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    Jun 2010


    Default Further tributes paid to "hero" Speed

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    Players and managers from across the football world have paid tribute to Gary Speed following the shock news of the former Leeds United player's death, with best-friend Robbie Savage lamenting the loss of a "hero".

    Wales manager Speed, 42, was found hanged on Sunday morning. He leaves a wife and two children.

    An inquest will be opened at the coroner's court at Warrington town hall on Tuesday into the death of Speed at his home in Cheshire. A full hearing takes place at a later date.

    Former Leeds manager Howard Wilkinson, who won the league title with Speed in 1992, led the tributes on Sunday and called the former Everton, Newcastle United, Bolton Wanderers and Sheffield United player "a star in the true sense".

    On Monday, countryman Savage, who played alongside Speed for the Wales national side, expressed his heartfelt admiration for Speed as the eulogies continued to flood in.

    "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," Savage wrote in the Daily Mirror. "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 [Come Dancing] 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.

    "Since I heard, I've been thinking about all the times we shared. As team-mates, the best was beating Italy 2-1 at the Millennium in 2002. He played left back that night, doing what he had to do for the team as always. It was a wonderful win, one of the biggest in Welsh history, and I'll never forget him, so happy and proud afterwards as we jumped on each other in celebration.

    "I also remember a time when I played Everton with Leicester. We were mates then and our dads would go to Wales matches together. I caught Gary with an unintentional elbow in the nose and about a minute later, he smashed straight through me and gave me a little wink as he got booked. In the players' lounge we had a massive row about it in front of our dads, who were amazed. Of course, we had a huge laugh about it later.

    "We also had a laugh a couple of years ago, when Gary was named the Wales manager and I fancied making an international comeback. 'That's great because I'm looking for a bus driver,' said Gary. Then he carefully and kindly explained to me why he wouldn't be bringing me back. 'If you were 10 years younger, Sav... but you're not,' he said. He was always so honest and so truthful.

    "The last time I saw him was three or four weeks ago when he came down to Strictly with his wife. After I'd completed my routine I high-fived him and I can see him sitting there now, a big smile on his face, so happy and so proud of his mate.

    "That's how I'll always think of him. In high spirits with a broad smile, taking pleasure in his life and his friends.

    "It makes what has happened so much more shocking. There was never a hint of this, never. He had a beautiful wife, two gorgeous kids. He had a great job and a great team and he was on the verge of something big.

    "I don't know why this has happened and I don't think I ever will but I know it was an honour to be his team-mate and his friend."

    Gordon Taylor, the chief executive of the Professional Footballers' Association, also joined the tributes on Monday morning saying "a light has gone out in the football world''.

    Friends, team-mates and colleagues queued up to pay their respects to Speed in the aftermath and Taylor said he was overwhelmed by the level of shock.

    "I've never known of such grief and loss,'' he told Sky Sports News. "He was so popular, so friendly and I never heard a bad word about him. A real light has gone out in the football world.

    "He was a great legend of a player and every time I saw him he had a smile. It's terribly sad on behalf of everyone. He was one of our finest ever members, our sincere thoughts and condolences to his wife and sons.''

    Fans have started to leave shirts, scarves and flowers at Speed's former stomping grounds, but Taylor hinted that a more formal tribute could yet be forthcoming from the football world.

    "There will be an overwhelming sense that we want do something together to show how loved and regarded he was in the football world,'' Taylor added. "Everywhere he went he was surrounded by friends. There is a terrible sense of loss.''

    West Ham manager Sam Allardyce also paid tribute to Speed, both as a player and a person.

    "I was fortunate to take Gary to Bolton,'' Allardyce told BBC Radio Five Live. "At that stage he was a young 34 and most people were saying he was getting past it, but in actual fact his stats were absolutely outstanding.

    "As soon as he walked into the club he had an aura. He did everything to detail. When generally an old professional might moan and groan and say 'I don't want to do this' he just took it on board.

    "I was also fortunate to get to know him as a person. He was an outstanding individual and this is what's devastating. His life was about standards, he had a high standard for everything that he did. To sum it up, if you had a daughter and she brought Gary Speed home you'd be delighted.''

    Everton manager David Moyes and chairman Bill Kenwright both paid their tributes to Speed, who was at Goodison Park from 1996 to 1998.

    Moyes, who became manager in 2002, told the club's website: "Gary was a great servant to Everton during his time at Goodison and myself and the rest of the squad were as shocked as the rest of the footballing world when we heard the news.

    "It's hard to understand and obviously the thoughts and prayers of everyone connected with the club are with the family at what is a very difficult time.''

    Kenwright, who has been on the board at Everton since 1984, added: "Gary was everything a footballer should aspire to be.

    "Committed but elegant, hard-working but full of style, a player who didn't know how to give anything other than 100% to the football club he played for.

    "He loved football as much as football loved him and will be hugely missed as a player, a manager and a man.

    "Everyone at Everton Football Club - fans, coaches, players, staff and directors - send their deepest condolences to Gary's family at this desperately sad time.''



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