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Apr 2, 2010

Eagles aiming to soar against all the odds

Away from the spotlight and the fancy cars and the impressive highlights reel, there is a human side to being a professional footballer.

It might be buried deep below the surface, but it is down there, thumping with its very own heartbeat. Sometimes it is jolted back up to where the real world exists to face issues that are commonplace amongst everyday folk. And when that happens, their fame and expensive possessions and medals seem worthless.

Alan Lee felt that emptiness on a Wednesday evening in January when he stood beside the baggage carousel in Newcastle airport. He had just gotten off a flight from London along with his Crystal Palace team-mates when his mobile phone buzzed with several text messages.

As he flicked through the messages, his stomach gurgled as the earlier rumours of the club slipping into administration had been confirmed. Not only was that a cruel way of finding out that his job was no longer secure, but his team had a match that night against the Championship leaders.

The 31-year-old tried to stay focused on the game and says they 'battered' Newcastle, but they got nothing for their efforts and departed St James's Park with a 2-0 defeat. The next day, the club was hit with an automatic ten-point deduction, which sent them tumbling from the play-off positions to just above the relegation zone.

"It was a real shock when I found out," he he told Soccernet. "Nobody from the club came to tell me - it was just friends texting me with questions that I didn't know the answer to. You are often in the dark when it comes to these sort of things.

"The ten-point penalty really hurt. We had done well to get up into the play-off places and it was like all that hard work was just lost. We only have a small squad, so the threat of being relegated was very real straight away.

"But you get on with it. There is nothing else you can do but try to win all of your games."

The powerful striker has already bypassed the period when he is meant to be feeling sorry for himself or regretting a move to Norwich City that never went through. He just wants to keep looking forward and that is why he is fully focused on Saturday's crunch game against Middlesbrough.

Lee, who was capped ten times for Republic of Ireland, started his career with Aston Villa after joining them as a schoolboy from Cherry Orchard. He has since gone on to enjoy a long career in England, with time spent at Torquay United, Port Vale, Burnley, Rotherham United, Cardiff City, Ipswich Town and Norwich.

Now he is at Palace and is determined to help the club avoid relegation. While everything around him appears to be falling apart, he is standing firm and sees no point in grumbling about his current situation.

From his perspective, football has provided him with a wonderful life thus far. Sometimes it doesn't go the way you want it to, but that is when you are tested most as a player and a person. So expect Lee to play a key role in Palace's remaining games of the season as he won't be one to hide away from the pressure.

"Footballers have a lot to be thankful for and it would be wrong of me to complain about deferred wages when there are so many people out there losing their jobs," he said.

"I have the chance to play football for a living and I'm thankful for that. It is all about getting on with the job now. The team spirit in the dressing room is fantastic.

"We are looking up and feel that we have enough quality in the squad to get out of the bottom three. It won't be easy, but that is the challenge in front of us now and it is up to us to get through it."

Gareth Maher covers Irish football for ESPN Soccernet. Check out his website, www.garethmaher.com, to read more of his writing.

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