Newcastle hero Lee will be a proud father when two sons run out at St James' with Luton
At 7am tomorrow, 40 members of Rob Lee's family will pile on to a bus outside his home in Hornchurch, Essex, and make the near 300-mile trek north to St James' Park to watch Luton Town take on Newcastle United in the third round of the FA Cup.
It will be an emotional, and joyous, journey for them all. For years, the evocative stadium was a second home, Rob having spent a decade at Newcastle - he still calls them "us" - as a key midfield performer for the "Entertainers" who came so close to winning the Premier League under Kevin Keegan in 1996.
But, this time, they will be rooting for Luton and Lee's two sons - Olly and Elliot - who are now important performers for the team who have been outscored only by Manchester City in English football this season. Luton are, in fact, the Entertainers of League Two, which they lead.
"It will be crazy," says Durham-born Elliot, a striker and, at 23, the younger of the brothers by three years. "A busload are going up … I do remember going to St James' Park watching him [Rob], although we were usually in the box causing carnage."
Lee shared an executive box with Alan Shearer, still one of his best friends, and has called in as many favours as he can to get enough tickets for this tie, which is expected to draw 7,000 away fans.
"It's a dream come true for the boys to go back there," he says. "It's the next best thing to pulling on a black-and-white shirt."
Also on the bus will be Lee's wife, Anna, her father Colin, and his own father, Reg, and the Lee brothers grin as the involvement of the former businessman - who was also a turnstile operator at Rob's first club, Charlton - is discussed. "He [Rob] is not much of a shouter," Olly says of his father's style when watching his sons play together. "He leaves that to my granddad. When I play at Kenilworth Road, I can hear him shouting in the crowd. Dad's quieter, takes everything in, has a word after the game."
"My dad couldn't play football," Rob jokes. "But he's got an opinion on it! They are the worst people! He's old school. He will say exactly what he thinks, whether it's right or wrong, he just comes out and says it."
For Rob, the tie is an opportunity to reminisce and the memories of the England international's playing days at Newcastle, whom he joined from Charlton in 1992 , with Keegan having convinced him it was nearer to London than Middlesbrough - who also wanted him - flow freely.
"People ask, 'Do you regret not winning the league?' and I genuinely say to them the five years I had with Keegan I would not trade for a league winner's medal," he states. "He played the kind of football I dreamed of as a kid. I played for Charlton under Lennie Lawrence and Alan Curbishley and it was all very structured. Keegan said to me once, 'I just buy good players and let them play'. I just wish he had won the league, then no one could question him, and maybe the whole structure of coaching would have changed.
"He wanted to buy players who wanted to entertain. At one time, we had Ginola, Asprilla, Ferdinand, Beardsley, Shearer all playing. I had to play holding midfield. He called me and Dave Batty his dogs."
Being entertained is something that Lee feels passionately about, not least with the opportunities - or lack of them - given to his two sons, who were both products of the academy at West Ham before being let go. "If I'm being honest, I think both of them are suited to a higher league," Rob says. "I'm looking forward to Luton getting promotion and seeing how they get on in a higher division."
Those skills started back in Newcastle. "They were playing against my mates who were all professional players - Alan Shearer, Gary Speed, Warren Barton, Shay Given," Lee says. "They used to come round during the season and we had five-a-sides with all the kids. I don't know if it was allowed. I don't think the physio was very happy about it. But he used to join in as well."
Elliot joined Olly, an attacking midfielder, last summer after being released by Barnsley. "I don't know if it's telepathy but we just enjoy playing with each other," adds Olly. "Playing with your brother, you have to make the most of it because you don't know how long it's going to last." That includes relishing such a prestigious FA Cup tie.
"We've got the players to take the game to anyone, so what better stage to do it than in front of 50,000 people at St James' Park? It's what the Cup is all about," Olly says. The Lees will all be there. (© Daily Telegraph, London)