North-East football is mourning the loss of Tony Lee, a former Darlington player and stalwart and legend of the local non-league scene.

Tony died at the weekend, aged 75, after a long battle with illness.

The Teessider played for Leicester City as a youngster before spending time with Bradford City, Darlington and Scarborough, where he once scored in 14 consecutive games. At Darlington, he made 14 appearances, scoring once, a winning goal in a game against Port Vale in 1969.

But it was as a manager, after hanging up his boots at just 28, that Tony really made an impact and left a mark, leading various local clubs to unprecedented success.

Tony had spells in charge of Whitby Town, Billingham Synthonia, Gateshead, Bishop Auckland, Spennymoor and Newcastle Blue Star

After two years in charge of Smith's Dock, in the Teesside League, Tony got his break and transformed a struggling Whitby side, famously leading them to the second round proper of the FA Cup in the 1983/84 season. His side came from 2-0 down to beat Halifax in the first round before losing to a late Wigan penalty in the second round, denying them a third round date with West Ham United.

He was at it again in his next job with Billingham Synthonia, where he built a great Northern League side. He twice led Synners to the first round proper of the FA Cup. His side won the title twice, the League Cup twice and the Durham Cup.

After his passing, Synners tweeted: "When the term legend is mentioned around the club then Tony Lee is top of that list."

Tony and his Synners team also played a significant role in supporting Middlesbrough during their liquidation crisis in 1986. Not only did they lend Bruce Rioch's side their ground for training, but Tony's team also stepped in to play Boro's reserve team fixtures.

Boro paid their respects this week and said they were saddened to learn of Tony's passing.

After Synners, Tony went on to manage Gateshead and then Bishop Auckland, where he once again reached the first round proper of the FA Cup. His side also reached the last eight of the FA Trophy twice and won the Durham Challenge Cup on three occasions.

After leaving for Spennymoor, Bishop Auckland's chairman said of Tony: "He's performed miracles with a limited budget."

Tony was dad to former Boro Under-23s and Hartlepool United manager Graeme, and Anthony, 48, who also played at a high non-league level.

The Northern Echo:

"He was an unbelievable character," Anthony told The Northern Echo.

"He made you feel that you were the best at everything you did, that's why he did so well as a football manager.

"He had a gift like that. He loved people, loved kids, and was obsessed with football.

"There are so many stories. I'll tell you one. He was due to be playing in the semi-final of the FA Amateur Cup for Goole. It was his best mate's wedding and he was asked to be best man. He said he couldn't, he has to play the game. My dad had this thing where he'd fall asleep anywhere. He decided to pull over at 12 o'clock on the way to the game to get his head down and woke up at six o'clock, he'd missed the semi-final and the wedding!

“So many of the clubs my dad was involved with have been fantastic with their tributes, it shows how much he meant to them.”

As if Tony wasn't busy enough with football, he also owned a cafe and petrol station opposite Middlesbrough's Ayresome Park, had a taxi business for more than 30 years and a betting shop.

Tony grew up in Berwick Hills, Middlesbrough, and lived in Thornton village in his later years.

He leaves behind his doting wife Sue and a large and loving family, including daughter-in-law Gemma and grandchildren Olivia, 14, Grayson, 10, and Hadley, seven.

Tony's funeral will take place at 10.30am on Friday, February 24 at St Bede's Chapel, in Acklam. The funeral will be followed by a gathering at Marton Cricket Club.