Looking back in fond memory at Tommy's farewell
It's quite shocking to realise that Chesterfield's favourite number one of recent years was forced to retire just over eight months ago; where did the time go?
Spireites goalkeeper Tommy Lee’s announcement of his retirement in early November last year took so many by surprise, even though we knew all too well of his persistent injury struggles, a war that Lee had been fighting for quite some time.
A shoulder injury forced the former Manchester United youngster to miss the entire 2016/17 season, and despite making a comeback in the following pre-season, the pain he experienced was overbearing.
There was little else he could do after such a cruel blow, and we could only sympathise with him when, aged just 31, he decided that enough was enough.
But on Wednesday 25 July, us as supporters of Chesterfield Football Club and huge admirers of such a true professional and role model will be able to show Lee just how much he has meant to this club over the nine years that he spent with the Spireites.
Over 373 appearances – of which there could have been many more if not for his injuries – Lee went from being the new kid on the block to Chesterfield’s undisputed number one, Johnstone’s Paint Trophy winner and two-time League Two champion, and unforgettably infamous one-on-one expert.
It is undeniable that Tommy was one of the best goalkeepers to wear the shirt, and there are plenty of memories to remind us of the ability he had.
Just to pluck a few from a pretty fruitful tree, how about that one-on-one save against Portsmouth live on television back in March 2014, or the moment he carried 10-man Chesterfield to victory over Plymouth Argyle three months earlier with an unstoppable goalkeeping performance, including an unbelievable penalty save.
Lee was almost consistently an incredible shot-stopper, and supporters were in vast agreement that he should have had a crack at Championship level, something which he regrettably will never have the chance to experience.
Especially when looking back at all the former Spireites who made the step up to the Championship and even Premier League, it’s hard not to believe that Tommy was robbed of a higher-level playing career.
Perhaps if his one weakness – that being commanding his penalty area from crosses and corners – was improved upon, he may well have easily reached Championship level. Every goalkeeper has his faults, though, and he became known amongst the fans as “the best stopper outside England’s top two tiers”.
But what truly made Lee a Chesterfield great was his character, not just his ability.
He remained loyal to the club despite interest from bigger outfits, he always had time for everyone, and he played an important part in Chesterfield’s community work, most recently in the Community Trust’s Soccer School held in May.
It comes with no raised eyebrows that Lee, with valuable contributions made to the community and such an amiable and down-to-earth character, quickly became a favourite amongst the younger age groups of the fan base, although it’s undeniable that almost everyone is an admirer.
He pushed through injury crises with constant and persistent professionalism, forever fighting hard to return to first-team football until he could give no more.
If there ever was a personification of professionalism, Tommy Lee would tick all the boxes.
He has been a true role model to all who have followed his career, and he has fully deserved every ounce of praise that he received over the years.
It is upsetting for all to see hard work ultimately fail to repay a player who deserved as full and successful a career as any footballer, but we can now look onwards to wish him the very best in whatever he may do next, and more importantly give him the fitting, emotional send-off that his lengthy Chesterfield tenure has warranted.