COLUMN: Tommy Lee retires at 31...a good guy but a great Spireite

Chesterfield vs Sheffield United - Tommy Lee - Pic By James Williamson
Chesterfield vs Sheffield United - Tommy Lee - Pic By James Williamson

Tommy Lee is one of the game’s nice guys but that’s not why he has earned a place in Spireites folklore.

There’s a reason the goalkeeper stuck around to see the start of his 10th season as a Chesterfield player and it’s not because he’s a lovely lad.

We can be sentimental about football, but it’s a game that often has no place for sentiment.

You don’t play over 400 games in the Football League because the fans like you.

You can’t retire with a pair of League Two medals and a Football League Trophy medal, having played in League One and League Two play-offs, because you’re a top bloke who poses for pictures.

Lee has climbed the Wembley steps to lift silverware and worn the Chesterfield colours 373 times because he’s a proven winner and a good goalkeeper – even when he’s playing through pain.

The shoulder problem that requiredsurgeons to open him up time and time again since 2016 has brought a premature end to Lee’s career, at the relatively tender age of 31.

Yet he defied that injury and the odds to make a comeback and show flashes of the brilliance that made him so popular with the Proact faithful.

He won and kept a clean sheet in his first competitive game in 15 months.

In the 0-0 draw with Coventry there were a couple of moments when he looked back to his best, even if he wasn’t feeling it.

His final game, fittingly, came at the Proact where he’s enjoyed some of the best moments of his career.

After the 2-2 draw with Carlisle he was honest in his appraisal of the second goal, admitting it was a shot he should have saved, a shot he had saved in the past.

For the player who this year earned first class honours in a journalism degree, the writing was on the wall.

The toll of that injury, those surgeries was too much and Lee has had to make a devastating decision.

News of his retirement is not only a blow to Chesterfield’s on-field aspirations but to off-field morale, such is the esteem he’s held in by team-mates and Town fans.

Derbyshire Times readers recently voted him as the ‘greatest ever Spireites keeper’, ahead of Sam Hardy and Gordon Banks.

Lee might reject out of hand such a suggestion but it’s a fact that he has contributed more to the club’s list of honours than either of those England legends.

Football boasts many people who are great humans off the field and Lee is one of those – but that’s not what makes him a great Spireite.