With her model-looks and stylish dress-sense, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Kathryn Lichaj sits around the house all day, deciding what to wear.
Think again because Kat, who is married to Forest full-back Eric Lichaj, is working hard to help dress everybody else. She is soon to open her own clothing store in Annesley, and I went along to see how the renovations were going. Just as important, I wanted to get her views on the perception of footballers’ wives.
Most of you will recognise Kat from the ‘Come Dine With Me’ TV programme just over a year ago. What struck a chord with me straight away was her reaction to the term ‘WAG. Mrs Lichaj was quick to remove herself from any such slogan, and with good reason too. She did, of course, have her own business at the time, retailing prom dresses from her Mystique Boutique operation.
Having previously worked for Next, Kat told me that “clothes are an important part of first impressions” as she embellished on her love of fashion. It was while working at Next in the West Midlands that she and Eric began dating. Once again, the average Joe would probably assume this to be the result of nightclub entrapment. Wrong again! Eric, who was an Aston Villa player back then, was introduced to Kat by his teammate at the time, Marc Albrighton, who was, in turn, dating a colleague of Kat.
“I wasn’t looking to date a footballer, to be honest, but having both agreed to a kind of blind date, I soon discovered that he wasn’t a stereotypical footballer and that we did indeed have similar, crazy personalities,” Kat said.
As we returned to the subject of ‘Come Dine With Me’, Kat unearthed a startling revelation. She explained that because she was married to a footballer , “they’d already mapped out how they’d like me to behave, and it turned a little sour”. Kat explained that when she conducted herself in a normal down-to-earth way, she was encouraged to “be more like a footballer’s wife”!
This just goes to prove how hard it is for women like Kat to change perceptions. If a so-called reality show is behaving like this, then what chance do you have? The worst bit of it all for her was having to miss a Forest match for the first time. Kat told me she was bound by a contract to film every episode. It is testimony to her support for Eric as opposed to her own vanity that watching Forest v Huddersfield on a cold Thursday night was her number one priority.
Since the Lichajs moved to Nottinghamshire, they have been living in the north of the county, which is unusual for such a young, vibrant couple. But Eric and Kat, who are 27 and 26 respectively, absolutely love their location. Surely the likes of West Bridgford would seem more appealing and trendy, but they
are drawn to the likes of Clumber Park and Rufford Park for family outings.
This led me to assume that this was the sole reason for housing Kat’s new business in Annesley. However, as we sat in the café just up from the shop, I soon realised that Eric and Kat were very much part of the furniture around here. Mrs Lichaj seemed to know all the locals and, more importantly, she took time to catch up with them as they filtered through the door. It would be so easy just to tend to her own premises and get ‘straight outta dodge’, as they say. Quite the opposite, in fact. Kat went into overdrive as she began to explain the “massive potential that Forest Road, Annesley possesses”.
“It’s a really busy road and there are always people passing by and popping into the shops,” she said. “The business owners are getting their heads together and providing loyalty points for adjacent shops, which encourages people to use them all”. I likened her vision to that of Mary Portas and her crusade to save the British high street. Kat nodded enthusiastically and told me that it was it was possible to make this happen.
As we supped more coffee, I quizzed Kat about the name of her new business, Katwalk Kouture. The Kat part is self-explanatory and Kouture is an adaptation of the word couture, which refers to fashion design. She explained that ‘matching’ is a big part of fashion right now and will feature at the store straight away. Mrs Lichaj tried to keep a straight face as she jokingly said: “Just call me the Kim Kardashian of Kirkby”. More proof that she is not one to take herself too seriously.
We should, at this point, spare a thought for the poor lad that we left painting the shop’s exterior. Some dude from Chicago called Eric! Seriously, how many Championship footballers would you expect to see working on a former fruit and veg shop in November? It’s truly applaudable that both Kat and Eric have gone
into this project with such a hands-on approach. More proof that they are pretty normal and a world away from stereotypical.
“It’s a chance to put our own stamp on the shop by decorating it ourselves, rather than getting someone else to do it” said Kat. “Also, whatever I save on decorating, I can put into the running of the shop when it’s finished, and I do love a task now and again”.
The next part of our conversation brought a huge smile to my face and will be music to the ears of every Nottingham Forest supporter. I mentioned that Eric’s contract would keep him at the club until 2018 and asked if the couple were planning to stay in the county after this date. Kat told me instantly that Eric wants to stay at Forest until he retires. “This is why I’ve gone ahead with the shop,” she said. “Because we’re here to stay.”. She also spoke of Eric’s desire to captain the club again one day and possibly go on to coach here when he hangs up his boots. Amen to that!
It seems that, due to her transparency on social media, the consensus is that Kat is a very normal lady, and she certainly is. Kat is genuinely excited about working for a living and, in her own words, “bringing Annesley back to life” in the process. “The culture of footballers’ wives has changed,” she told me. “Even the housewives of Cheshire are doing their bit.”
Katwalk Kouture, (146 Forest Road, Annesley, NG17 9HH), which will cater for children and mature women, is opening its doors on Saturday, November 26 and will be the result of some serious graft and determination by Kat and Eric. Its very presence will, hopefully, go some way towards changing perceptions of the modern day footballer’s wife.