Leegendary '“ Tommy's happiness with testimonial cameo, return of Cooky and host of ex team-mates
Tommy Lee's testimonial match wasn't a wake for the career cut short, but a celebration of what he loved doing '“ playing for the Spireites.
The 31-year-old goalkeeper, forced into early retirement last year through shoulder pain, pulled on the colours of Chesterfield FC one final time for a seven minute cameo against Wigan Athletic.
In the opposition line-up, the visitors’ dugout and the Proact stands contained former team-mates, his favourite boss and his loved ones.
And the overriding emotion as the door finally closed on his playing career was not sadness, but happiness.
“I’m just happy,” he said after the game, a fiercely competitive 1-1 draw.
“It was a really nice occasion for myself and my family.
“To get that opportunity again to get out on the pitch was nice.
“I did realise why I miss it so much.”
Lee, wearing shirt number 373 to mark the number of appearances he made as a Spireite, ran out through a guard of honour and received standing ovations both on arrival and departure from the game.
“It was good to get back out there, the ovation was lovely.
“I was a little bit emotional reading the programme and the brochure which Phil and the contributors have put together.
“But I’m just happy.”
Town fans getting to the game early to see the much changed Spireites were greeted by a familiar sight, the man who won two League Two titles and an EFL Trophy as a Spireite warming up in the Kop end goalmouth.
“It was a bit sore to be honest,” Lee admitted.
“It was strange.
“I’ve done it for so long, it was like second nature.
“It didn’t feel like I haven’t done it for eight months or whatever it’s been.
“I enjoyed it.”
Lee’s seven minutes or so of action were largely uneventful, but he did he to compete against former team-mate Sam Morsy, under the watchful eye of Latics boss Paul Cook.
It was Cook who guided Town to the second of Lee’s league titles and the manager Lee rated most highly during his 10-season Chesterfield career.
“When the game got announced he was straight on the phone to say he’d bring a team down, and he brought a really strong side.
“We wanted it to be a proper game, I feel sometimes testimonials can be a bit of a damp squib in terms of what’s going on on the field.
“They brought a competitive team and there was probably one too many tackles for his liking.
“He was probably my favourite manager, my best manager while I was at the club.
“For it to be rounded off in that sense was nice.”
The new man in charge at the Proact, Martin Allen, played his part in making it a special occasion for Lee, too.
“He’s been fantastic,” said Lee.
“He rang me a month ago to talk about the testimonial and said he’d do anything I wanted him to do to make the night run smoothly.
“He was true to his word, I’ve trained with the team a couple of times, worked with the goalkeepers, which was nice.
“And today he pretty much said I could do what I wanted.
“If I wanted to play 90 minutes I could have done. I wasn’t up to that but the five minutes was fantastic.
“After the game we had a little chat with the players in the changing room and that was nice to see.”
The launch of the Chesterfield FC Former Players Association took place before the game and a number of men who played alongside Lee were present for his big occasion.
He was grateful for their presence.
“I didn’t get to see everyone but I saw plenty of them.
“Especially the lads from the Paul Cook era, we did form some strong bonds and I still speak to that group once or twice a week.
“It’s just been a great evening.”
And he reiterated the message of thanks he gave on the microphone on the pitch at full-time, to those who not only made the testimonial special, but his 10 seasons as a Spireite.
“This is the centre piece of my testimonial events and it’s gone fantastically.
“That’s credit to (committee members) Phil Tooley, Howard Borrell, Steve Coe, John Taylor and Ian Browse who have been fantastic at organising things.
“And I just want to thank the fans for their generosity.”
Having played nearly 400 times for the club over such a long spell, Lee has a strong affinity with Chesterfield FC.
His passion for the Spireites came out during goal celebrations last season when he commentated on Peak FM following his retirement.
It drew him back into the changing room late in the campaign when Ian Evatt took over as caretaker and Lee acted as his goalkeeping coach.
So he took a keen interest and obvious delight in how the new bunch of Spireites fared in the match against Championship opposition.
“The game was good, a good test for - not an untested team - but a team that’s won pretty comfortably against every team they’ve played so far.
“I sat next to Zavon (Hines) in the changing rooms at half-time and he said this is what we need, this is fantastic, playing against a team who keep the ball, playing against players they’re not going to play against week in and week out in the National League.
“The manager echoed that, he said if you can close down and harry and win the ball and create chances against this team, then it’s going to be difficult but you’re not going to play teams as good as them in the National League.
“I think it was positive for me, entertaining for the fans and definitely positive for a new Chesterfield side.”