Former Rovers captain Graeme Lee looks back at his time at Rovers in an exclusive interview with Chris Donald of the Rovers media team.
What is your role at Middlesbrough?
It has a title is Professional Development Coach. I’m an Under-21s coach. Jamie Clapham is the lead coach and I’m his assistant in the Under-21s.
Are you still playing alongside your coaching role?
No, I was forced into retiring because my knee just wasn’t recovering right. When I moved back home I had an operation on it but it meant I couldn’t play professional football any more. Luckily enough I came into the academy here at Boro to do some coaching beforehand and then went and played a bit of part time football but it wasn’t worth the risk on my knee because if it goes again I’m going to need a replacement. Fortunately enough I was in the academy and I came here in the scouting department and now I’m coaching in the Under-21s.
One of the many things you’re remembered for at Rovers is the goal at Cardiff in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy final in 2007. What do you remember of that day and the cup run as a whole?
I remember it brilliantly. It’s one of the moments in my career I look back on. It was a very proud moment because I was captain at Doncaster as well which made me even more proud. I think we thought we were out of it at one point until Pricey brought us back into it from nowhere in the area final against Crewe. Then the final was just one of those games, you’re 2-0 up early on and you think you’ve won it but then they came back into it. The lads knuckled down and I was fortunate enough that it was my big head that won us it! The cup run was excellent but the whole day at the final and the achievement we got was fantastic.
You were captain of a Rovers side that was really on the up, including leading the team out during the first game at the Keepmoat Stadium. What was that like?
At the time it was one of the main reasons I signed for Doncaster. I was at Sheffield Wednesday and still had 18-months on my contract there but I ended up walking away to come to Doncaster because I knew the potential they had. The new stadium was being built when I got there and they showed me round where the footings were and I was thinking it was never going to happen! It was brilliant though. Being captain in that first game was another thing I’m proud to say I’ve done. At the time the club was really on the up and a lot of credit has to go to John Ryan for what he’s done for the club; he’s been superb.
You formed some great partnerships at the back during you time at Rovers; most notably with Adam Lockwood.
Adam is a good player. I think I’d been there for a season and then he came in and we instantly formed a good partnership. We had a lot of good players there though. If either of us wasn’t playing we had good players to challenge for position in that area. Players like Steve Roberts, who I thought was an excellent player, could step in. It was just unfortunate for him that injuries hampered him.
Injury kept you out for almost all of the 2007/08 promotion season, how frustrating was that?
It was more frustrating that I was suffering from an ankle injury when we won the Johnstones’ Paint Trophy and I’d just recovered fully from that and was going into the next season probably as fit as I’d ever been. However, on the first day of pre-season I injured my neck doing a press-up with a clap, which was a weird situation and I didn’t realise what I’d done but that kept me out for six weeks. Then as soon as I came back into training I landed on my knee and was out for another four-five months. As much as I loved watching the lads do well I just wanted to be out there and it was a very hard time for me. Unfortunately it is the same injury that has now forced me to retire.
I still tried to keep in high spirits and around the lads and the day out at Wembley was another reason I was proud to be a part of even though I wasn’t involved on the pitch.
One goal that lives fondly in Rovers fans’ memories is the goal you scored at Scunthorpe early on in your Rovers days.
As a centre half you definitely remember those types of goals. I think it must have been a set play because I can’t remember why I was up that far but it was cleared and I was just jogging back. Then James Coppinger headed a ball back down to me and I just chested it down and hit this volley. For the 89th minute and only my second game for Doncaster in the derby game it was a goal I’ll always remember!
What did you make of Rovers’ promotion last season?
I was delighted for them. I wished them well and I think everyone in football remembers that day. I know Copps well and I look back and he’s scored some big goals for Doncaster, it had to be him who scored the goal. To do that in the last minute is why everyone loves football. I’m delighted for the people at the club, especially behind the scenes like John Ryan. For him the get a champions winners medal I’m sure he was delighted. I still look out for them and I spoke to John Ryan a while back to wish my congratulations for the league win. They’re a great club.