Our roving reporter Gary Haines visits Robert Lee and family, find out why...
The phrase ‘it’s a small world’ gets banded around quite a lot.
But, sometimes it’s only when you start researching something, that things start to unfurl.
Take me and former England international, Robert Lee.
I found out a few weeks ago that we share the same birthday – February 1 – while looking for information on another subject close to both our hearts.
It was around 12 months ago that Roberts’s father Reg took the decision to have his prostate removed, and as the son of a sufferer myself it certainly struck a chord.
As part of his efforts to champion Prostate Cancer UK, Lee and his two sons Olly and Elliott have been embracing Movember and all three have sprouted moustaches to become walking billboards for the cause.
And on Sunday, November 17 2013, I joined a Sky sports reporter and crew at the family home in Hornchurch – less than five minutes away from my family home - to chat about their efforts.
“My Mo is a bit black and white at the moment, like Newcastle’s colours,” he smiled. “I’ve gone for a Hulk Hogan handlebar style this year and I’ve certainly got a few knowing looks from people when I’m walking down the street.
“It’s a great initiative though. It was always seen as a macho thing to grow a moustache, yet men are still too macho to visit their doctor. It really doesn’t take much to consult your GP if you have concerns. It takes minutes and could save your life.
“Prostate cancer affects one in eight men and if you catch it early enough treatment can be successful. If you leave it, as guys do, it can be a killer.”
Before his professional career kicked off at Charlton Athletic, Lee represented his local side Hornchurch and would do his first interview for the Romford Recorder, the newspaper I kicked off my journalism career at, regularly covering ‘The Urchins’.
And the midfielder went on to offer stellar service to Newcastle United, earning international honours and a place in the England squad for the 1998 World Cup in France, as well as also turning out for Derby County and West Ham United amongst others.
On the continued recuperation of father Reg, 72, Robert added: “The doctors had been monitoring my father’s diagnosis for a few years and around 12 months ago it was decided that the best course of action was to remove the prostate.
“He’s on the road to recovery now and it’s certainly made us more aware when someone you are close to or family gets any form of cancer. The minute it starts intruding into your family you take a massive interest.”
As a father of two footballers, Robert spends his Saturday’s watching sons Olly, 22 and Elliott 18, in action.
The latter is currently on loan at League One Colchester United from West Ham, and Lee senior had watched on from the crowd in Essex in a 2-1 defeat against Swindon Town the day before our interview.
Olly, meanwhile, was taking advantage of a rare weekend off due to England’s international duty prompting a temporary delay in the top two divisions.
The duo took on their father in a tensely fought game of table football to add some extra colour to the feature, and it was clear to see a tightly-knit family enjoying each other’s company, something Olly’s stint in the west Midlands has hindered somewhat.
That’s not to say he hasn’t been spreading the word via St Andrews. Indeed, he has joined several of his Birmingham teammates in their quest to raise awareness with the ‘Bluemoses’ aiming to repeat their feat of 2012 when raising more than £11,000, the best in The Football League. Also among the squad is skipper Paul Robinson, Tom Adeyemi, Andrew Shinnie and Dan Burn.
Olly noted: “It’s a brilliant way to promote a great cause, and a few of the lads at Birmingham have also got on board so it’s slightly less embarrassing.
“We are a close-knit family, and the news about my granddad affected us all. I always saw him as invincible, but he’s faced it head on and has come out the other side.
“Cancer seems to be a bit of a taboo word. People don’t want to say it as they are scared of it but now I’m aware of prostate cancer and through the work of Prostate Cancer UK and Movember we are trying to raise as much awareness to the cause as we can.”
Younger sibling Elliott, 18, has joined Colchester colleagues David Wright and captain Brian Wilson in growing a Mo at the Essex club, and added: “I’ve always grown more facial hair than Olly so there’s always a bit of banter going on there. He gets a bit jealous, while dad’s looks black and white!
“It’s a unique and light-hearted way to promote a great cause – and hopefully raise money as well. It was a shock to find out about my granddad but it’s great seeing he is fine now. A lot of credit has to go to Movember and Prostate Cancer UK as well. They do a great job of raising awareness.”
Director of Fundraising at Prostate Cancer UK, Mark Bishop, commented, said: "It’s great that Movember are supporting the work of Prostate Cancer UK. Footballers sporting moustaches are now commonplace during the month and supporters up and down the country will be able to watch their heroes visibly getting behind the fight to promote men’s health issues.
“Prostate cancer kills one man every hour in the UK with one in eight men likely to be diagnosed with the disease at some point in their lifetime and the disease has affected the Lee family. It’s great they are involved in promoting awareness, and we want to be there for all men.”
To register for Prostate Cancer UK’s regular football newsletter packed full of all the latest Men United news and features by the finest football writers on the web complete the form on the right of this page. Sign up today to be in with the chance to win a pair of tickets to the Capital One Cup Final.