Football: Wembley honour offered to Rees

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The Independent Online
MEL REES, Sheffield United's cancer-stricken goalkeeper, will lead the Blades out at Wembley in Saturday's historic FA Cup semi-final derby against Sheffield Wednesday - provided he is well enough.

The United captain, Brian Gayle, has offered to forego the honour in favour of Rees, who is recovering from a second operation for cancer of the bowel. 'Mel has been released from hospital and was at the club on Monday,' Gayle said. 'When it was first mentioned he thought it was a wind- up, but he will do it if he feels up to it.'

United leave this morning for their Hertfordshire base, where Rees is likely to join them on Friday. 'More than anything we're hoping it will give him a boost, because feeling good is all part of the battle,' Gayle added.

Wembley fever gripped Bramall Lane for the fourth successive day yesterday, as thousands of supporters besieged the club offices for the last of United's 34,000 tickets. It was the same hectic situation at Hillsborough. As a police officer observed, the last time United's ground had witnessed anything like it was for a 'demo' against the directors.

United have not visited the Twin Towers since 1936, when they lost to Arsenal in the final, but Gayle was a member of the Wimbledon team who beat Liverpoool there in 1988. Having taken part in every round, he learned that he would not be in the Dons' line- up only an hour before kick-off.

If that ranked as the worst disappointment of his career, Saturday will be his greatest match. 'It's probably the biggest game the city has ever known,' Gayle said. 'There's no doubt it would have been lower key at Elland Road. The hard part will be remembering that it's only the semi-final.

'For whoever gets through, the final will be almost an anti-climax - you can't beat a local derby at Wembley.' Asked whether he would wish Wednesday well if they won, he replied candidly: 'If we go out, I won't be bothered who wins the final.'

Dave Bassett, United's manager, returned last night from his trip to watch the Genoese derby with Trevor Francis, his Wednesday counterpart, but in his absence Gayle confirmed that minor injuries would delay team selection until the day of the match.

Roma's goalkeeper Giovanni Cervone saved a last-minute penalty from Jean-Pierre Papin to knock out Milan and put his side through to the Italian Cup final. Milan, trailing 1-0 from the first leg of the semi-final, won by the same score at the San Siro but went out 2-1 on aggregate.

There were five bookings and Roma played the last 12 minutes with 10 men after their defender Luigi Garzja was sent off for a hack at Gianluigi Lentini. Milan, who lost to Juventus at the same stage last year, scored after 37 minutes through Stefano Eranio. In the final Roma meet the winners of today's Turin derby second leg between Juventus and Torino, who drew the first leg 1-1.