Soccer

Flags at half mast for Speed

2011-11-27 19:47
Gary Speed (File)
London - The flags at Leeds' Elland Road Stadium flew at half mast on Sunday in honour of a key player in the club's last title-winning side.

GALLERY: R.I.P Gary Speed

Elsewhere, one Premier League crowd honoured Gary Speed with a minute's silence and another opted for an impromptu minute's applause following the news that a man renowned for his longevity as a player - and burgeoning promise as a manager - had died aged 42.

The youngest member of Leeds' 1991-92 title-winning midfield and the first player to reach 500 Premier League appearances, Speed was renowned as a dedicated professional and had just coached his native Wales to three straight wins.

Friends and colleagues practically lined up to pay tribute to Speed, who was was found hanged at his home in Cheshire on Sunday.

"He lived his life the way he played football, without blemish," said Joe Royle, who signed him for Everton in 1996. "He was a good guy. I've never ever heard anyone say a bad word or make a snide remark about him. It was just 'Speedo is terrific.'

"I rated him so highly as a man and as a person."

A minute's silence was observed before the Premier League match between Liverpool and Manchester City at Anfield. But when they were asked to observe a minute's silence, the fans at the game between Welsh side Swansea and Aston Villa instead broke into spontaneous sustained applause and chanted "There's Only One Gary Speed."

Villa goalkeeper Shay Given was in tears thinking of his former Newcastle team-mate, while Wales striker Craig Bellamy was so upset he was left out of Liverpool's squad entirely.

Wales internationals Ashley Williams, Neil Taylor, Joe Allen and James Collins started for either Villa or Swansea, with emotions running so high that Villa manager Alex McLeish said he would not have protested if the game had been called off.

Wales midfielder Joe Ledley wrote on Twitter: "So saddened by the loss of a great guy, manager & footballer. It was a pleasure to work under him. My thoughts are with his family."

With Speed having played 85 times for Wales - a tally beaten only by goalkeeper Neville Southall - and racking up 535 Premier League appearances, a recurring theme of the tributes paid was his dedication. Speed maintained his body in peak condition even past the age when most of his peers had dropped down the divisions or retired.

Speed's Premier League appearance record has since been overtaken by goalkeeper David James and Manchester United stalwart Ryan Giggs, who played alongside Speed for Wales.

"I am totally devastated," Giggs said. "Gary Speed was one of the nicest men in football and someone I am honoured to call a team-mate and friend. Words cannot begin to describe how sad I feel at hearing this awful news. It goes without saying my thoughts are with his family at this tremendously sad time."

Former Wales striker Dean Saunders, who shared a room with Speed when the pair were called up for internationals, said Speed would do sit-ups and press-ups before going to bed every night. Another Wales team-mate, Mark Bowen, said Speed was one of the first players in British football to properly tailor his diet to maximize his performances.

Former England midfielder Royle said that helped persuade him to sign Speed at Everton, the club Speed had supported as a boy.

"He always came in looking a million dollars and there was never any indication that he wasn't ready to train," Royle said. "He played with a smile on his face and he was one of the best players I was fortunate enough to manage and handle and I still can't believe it.

"He was part of the North Wales-Everton supporters band and from the minute he came he was perfect for the club."

Current Everton players weighed in with their tributes on Twitter.

Australia forward Tim Cahill: "Gary Speed was the ultimate pro on and off the pitch. So sad to lose someone so special to football, friends, fans, family. Rest in Peace mate."

Everton captain Phil Neville: "Horrific news about Gary Speed, my thoughts and prayers are with his family."

Simon Grayson signed for Leeds on the same day as Speed and is now manager of the northern England club. Grayson had been friends with Speed, who played alongside Gordon Strachan, David Batty, and Gary McAllister in Leeds' title-winning side, for 25 years.

"Speedo was a true friend and a very, very popular man," Grayson said. "We signed on the same day and played in the youth and reserve teams together. We also did all our coaching badges together. He was a good friend and this is a very sad day."

Newcastle assistant coach John Carver worked with Speed during Bobby Robson's stint in charge of the club.

"Gary was as perfect a professional as you could ever wish to work with: 100 percent committed, dedicated to his profession and, above all, a wonderful colleague and friend," Carver said. "I worked with him at Sheffield United too and of course was delighted to see the fantastic job he was doing with Wales.

"Gary was an exceptional person and a very dear friend. Football has lost a truly great man."

Real Madrid midfielder Xabi Alonso played against Speed during his time with Liverpool in England's Premier League and remembered his opponent fondly.

"RIP Gary Speed. My first PL game was against him, he showed me in that game what is British football about," Alonso wrote on Twitter.

Read more on:    international soccer  |  gary speed
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