Former Middlesbrough and Sunderland stars led a team of legends as Graeme Lee's XI went up against a Hartlepool United XI for charity at the Suit Direct Stadium

Hartlepool United stars of the past put on their boots once more to join a host of legends taking part in the Gemma Lee charity game at the Suit Direct Stadium on Monday.

By Joe Ramage
Monday, 2nd May 2022, 5:50 pm

Graeme Lee led out a select XI of legends up against a Hartlepool United XI in front of several hundred fans who packed out most of the Cyril Knowles Stand all in aid of raising funds for Lee’s wife, Gemma, and her treatment for an inoperable brain tumour.

And Lee marked the occasion with a goal as he converted from the penalty spot against Dimi Konstantopoulos but it was not enough to be on the winning side as the Pools XI ran out 4-2 winners.

Lee’s wife Gemma was told she had 12 months to live in 2019 after she was diagnosed with the brain cancer but has been able to continue her fight thanks to a trial drug called ONC201 after the couple extensively searched worldwide for potential treatments to the cause.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

Graeme Lee alongside Micky Barron and Hartlepool referee Tony Harrington ahead of the Gemma Lee charity game at the Suit Direct Stadium. Picture by FRANK REID

The drug, which comes at a cost of £5,000-a-month, has helped to stabilise her condition with Lee, along with several players of the past, helping to raise further funds and awareness to the condition in Monday’s contest.

Lee and his wife were left ‘forever grateful’ to Crystal Palace back in February after the Premier League club helped raise over £60,000 towards the Gemma Lee foundation, over a year's supply of the German-based drug, following the FA Cup fourth round meeting between the two clubs at Selhurst Park.

“What Crystal Palace have done for me and the family is absolutely immense and I’ll never forget it,” Lee said back in February.

“I would have remembered this game no matter what but for what Crystal Palace and their supporters have done, I think the funds have already gone above a year's supply of medication for my wife which for us, knowing we’ve got that, is absolutely unbelievable.

Hartlepool United fans showing their support for the Gemma Lee charity game at the Suit Direct Stadium. Picture by FRANK REID

“Not only the funds but the support as well. That means as much as the money because my wife knowing there’s that many people supporting her and giving her well wishes, there can only be positive things from it.”

And that awareness continued at the Suit Direct Stadium thanks to Ian Clark and Michael Barron, two of Lee’s ex-team-mates at Hartlepool, who organised the charity event with the support of the club’s chief operating officer Stephen Hobin and kit supplier Motif8, who provided the strips for both teams on the day.

“We have been friends for over 25 years and both have been at each other’s side at our weddings,” said Clark, who made over 150 appearances for Pools between 1997-2001, on organising the event.

“Spike and Gem are godparents to my two eldest children, so to be able to be involved in something to try to help in some way is the least I can do.

“I couldn’t imagine what Gem goes through and the worry of raising these funds is unthinkable.

“We want this to be a fun, competitive game with all proceeds going to Gem’s fund.

“All players have given up their time to support Gem. This is a fantastic opportunity for people to see their Pools heroes and some fantastic names in football.”

For Pools, there were names such as Barron, Peter Hartley, Tommy Miller, Mark Tinkler, Adam Boyd and current assistant manager Michael Nelson.

For Lee, his selection of legends included former Middlesbrough stars Jonathan Woodgate and Tony McMahon as well as ex-Sunderland captains Lee Cattermole and Grant Leadbitter.

Cattermole, in particular, remained as tenacious as ever setting the tone by crunching into an early tackle on Kevin Henderson which went unnoticed by Hartlepool’s own Premier League referee, Tony Harrington.

But the contest remained good-natured throughout as both teams looked to put on a show for the fans who came to support such a good cause.

Leadbitter tried to catch out Konstantopoulos and please fans with a speculative effort from all of 40-yards in the early stages before McMahon and Neil Bishop wasted good opportunities for Lee’s XI.

Despite Cattermole’s bite in the tackle it was former Boro, Newcastle United and Real Madrid defender Woodgate who went into the book first as both he and referee Harrington shared a joke on field to the crowds delight.

And then came the opening goal of the game, a rocket from Tinkler from all of 25-yards into the top corner of Peter Keen’s net.

The Pools XI doubled the lead on half-time when Jonathan Franks bundled in a second as the players headed off for a well earned breather.

Lee’s XI came out fighting in the second half and were back in contention as the Pools boss himself strolled up to hammer home a penalty beyond Konstantopoulos to reduce the deficit.

Marc Ellison restored the two goal lead soon after only for a quick response as Guy Branston powered in from close range.

The Pools XI regained their two goal lead again though through Steven Istead who poked a ball beyond Keen from inside the area.

And that’s how it remained as both sets of players received a warm reception from supporters in acknowledgement of a successful event.

As for ratings? There were plenty of tired legs out there but they all get a 10 for their endeavours.

Graeme Lee XI: Peter Keen, Tony McMahon, Jonathan Woodgate, Graeme Lee, Ian Clark, Neil Bishop, Graham Kavanagh, Grant Leadbitter, Lee Cattermole, Chris Brunt, James Coppinger

Subs: Ian Miller, Johnny Franks, Kev Horlock, Guy Branston, Jeff Smith, Neil Maddison

Hartlepool United XI: Dimi Konstantopoulos, Michael Nelson, Micky Barron, Peter Hartley, Tommy Butler, Tommy Miller, Mark Tinkler, Evan Horwood, Jonathan Franks, Kevin Henderson, Adam Boyd

Subs: John Brackstone, Steven Istead, Mark Robinson, Paul Connor, Marc Ellison, Tony Lormor, Ste Turnbull