Five tributes to Gary Speed
We usually try to add an element of humour to our top ten and top five features. However, in the light of the weekend’s events, we thought it would be just to examine some of the more heartfelt responses to the death of a true gentleman.
He was the normal Gary Speed to me. He was very excited about the prospects of the Welsh national team and was upbeat, looking class, immaculately presented. There were no signs, nothing to suggest he was troubled. He looked well and things are going well for him at the moment. I could never have thought that 10-12 hours after I saw him I’d be getting that news. It’s a nightmare.
I was with him on Saturday afternoon arranging next weekend. He was coming up with his wife to stay at my house. I left the studio, shook his hand and said ‘see you next weekend’. Unfortunately I won’t. We were having the normal mickey-taking that we do out of each other and having a laugh and joke about golf trips and holidays that we went on together last year. We were planning our next holiday in Portugal next summer with the families and the kids. That’s why it’s so hard to come to terms with – really, really difficult. I played against him many times, but when Kenny Dalglish signed him for Newcastle straight away we struck up a relationship. You’re bound to make enemies and have arguments along the way in football – but no one ever did with Gary. No-one had a bad word for him. He was just an incredible guy, what you would describe as a proper bloke. If you were meeting him at seven o’clock, he’d be there at five to seven, and that’s the type of guy he was.
I’m looking at the headlines and I still can’t believe it. My captain, my hero, my mate is gone and I can’t understand why. He had the world at his feet and the ironic thing is that he was the guy you would always go to if you ever had a problem. Since I’ve been doing Strictly he’s phoned me every Saturday morning to wish me good luck and have a laugh. We were joking around like usual, talking about football and dancing. One of the last things he said to me was, “don’t get a two off Craig”.
Then I found out at 10 o’clock on Sunday and it feels surreal to know I’ll never get that call off Gary again. I’d grown very close to him over the last year or so. He’d always been a friend. But in that time we’d become best friends. There are people in football who will drop you like a stone when you retire but that’s not Gary. He had time for everyone, always. He was a lovely guy.
It was an honour to know him and an honour to play with him. The first time I met him was when I was called up to the Wales squad for the first time. Some of the other veteran players looked down on me because I was a scrawny kid who played for Crewe, but not him. He treated me the same as if I was Ian Rush or Mark Hughes and that made me feel 10 feet tall.
As a leader and a captain, he was unbeatable. He had skill but he worked his heart out too. He was as fit as a fiddle, what you would call a model professional. He was an inspiration in the dressing room and on the field he was the man you’d want with you in the trenches.
He was a gentleman and his footballing ability is without question but I would focus on him as a person. Gary probably lived 10 miles away from me and the other day I saw him on the way to school on the kids’ run and we shared a wave as we drove past each other. It’s a terrible loss and the mood of Cheshire was just utter shock and disbelief and devastation that he leaves a lovely family behind.
Gary was an inspirational and much-loved player at Newcastle United during his time with the club from 1998 to 2004, making 285 appearances and scoring 40 goals. He was an excellent servant to the club, the ultimate professional, and an exceptional role model for younger players.
Gary Speed, may you rest in peace.