Lee finally sees light at the end of the tunnel and pencils in a comeback
On a lush green football pitch in the middle of the Spanish countryside, goalkeeper Tommy Lee finally saw the light at the end of the tunnel.
As he stepped off the team bus at Chesterfield’s training base in Huelva last Monday, it was one year, two months and one week since his last appearance in a football match.
But the progress the 31-year-old made on the grass last week has allowed him to not just dream of a comeback, but pencil in a date for a return to match action.
Lee went under the knife for a left shoulder problem at the end of the 2015/16 campaign and subsequently missed the entire 2016/17 season through complications and further operations.
“It’s probably the first time in my career when I’ve not played any football,” he said.
“There was definitely frustration.
“Other than last season I think I’ve been pretty much involved in almost every game since I was 22 so that was a little bit strange for me to get used to.
“It’s part of the job but I have been lucky with injuries, I’ve not had many so I’ve had my bad luck all at once.”
But after several setbacks over the past 12 months, things appear to be going right for the popular stopper.
He’s understandably buoyed by the events of last week, which saw him take part in his first ‘proper’ training game since the initial operation.
“It’s been really encouraging,” he said.
“If you’d asked me two weeks ago whether I’d be playing in the small sided games at the end of training I’d have said no, no chance.
“But we’ve had a really good week’s training with Dukey, under the guidance of Mick the physio and everything has gone well.
“I’ve been strengthening in the summer, I did a lot of work in the summer to try and get a bit of muscle bulk back and I’ve got a little back.
“That’s certainly helped me.”
For Lee that first small sided encounter was quite a big deal, given the length of his absence from the sport.
“It’s not so much a shock to the system but it’s almost like you’re starting again.
“You can do a lot of work with the goalkeeping coach and you know roughly where the ball is going, so you can prepare yourself.
“But when you’re facing a striker and he can put it anywhere it’s a little bit different.
“But that’s the sort of practice I’m going to need.”
The man who already has two Chesterfield promotions on his CV would dearly love to make it a hat-trick, but his immediate challenge is getting back to his physical best.
“It’s been a long time now and it’s going to be a season of battles but the first battle I need to win is with my body, getting to a stage where I know I can do the job to the level I want to do it,” he said.
“That’s the key, if I’m not going to reach the level where I want to be then there’s no point.
“But I’m getting there.
“It was getting tough, I was struggling to see a light at the end of the tunnel but this week has been brilliant for me.
“Being with the lads, training properly, I’ve not missed a sesion, I’ve done everything the other goalkeepers have done, so I’m pleased.”
Lee can now, at long last, begin to think about and prepare for that moment when he crosses the white line and take up his position between the posts at the Proact.
It will be a moment that means a lot to the club’s supporters, who have taken the keeper to heart since his August 2008 arrival.
He can’t say when it will be, but if his progression continues the long wait will soon be over.
“We’ve pencilled in a fixture, I won’t say which one yet but we’ve pencilled it in.
“If I can stay on the track I’m on at the minute there’s no reason I won’t be playing in that.”