help them to get clubs and move them on. So I keep an eye on that as well. It’s quite hard now because I do my own little soccer school as well, I do my finishing classes on a Monday and Friday, and obviously I play football as well. I work in a school as well, so it’s quite hard to get down there all the time, but I’m in constant contact with the team and the chairman.
Funniest/most memorable thing you’ve seen at a game
There’s one occasion, obviously, when we were at Leyton Orient. We were warming up and Romain Vincelot decided that he was gonna stand on the ball with both feet, and he landed almost on his neck. It’s funny now but at the time we were quite worried for him! We were all subs as well, so both of the teams went in and it was literally just us four on the field, and he decided to stand on the ball like an idiot. Everyone else was quite worried but I was in tears laughing at him. That for me is the pinnacle of funniness; there’s nothing that came close to that.
Any change you think could be made to the game at this level
Maybe just look at the pitches. I know a lot of these clubs play two or three games on there a week, and it’s quite hard, because the lower leagues do actually try to play a bit of football now. It’s hard to play football on some of the pitches we go to. A lot of the games actually should be called off, but because there’s only about 20 or 30 people watching, you get it over and done with. Some of these young kids are actually talented, and given the right pitch and opportunity, I think they could develop a lot better.
Anything people might not know about you (interesting fact, hidden talent etc.)
I wouldn’t say I’ve got a hidden talent but my thing is I like to help young kids. I work in a school now doing mentoring and there’s a few young kids in there that need a bit of guidance. I’ve spent a lot of time in my career, after football and during football, mentoring young kids and trying to keep them on the right path. Obviously, I’ve been through that myself, so I spend a lot of time trying to mentor.
Any myths/misconceptions, or a rumour you’ve heard about yourself in your career that wasn’t true
I’ve actually been quite fortunate! I’ve not really had many people talk about me other than football-wise. There was one time, Chris Powell came up to me, I was playing at Charlton, and someone asked him what sort of person I was, because I looked quite arrogant. I think it was just after I scored against Tottenham, but I think it was just literally an emotional thing, because I’m an Arsenal supporter and I didn’t know how to celebrate, so I just stood there, as players do now, and you look at the fans. Now looking at it, I can see where he’s coming from, because some of these players do look quite arrogant after scoring a goal! But it’s literally just that second where you score a goal, and the emotion, you have no control over yourself. That was only once, that sort of stuck with me as well, so ever since then, I thought about my celebrations, because you don’t want to be coming across as someone you’re not.
Was there ever a time where you’re sitting watching TV at home and there’s a report you’re somewhere signing for a club?
No I was fortunate that way! When I was at Colchester and we got relegated, I know there was a lot of talk. Barnsley was one of the teams but I went to Ipswich that year, but you hear a lot of rumours, and Stoke at the time, I think they won the league, and there was talk about going to Stoke. Apart from that, not really.
Who’s the life and soul of the dressing room here at the club?
Denzel (Gayle), he’s full of life. He’s a young boy, he’s one of those I feel could have made a career for himself. He’s a really good player; he’s sharp, he’s quick, he scores goals. He plays right-wing-back, he’s up front. As soon as we get to the changing room, sometimes he tries to shove his music on; I like ragga as much as anyone else but it’s just not the time or the place! As soon as he gets the phone, everyone tries to grab it off of him. He’s in the middle of the changing room before games, dancing. Yeah he’s such a good lad, Denzel, and I’ve got a lot of time for him.
What have you enjoyed most about being at the club so far and why should people come down and support, if they haven’t been already?
I went there last season and we were I think second from bottom. I spoke to the manager and he just said ‘look, this club’s got ambitions to do good things, to win games and we’re looking to go up and win things,’ and you’re thinking ‘second from bottom, in that league, there’s no chance.’ You look at it a year later, two years later, we’ve won the league and obviously going to Wembley, which is a massive achievement considering there’s I think 600 other teams in it. Anyone that’s come to watch us, we do play good football, and we’ve got a decent squad; a couple of people that have played higher divisions as well. We do try and get the ball down, and it’ll be nice to play at Wembley, because for once we’ll have a pitch without bobbles! We have a really good team and we play some really attractive football. We’re top scorers in our league (with 108, ten more than anyone else), which shows that we like scoring goals.
Finally, what has this life in football up to now taught you the most, and has it changed you at all?
It’s quite a cliché, but obviously I’ve grown up in Hackney, which is quite a rough area, and without football, God knows what I would have done. I’d say it saved my life. It gives you a purpose and you get to meet new people. When I was at Charlton, we had so many different nationalities and you just get to really understand people and realise there’s a lot more to people than what you see. I think it’s quite important to take that outside of football as well; you try and get to know people before you judge them. A lot of my good friends are people I probably wouldn’t have spoken to outside on the street, and these are the sort of people I would call now for advice. Just life lessons: get to know people, don’t judge them, and take it from there.
Interview by @chris_brookes