Memories of Mel Rees: 15th anniversary of Blades keeper's death

TODAY sees the 15th anniversary of the death of Mel Rees, the former Sheffield United keeper. Ex-teammate Kevin Gage talked to Danny Hall.

Cancer robbed Mel Rees of his life at the age of 26.

But he left behind a legacy of fond memories among fans and one-time teammates alike.

Cardiff-born Rees arrived at United from West Bromwich Albion for 25,000.

The Welshman spent only a short time at Bramall Lane, before his health deteriorated and he died on May 30, 1993. But his impact at the club can still be felt.

"Mel was signed because we had a goalkeeping crisis," recalls Gage, who played more than 100 times for the Blades.

"No-one knew much about him when he joined, and he was pitched straight into the team for a debut against Liverpool without meeting any of us. But he was phenomenal and we won 2-0, Brian Deane scored both.

"No-one could believe how good he was. With a new goalkeeper anything can happen, but he was outstanding and we wondered what on earth he was doing with us if he was this good!"

Despite making only nine appearances in United colours, Rees certainly made an impact on supporters - few players have made such a lasting impression in such a brief career at any club.

Testimony of the esteem he was held in was the reception he received at Wembley in April 1993.

Ahead of the meeting between both Sheffield teams in the FA Cup semi-final, he paraded on the pitch – weeks before his passing.

"Wembley was fantastic for him", Gage continued.

"Both sets of supporters, 80,000, stood and applauded him. Football paled in significance while he walked round. It was very brave. Quite a few United staff were affected by it - in hindsight, I don't think it was fantastic preparation for a game. But he deserved his moment in the limelight."

His decline had deeply affected his teammates.

"Watching Mel get so ill was heartbreaking," added Gage. "Credit to him, though, he didn't mope around the place – he spent the time with his family.

"He still used to pop down occasionally, and it was then we realised the severity of his illness. The next few times we saw him he looked a shadow of his self."

The goalkeeper's legacy is carried on by the annual Mel Rees Tournament, held every summer at United's academy to raise money for St Luke's Hospice.

"He was a lively character, as most goalkeepers are, he certainly fitted in well with the United way of life – slightly off-beat and off the wall – and he made some very good friends at Bramall Lane. He is still sadly missed".

What do you think? Leave your tribute to Mel Rees below.

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