Where are they now? Mick Lee

Grand finals are the highlights of most footballers careers, and the annals of the game are littered with hard luck stories.

Although a regular at Subiaco for much of the mid-eighties, when the club were consistent grand finalists, the Gods conspired against midfielder Mick Lee to such an extent that he appeared doomed never to be part of the big September action, missing out on two consecutive playoffs and being injured inside a minute in a third.

Finally taking his place on Subiaco Oval at his fourth attempt, Lee not only grabbed the moment, but ended proceedings with a Simpson Medal around his neck. 

Perseverance and a never say die spirit was the hallmark of Mick Lee’s approach to football.

A product of Kalgoorlie’s CBC school, where fellow Lions Glen O’Loughlin, Dick Robinson and Gerry Cotter also learnt their trade, Lee was immediately under notice, not from Subiaco, but Essendon, where another former Goldfields footballer in Alec Epis had alerted the Bombers about the young centreman, who had won the Association under eighteen fairest and best trophy in 1978.

Unable to be signed on a form four and at seventeen too young to play for Essendon, Lee spent the 1979 season training with the Bombers and playing for Amateur side St Bernards in Melbourne, before homesickness took hold, and he was able to transfer his teaching studies to Perth. 

An East Perth supporter but living in Subiaco’s recruiting zone, Mick did his 1980 pre season training at Perth Oval, and was part of a package put together by Trevor Nisbett involving the transfer of Mick Ray, Archie Duda, Brent Levitzke and Ken Screech to Subiaco, with himself and John Dimmer headed for the Royals. Subiaco president and former star player at the club, Kevin Merifield, was no fool, however, and paid Lee a visit. We don’t know much about you, he said, and we aren’t letting a young bloke go without having a decent look at him.

So it was that Mick lined up with the Maroons for a practice match. I wasn’t enthusiastic about it initially, he recalled, but it transpired that there were half a dozen Kalgoorlie boys playing in the game, so things changed quickly. I’d had trouble settling in, and that changed my mind.

At five foot nine, Lee was an in and under player, with loads of pace, a good kick, and the ability to run the ball through the lines.

Playing with the Colts in early 1980, then the reserves, the youngster received a couple of life’s lessons when he made the league side later that year. I debuted on Brian Peake, and followed up a fortnight later with Maurice Rioli, he told Footygoss. Lee was one of a number of future stars blooded during the course of the 1980 season, others including Brian Taylor, Clinton Brown, Laurie Keene, and Dwayne Lamb.

In a forerunner of the luck to come for Mick, the pre season of 1981 saw him out of action with a groin injury, before the curse of young players, Osteoporosis, struck, and he spent most of the year watching from the sidelines.

With the emergence of more young stars of the future in Bevan Warner, Warren Dean, Michael Mort, and Mark Zanotti, Subiaco were on the brink of a new era in 1982, with Lee’s form hampered by an injury he didn’t know he had until the end of the 1983 season. Continually pulling up sore after training and playing, it wasn’t until that time that he discovered he’d had a broken bone in his leg.

A late starter under Haydn Bunton in 1984, Lee played in a winning reserves grand final, before being selected in the league side sixteen times the following season, but used mainly on the bench. “Bunton wanted me to have a good hitout in the last home and away game, so I played in the reserves, where I promptly put my shoulder out, finishing my season, he lamented. 

Playing reserves in 1986, Lee won the Pendergast Medal as best in the competition, was selected in the league side for the Preliminary Final, and was part of a seventy one point drubbing of Perth, but found himself out of the victorious grand final side. It was another blow, but 1987 loomed as a year of losses to the club, with several players going to the newly formed West Coast Eagles, and others returning to Victoria, so the challenge was there for the rest of us, Mick said. 

Selected in the Western Australian side that played South Australia at the WACA in June of 1987, Lee looked set to break his finals hoodoo, with Subiaco once again in the grand final. Starting the game on the bench, Mick ran onto the oval ten minutes into the first quarter, ran fifty metres, and tore a hamstring. Subiaco went on to lose to Claremont by seventy one points.

It was in 1988 that the perseverance paid off. After finishing fourth in Sandover Medal voting to East Perth’s David Bain, Mick Lee lined up on a half forward flank with a roving commission to be prominent in his side’s sixty two point premiership win over Claremont. The day was made complete for Lee with the presentation of the Simpson Medal for best player. He was unable to complete the trifecta with the Subiaco fairest and best award, however, good friend Brian Taylor pipping him on the post, after Lee had held a five vote lead up to the final three games, where a broken thumb had sidelined him for two matches.

After Subiaco lost the 1991 grand final to Claremont, the thirty year old Mick Lee, with a new baby, retired from league football. He had played a hundred and fifty seven league games in the maroon and gold, contributing 127 goals.

Spending the following two years as playing coach of West Coast Amateurs, where he guided them to a Qualifying final in his second year only to be bundled out in ‘straight sets, Lee handed over the reigns to John Dimmer, who set off on a successful coaching career. It was the circle completed, Mick observed. Dimmer had crossed to East Perth from Subiaco in a move that almost included a young Lee thirteen years earlier.

In a final swansong, Lee returned to West Coast Amateurs three years later, under the coaching of Phil Cronan, a move that the old hamstring didn’t agree with.

Mick regarded Maurice Rioli(South Fremantle), Peter Menaglio(West Perth) and Mark Hann(Claremont) as his toughest opponents, while giving plaudits to team mates Peter Featherby, a fantastic player and bloke, Gary Buckenara, and Dean Kemp.

Lee, a financial advisor since 1988, who counts cricketers Sam Gannon and Craig Sergeant and former Fremantle and Claremont footballer Brad Wirra as workmates at financial planners Shadforth Financial Group, achieved an ambition recently when he ran onto the Melbourne Cricket Ground. But it wasn’t at football.

I’m into marathon running, he said. A veteran of two marathons in Western Australia, he lined up for the Victorian Marathon in October.

Michael and wife Rose are the proud parents of Rachel, Kate, Erin, and Simon, and enjoy travelling, with Bali a favourite, and Mick is looking forward to sharing in eleven year old Simon’s football career.

Mick Lee’s approach to the game exemplified his career. A tenacious and relentless attitude saw him overcome the hurdles to star in a premiership

 

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