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Today marks the 20th anniversary since fans of Sheffield United, Watford, West Bromwich Albion and Cardiff City moaned the loss one of their former players: Mel Rees who passed away on 30 May 1993 following a long illness.
Rees had begun his football career with hometown club Cardiff City in 1984 and made his debut that year in September in a 4-2 defeat to Brighton. During his career at Ninnian Park he was hampered with a wrist injury and by the time he had recovered, Graham Moseley had been drafted in as number one shot stopper, in 1987 he transferred to Watford for £60,000.
He found opportunities limited at Vicarage Road and spent the majority of his three year spell as understudy to Tony Coton, who later had an established career with Manchester City. Rees had spells on loan at Crewe Alexandra, Southampton and Leyton Orient before signing up with West Bromwich Albion in 1990playing 18 times in a two year stint where he also played at Norwich City on loan.
After leaving the Hawthorns in March 1992 he was snapped up by Dave Bassett at Sheffield United for a measly sum of just £25,000. He soon made his debut, with injury to Simon Tracey he was handed the number one jersey against Liverpool later that month.
That summer he was given the terrible news that he had cancer of the bowl and after several surgical procedures looked to make a full recovery but by March 1993 it had returned, on 3 April he – at the request of his team mates, proudly led his Sheffield United colleagues into a Wembley pitch to face rivals Sheffield Wednesday in the FA Cup Semi-Final; he wasn’t fit enough to play but both sets of supporters applauded his battle. "Wembley was fantastic for him. Both sets of supporters, 80,000, stood and applauded him. Football paled in significance while he walked round. It was very brave.” Said former United defender Kevin Gage.
Sadly, it was a battle which he was to lose and on 30 May 1993 the tragic news was filtered through the airways of local and national radio that Rees, aged 26 had sadly passed away.
A newspaper report in The Independent printed on 1st June read; ‘Mel Rees, the Sheffield United goalkeeper who has been fighting cancer for a year, has died. In his last public appearance Rees led his team out at Wembley for their FA Cup semi-final against Sheffield Wednesday last month. Rees, 26, who survived two major operations, appeared to have beaten the disease earlier this year, but was re-admitted to hospital in March. Derek Dooley, the United chairman, said: 'He kept his sense of humour and was cheerful right to the end.'
Since the passing of his death there has been various charity events taken place, such as the Mel Rees Tournament and it is hoped that another is to be arranged soon.
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