Gary Speed remembered
As the football world mourns the loss of Gary Speed, we reflect on what an immense man he was in the game as a whole and what he meant to us.
First thoughts go to Gary`s family. What a tragedy that someone so loved and talented will not be with them for the future. As a person, son, husband and father he left memories which should serve them all proud.
His name will always be synonymous with a unique point in history. As a player, he started with Leeds United, bridging the gap between two eras. Following promotion to the top flight, his first team became the last to win the title before the inception of the Premier League.
As that famous Leeds side broke up, Gary moved to Everton where he also served with distinction. His leaving came under controversial circumstances, his dignity shining through in an interview with the Merseyside press when he would only say "You know why I`m leaving, but I can`t explain myself publicly because it would damage the good name of Everton Football Club and I`m not prepared to do that."
Everton`s loss was Newcastle`s gain. Signed by Kenny Dalglish, he was instrumental in helping the club to an FA Cup final in his first season, opening his goal tally with a cup goal against Barnsley with what proved to be the decider. The feat was repeated during the following season with an equaliser against Crystal Palace before again making the final.
Gary played in a variety of roles, capable of being a thrusting and cultured left sided attacking midfielder, gradually becoming more central under the great Sir Bobby Robson. He featured in some of the most magical moments of our Champions League exploits.
In 6 years on Tyneside, Gary generated several moments that have been long cherished, whether it was in his creative play, changing the pace of a game to suit the moment or his trademark aerial presence which contributed to his not inconsiderable 40 goals for the club.
A trawl of the ToTT message boards long before his sad demise illustrates that he was perhaps one of the most complete players in the history of this proud club. As a holding player he could compare with his former Leeds team mate, David Batty. As a left sided creator, he matched the magical Tommy Craig. His late arrival in the box could result in a devastating headed goal.
That versatility was reflected at national level for his Wales team. Towards the end of his career, he was even prepared to slot in at left back, using his experience to motivate and guide those around him. Indeed, the younger players at Newcastle at the time have paid tribute to the lengths that he was prepared to go to, to help the younger player, Shola Ameobi and Steve Taylor prominent among them.
The same consideration that Gary showed his team mates was also expressed to the public. ToTT message boards display memories of the time that he would spend with supporters, a lesson to be taken on board by those in the modern game.
As was seen in Sir Bobby`s memoirs, Speed`s departure was a surprise and an example of the detachment of those at the top of the club. A consumate professional and selfless team player in his prime had much more to contribute moving on with our best wishes.
Gary`s career panned out with a further 4 years at Bolton, followed by a spell at Sheffield United before becoming, as seemed inevitable, a manager for the first time.
His country called leading to an amicable parting from the South Yorkshire club and a thrust into international management where he was starting to excell.
His last 5 matches as manager of Wales propelled his principality into a stratosphere rarely, if ever, achieved by any other Welsh team. 4 wins in 5 matches for such a small nation is unheard of. This was achieved by balancing a blend of formerly disillusioned senior professionals with some really exciting youngsters and journeymen.
Gary would almost certainly have had the world at his feet after achieving so much with so little. Who knows where his managerial career would have led having brought Wales into the top 50 football nations.
The legacy of Gary`s humanity is also measured in his charity work. He is one of several who supported the memory of Sir Bobby, as well as helping Shay Given to raise funds for charity through his photogenic good looks that had many of Newcastle`s female folk swooning over his catwalk appearances.
To Roger, his father, Louise, his wife, and both his sons, Tommy and Ed, the thoughts of those of us on Tyneside are strongly with you in this most tragic hour. Our pride in Gary is a fraction of yours but is still immense.
There are few figures who have transcended national and parochial boundaries. The man who played a huge part in your lives is one of a very rare breed.
Gary`s example of dignity, professionalism, warmth and many other qualities besides is a fantastic memory for not just us but the whole of the football world and beyond. Our thoughts are with you. We are grateful for what he contributed in the North East. We have had a mere glimpse into what he must mean to you. You have every reason to be proud of your husband, father and son.