THE first thing that strikes you as you enter the Centenary Park clubrooms is a bar with a Shiplap timber cladding façade.
There’s signage on the façade. It reads: “The Clayton Lee Bar.”
Lower your gaze to a 75-year-old grey-haired man with a welcoming smile and a lilting Welsh accent.
He is serving behind the bar – his bar – and he’s been doing that for decades.
Since July 1982 when the Lee family from south Wales emigrated to Australia Clayton Lee has been one of the constants of the local game.
Lee, wife Ann and oldest son Darren joined Skye Rovers that year with Darren Lee’s younger brother Ryan starting his football journey the following year with Rovers.
The family patriarch has watched his first club here metamorphose into Frankston United, Frankston Strikers and eventually Peninsula Strikers.
He’s been a player and administrator (vice-president at one stage) and during his time there has watched three championship-winning sides strut their stuff – in 1996 and 2000 under player-coach Russell Black and in 2007 when George Hughes and his men claimed the State 3 South-East championship.
“Yeah in Blackie’s days I’d say that was the best down here,” Lee said.
“The skill and the football level were the big things and everybody played for each other – they all knew what they had to do.”
The highlight of Lee’s playing career came on Saturday, 19 September 1987.
It’s a game etched in his memory. The only senior appearance he ever made.
“It was the last game of the season against Lyndale up at the school (Lyndale Secondary College) and they kept me on for the whole 90 minutes,” he said with a laugh.
“I started off up front then Lyndale scored so they put me back in defence but Lyndale won 1-0.”
It’s a measure of the Lee family’s contribution to Strikers that Clayton, Ann and Ryan Lee are all life members.
The darkest time in Clayton’s Lee involvement with the club came in July 2019 when Ann Lee died and he was thankful of the support Strikers provided.
“It was a very emotional thing and the club did everything they could to try and make things easier for me.
“I can’t fault them in that respect.
“Ann was such a big loss for the club as she did so much work with the canteen and other things there and the club was such a big part of our lives here in Australia.
“Over the years we’ve met a lot of people and made good friends and that’s all down to being part of the club.”
Lee manages the bar and it’s a time-intensive role especially if Strikers are playing at home the day after the club’s fortnightly karaoke night.
“Well it all starts on Thursday night at training then if there’s karaoke on the Friday and a home game on the Saturday that’s really your weekend taken up.
“I tell people it’s not the hours serving behind the bar but the hours it takes preparing and trying to make sure things run smoothly.
“Saturday can often be a 12-hour day from start to finish and if a function goes late into the night you’ve got to clean up and you can be leaving there at 2.30 in the middle of the night sometimes.
“To be honest I don’t know how much longer I can keep doing this.
“I’m getting older now you know,” he said before bursting into laughter once more.
It hasn’t all been smooth sailing for the Welshman though.
“I can’t tell you for sure when I started running the bar but it’s got to be at least 30-odd years ago now.
“And I’ve resigned from doing it a few times when things weren’t going right when I was doing everything and not getting any sort of help but I’ve always come back to doing it and I’m sure these things happen at all the clubs.”
Lee has witnessed a cavalcade of coaches at the helm during his time with the club and he admits that he clashed with the committee over some selections.
“I’ve been on committees a few times when coaches were sacked and new ones hired and I’ve had a few rows when I knew some coaches shouldn’t have been hired because I knew what they were like.
“One time I went overseas thinking the coaching situation had been sorted and I got a phone call when I was away to tell me they’d hired a new coach.
“I’m not going to name names but I wasn’t happy about that and I explained what happened to the old coach when I got back.”
But Lee no longer is at odds with the committee over coaching appointments.
“I don’t get involved with that sort of stuff anymore.
“I just think it’s their job (the committee) to get the people in to put a good team on the park and it’s my job to run the bar.
“And to be fair the committee have done very well.
“We had two years of COVID plus the ground getting ripped up and a new ground laid so we couldn’t use the clubrooms the way we usually would have.
‘We couldn’t afford really to buy new players and those young boys we used this year absolutely gave it their all.
“What I liked about it was there wasn’t really a reserves team or a senior team – they were all one team.
“There was no them and us among the players and everybody fitted in well plus those young boys played their hearts out.
“Some of the boys who played last season were inexperienced at that level so you’d think they’d develop a lot.
“And from what I see the players think they can go out and try and win the thing.
“In the space of a year they’ve reversed the talk from all this rubbish about getting relegated to finishing on top of the league.
“In just one season.
“Not bad eh?” Lee said with a broad grin.