R.I.P. Gary Speed the gentleman

28 11 2011

Even in numbness I thought I would try to write a tribute to Gary Speed.

I thought hard and really tried to write something but the words just wouldn’t come. Instead I decided to collect together what other people have said. It’s almost needless to say that everybody held Gary in the highest possible esteem;

BBC Wales’ Rob Phillips tweeted;

“Lost for suitable words on Gary Speed. Just privileged to have met him. True servant to all his clubs and country. Gave Wales hope. RIP.”

Raymond Verheijen tweeted;

“Gary Speed was a beautiful person & a top manager. Today I’ve lost a friend with who I shared a dream. My thoughts are with his wife & kids.”

Journalist Paul Hayward tweeted;

“Whenever I mentioned Gary Speed to Bobby Robson when I was ghosting his memoirs he would praise him unstoppably. He adored him.”

Xabi Alonso tweeted;

“RIP Gary Speed. My first PL game game was against him, he showed me in that game what is british football about.”

Ian Wright tweeted;

“Devastating to hear about Gary Speed’s death. Condolences to his family. Proper football man. With the face of an Hollywood actor. Peace.”

Rob Earnshaw tweeted;

“I feel so sad.We have lost our manager,leader and an extremely great person who’s inspired us all in the last year.Rest in Peace Gary Speed”

Michael Owen said;

“Everyone knew that Gary Speed was a gentleman… his footballing ability was without question but I would like to focus on him as a person”

Paul Jewell said;

“He was rare in football. It’s a jealous world, people are always having a go at you, or talking about someone but you never heard Gary Speed talking about anybody or anybody saying anything bad about him.

“When someone dies people always say nice things but genuinely, I don’t think there’s anyone in the game who had any edge with Speedo.

“It puts football into perspective. I’ve been pretty down about our results recently but when you hear about and think about how his family must be feeling today – and for the rest of their lives – it pales into insignificance.”

Massive Wales Gwilym Boore wrote this on Facebook;

“This was a man who convinced those who weren’t convinced, gave hope to those who’d given up, bought happiness to people who’d had a gutsful, and gave aspirations to those of us who’ve always supported Welsh football but didn’t see him as the answer. That, my friends, is a hell of a legacy.”

One Everton fan wrote;

 “It was with great sadness and a massive sense of  shock I heard the news that Gary Speed had died today aged just 42.

No matter the circumstances it is a very sad loss at such a young age. If one word sums Gary Speed up, particularly Gary Speed Evertonian, it would be INTEGRITY.I don’t suppose there is a higher role than that of becoming the manager of your national side. On his appointment to the role of Welsh manager in December 2010 Speed said “It’s something that’s very difficult to turn down when your country comes calling. I’m a very proud man at this moment to be asked to be the manager of Wales.”

 The same pride shining through that statement as the pride you could see when he played for Everton. He only played 65 games for us scoring 17 goals but in that short period was appointed club captain. That was the measure of him. The measure of his 100% commitment to Everton.

His departure was shrouded in an air of mystery but ever the consummate professional and gentleman he  never revealed the exact circumstances surrounding Evertons need to sell him to Newcastle and the club’s need to stitch him up. In a tactic Everton appear to have mastered, the player became the fall guy and boyhood blue was made to appear a Judas. That Speed took disgusting reaction from a section of blues fully on the chin and still, unlike the others involved, put the club above his own personal image is the measure of the man.

Talking in 2008 Gary said “Playing for Everton was the fulfillment of a dream for me,” he said. “It is special to play for the team you supported as a boy, the team you watched from the terraces. It was a special feeling for me. Being captain was a tremendous honor too. I will always remember when Howard Kendall told me I would be captain. It is something that will live with me forever. That was a real highlight for me and also the only hat-trick I ever scored was for Everton and that is special.”

That was Gary Speed’s line and no matter the coaxing at Dinners and ex-player gatherings Gary Speed never had a bad word to say about Everton.

I’ll never hear a bad word said about Gary Speed.

Evertonian and Gentleman

May he Rest in Peace”

Leeds fan and magazine editor James Brown wrote this;

“One minute you’re running round a park training with 20 young footballers and the next you get back to your car and find texts and calls coming into your phone telling you a player you know and admire is dead. You drop the boys off home and then sit by the side of the road crying your eyes out. If ever there was a player you could point to as a role model it was Gary Speed. Maybe one of those kids I train, or the boys they play against, or any other kid running over muddy parks all over the country this morning will become as great a footballer and sportsman as Gary Speed. That’s what you hope for, but they’ll have to go some way to achieve that.

Right now twitter, sky sports and 5Live are over-run with the outpouring of grief for this admirable man. Many are assuming, in the vacuum of details and in the light of Stan Collymore’s open portrayal of his depression, that Speedo was depressed. But as far as I know that’s just speculation, whatever has lead Gary to take his life is probably more personal than illness.

Last night I was stood in the Leeds United manager’s office at Elland Road with Simon Grayson and my two closest Leeds United supporting friends. One of them is Gary’s friend and agent. All four of us have known Gary Speed to differing degrees. None of us could have predicted that 12 hours later Gary would be found dead at home by his wife, Louise. The manager’s area, reception, and players lounge at Elland Road are covered with pictures of the great players who made their names under Don Revie, Howard Wilkinson and David O’Leary. It wasn’t always that way, when Howard Wilkinson, arrived at the club at the end of the 1980s he insisted they take down the images of the Revie legends who were proving too great a team for subsequent groups of players to measure themselves against.

It was Wilkinson’s aim to create a new generation of players who would create a name for themselves. Gary Speed was a vital, vibrant part of the success Wilkinson steered the club to. Of all the pictures of the great Jack Charlton, free-kick expert Ian Harte, midfield dynamo David Batty, and the images of the British Forces soldiers in their Leeds kits the one I looked at longest yesterday was the group image of Howard Wilkinson’s squad celebrating their winning the old League Division One championship.

If Batty was the tenacity in that great midfield, Speed was the pace and the cutting edge, McAllister was the passer, Strachan pulled the strings, but it was Speedo streaking forward with the ball that was the youthful threat the team needed. With Batts, Speedo represented the present and also the future. His recent success after a wobbly start as the Welsh national football manager has given similar hope and optimism to a nation for whom footballing success has been sparse. He was instrumental in helping Leeds United recapture glory and there’s few who could argue that he hadn’t started something significant with his young Welsh team.

If Batty was the tenacity in that great midfield, Speed was the pace and the cutting edge

Back in the early 90s at Elland Road some fans would mock Speedo for growing his hair long, he could have come out in a pink afro for all I cared, so long as he made up the fourth place in the fantastic midfield line-up and carried the game to the opposition like he did. His friend Ryan Giggs might have had that added elan to his play that won him the extra-attention but Speed was pretty much the all-round midfielder, as reflected in the quality of clubs he played for and the men like Alex Ferguson and Fabio Capello who coveted him. When I think of Gary on the pitch I think of a player who works and runs constantly, who can score all sorts of goals.

Those who knew Gary Speed very well, his friends and colleagues in and out of football, are as shocked as the rest of us who simply admired him. But it didn’t matter if you played for Wales, Manchester United or were just a fan of football he would have time for you. He was an inspiration. Everyone who ever met him will tell you what a nice guy he was but that’s the word I would use Inspiration.

We are so often taught to respect our elders that it becomes strange when the footballers in the team you support are younger than you and you find yourself admiring them. Go on twitter or turn on the TV and you will see new and old quotes from the greatest British footballing talent of the last 25 years paying tribute. Sky will be telling you about his appearance records, transfer fees and fitness. I will leave them to deliver the stats and quote the tributes.

For me this is more personal. I’ve been where his family are right now. My mum took her own life in February 1992 and when Leeds won the League that year it was the first time I felt happy. Maybe that’s why I’m still sitting here in tears. Speed was part of something that’s bigger than just football results and performances. He contributed to something that made people feel their lives were better because of it. He was a good man who was good to people and you can’t really ask for any more than that. Most suicides leaving you feeling ‘it’s just not right’ but some deaths are sadly inevitable. Gary Speed’s wasn’t, his death is truly shocking and has rocked the world of football and beyond. He will be painfully missed by those that knew him, those that enjoyed what he gave to the world of sport and for those young kids legging it round the parks this morning hopefully his passing will prompt them to take some time to find out about him.

People like Gary are the reason I still play football, still travel hundreds of miles to watch my team, still get up in the rain and go and train ten year olds after 6 hours sleep. They are what is great about football. He played to the best of his ability and with enthusiasm. Gary Speed was a good man I admired. I can’t say any more than that.

RIP Gary Speed

Daily Telegraph Journalist John  Ley wrote;

“The reasons will no doubt, be revealed in time, and whatever they are, now is not the time for finger pointing or accusations.

Now is the time to honour a great playing career and wonder what might have been for Wales.

If losing in the semi-final of the Rugby World Cup was painful for the Principality, losing their football manager is a tragedy many will not be able to understand.

I got to know Gary when he joined the Wales senior squad, in 1990, and was fortunate enough to witness many of his appearances when he sparked in a midfield alongside the likes of Ian Rush, Mark Hughes, Ryan Giggs and Robbie Savage.

I got to like him as he was polite, fairly trusting of the media – not always common – and happy to have a chat.

I remember one night, in Cardiff after a Wales’ Player of the Year dinner, talking to him about his interest in writing and how he was considering, one day, moving into the world of sports journalism.

It was only an idea, but he did seem keen and, I am sure, had he decided to go down that route he would have made a success of it.

There were desperate times as Wales lunged from one defeat to another in the later years.

There were also fun times, like a night in the British Ambassadors’ home in Doha when Wales played Qatar and we all were invited to join a soirée.

He was happy, enjoying his job but also enjoying the fringe benefits of being an international player. He also beat me at pool later that night …

As a player, he was solid and though he had his critics when he moved into management, he was just beginning to make his mark with three straight victories following an impressive performance at Wembley where he saw Wales narrowly lose to England.

Raymond Verheijen, who Speed brought in to assist him, has experience all over the world but was persuaded to join Wales because, as he told me in Dublin back in February, “I see something special in Gary. He can be a great success.”

The last time I saw Speed was as at a press conference to announce that Aaron Ramsey was Wales’ new captain.

Afterwards I told him I thought it was a brave move, a good step and that Arsène Wenger would be pleased.

“Are you sure?” he said. “We’ll see.”

As it was Wenger wasn’t happy, but Ramsey has gone on to prosper for club and country.

My last conversation with Speed was about the fact that after 20 years I was no longer to be covering Wales due to a job change.

He was visibly surprised, wished me all the best for the future and with the words “If there’s anything I can do for you, don’t hesitate to get in touch.”

If only I could do something for Gary Speed…”

Finally Gary from Blogdroed wrote this fantastic tribute;

“I can’t begin to describe how unreal it feels to be writing a tribute to Gary Speed this Sunday afternoon.

I felt sick to the pit of my stomach when I received a phone call from a friend this morning to ask if “the news” was true, the devastating news that Gary Speed had been found dead at the age of 42.

In the past year I have had the immense privilege of getting to know Gary Speed in a professional capacity as Sgorio’s international match reporter. I wouldn’t go so far as to call him a friend, but he had the uncanny ability of making you feel so comfortable in his company.

He was always smiling, always happy to chat and to crack a joke or two as we waited to start the interviews and … and this might sound a little bit strange … he always remembered your name, which speaks volumes about Gary Speed.

Several tears have been shed since I heard the news on Sunday morning about someone who seems to have been there for the majority of my football supporting life.

The first time I heard about Gary Speed was during my student days. I was studying in Bradford and the Yorkshire Evening Post were raving about this young Welshman who was at Leeds United.

A few friends and I went across to Elland Road to watch him play. He starred in the same midfield as Gordon Strachan and David Batty and was part of the Leeds United side that clinched promotion to the old First Division in 1989 before becoming champions the following season.

In 1990 I saw Speed in the red shirt of Wales for the first time as he came on as a substitute in a friendly match against Costa Rica at Ninian Park to win the first of his 85 caps.

It’s fair to say that the fans didn’t appreciate Speed during the early part of his international career, but by the time he was handed the captain’s armband by Bobby Gould he was one of the travelling faithfull’s heroes.

As a fan of the Welsh national team who travelled to every corner of Europe, one tends to bump into the players in some far-flung cities.

The old cliché says you shouldn’t meet your heroes, but I have to say I am eternally grateful that I met Gary Speed on several occasions.

I remember half a dozen or so of us sneaking into the team hotel in Baku, Azerbaijan – the first game after the famous victory over Italy – to try and meet a few of the players.

Speed was the first player to walk through the hotel lobby and was more than ready to stop for a chat and to take photos with a group of fans that so obviously didn’t belong in this expensive hotel!

Gary Speed meets some fans in Baku

A few years later, whilst in Belfast for a qualifying match against Northern Ireland, we bumped into Speed in a bar. He had come over with his father to watch the game.

That afternoon we sang his name and moidered him senseless about returning to play international football.

Despite the fact we had obviously been on ‘the black stuff’ for quite some time, Speed had plenty of time to chat to everybody, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone pose for so many photographs!

The same thing was true even after he’d been appointed national team manager.

Whilst standing in the tunnel before an international match preparing for Sgorio’s broadcasts, I have often spotted Speed chatting to the youngsters peering over the edge of the tunnel desperate for an autograph.

He would spend plenty of time signing programme after programme and posing for a photograph with a lucky young fan, but he also knew he had a job to do with the national side.

Following a shaky start to his managerial career, Speed was insistent that he had a vision and knew exactly what needed to be done.

And as 2011 draws to a close with Wales having achieved four wins from the last five games, he had given fresh hope to Welsh football fans who are amongst the most hard nosed and cynical fans in world football!

In Wembley during the game against England we heard a new chant from the Welsh fans: “Gary Speed, Gary Speed, yn mynd a ni i Gwpan y Byd” which translates as “Gary Speed, Gary Speed, is taking us to the World Cup”

Unfortunately Speed will not be around to see his work with the national team bear fruit.

I’d like to extend my sympathies and the sympathies of all the Sgorio team to the family and friends of Gary Speed at this difficult and very sad time. He was a gentleman and Wales and the Welsh people have lost a true hero today.

Rest in peace, Gary.”

There is absolutely nothing to add about the gentleman Gary Speed.

Rest In Peace Gary

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