Remembering the mark Mel Rees left on Sheffield United, 29 years after tragic passing with cancer

His career at Bramall Lane may have been brief – but the impact he made on fans of Sheffield United has lasted through the decades since his tragic passing, 29 years ago today.

Monday, 30th May 2022, 12:54 pm

Mel Rees lost his battle with cancer on May 30, 1993, having waved goodbye to United with a pre-match lap of honour ahead of the FA Cup semi-final against city rivals Wednesday at Wembley.

Weeks later he was gone, at the age of just 26.

Owls supporters jouned in the applause for Rees ahead of the game and Kevin Gage, a teammate of Rees’ at Bramall Lane, remembered previously the “heartbreaking” situation of watching the Welshman’s battle.

"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."

Pale and gaunt, Rees’ Wembley goodbye was a moment which transcended sport, and rivalry. He had just undergone a second operation on the bowel cancer which claimed his life and the late Derek Dooley, then United's chairman, admitted: "Mel was a bright lad and when the cancer came back, I think he knew what the eventual outcome would be."

Mel Rees in his Sheffield United days

Rees died at the home of his girlfriend, Louise, in Derby.

‘It was very brave’

"Wembley was fantastic for him", Gage, who played over 100 times for United, added.

"Both sets of supporters, 80,000 fans, 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.

Mel Rees on his lap of honour around Wembley before the 1993 FA Cup semi-final against Wednesday. A few weeks later, he had passed away

"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."

The Welsh goalkeeper arrived at United from West Brom for just £25,000, and played only eight games, but fans still remember some of his remarkable performances in a United shirt and few players have left such a significant mark on the club in such a short space of time.

An amazing man taken too soon

Alan Kelly, another legendary goalkeeper at United, thought he was arriving at Bramall Lane as cover for Rees and Simon Tracey.

“I didn’t know at the time that Mel was ill," the former Republic of Ireland stopper added.

"I met him on our return from a pre-season tour; he held out his hand and said ‘don’t worry, it’s not contagious!’

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“He was an amazing man, who was sadly taken from us too soon. I will never forget walking off the Wembley pitch after that semi-final defeat to Wednesday, together with Mel.

“That was the only moment in my life which made me realise there were more important things in life than football.”