Sheffield United: Remembering Gary Speed: one of the game’s true legends

Gary Speed
Gary Speed
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Gary Speed spent just under three years as a player, a coach and as a manager at Sheffield United, between 2008 and 2010.

Others will have played more games, and some will have made a bigger impact.

But, in the corridors of power of Bramall Lane and on the terraces, few will have commanded as much respect as the man known throughout football as ‘Speedo’.

Tributes to one of the game’s genuine good guys poured out once again yesterday, on what would have been the Welshman’s 45th birthday.

Speed arrived at Bramall Lane on January 1, 2008, towards the end of one career - and left in 2010, 11 days before Christmas, to embark on a new one - as an international manager of his beloved Wales.

Speed was appointed United boss after the sacking of Kevin Blackwell, and left with a heavy heart to accept the call from his country. One member of the United staff kept in touch with the departed boss, and remembers asking him where he could buy a ticket for England’s game at the Millennium Stadium in 2011 - and four VIP passes were promptly dispatched.

Another tells fondly of Speed’s human touch. In conversation, he told the then-United boss about an upcoming doctors appointment. Two weeks later, they met again. Speed’s opening line? How was the doctors, mate? He hadn’t forgotten.

His decency was not to be mistaken for weakness, however, and each of his 85 Welsh appearances were as committed as the first. His trophy cabinet was testamant to his immense ability, but tells nothing of the humility, grace and pure decency that went with it.

It wasn’t an act, either, put on for us journalists. A colleague of mine, Richard Fidler, used to get changed next to Speed as a youngster at Leeds, and has similar good memories of the man.

In the foreward to his book, ‘Gary Speed Remembered’, journalist Paul Abbandonato wrote: “His attributes, as a football player, a manager and, perhaps most importantly, a human being were perhaps too numerous to mention. To try and sum it up best, he was amiable, courteous, dignified, gracious and approachable. With Gary’s death, football, without doubt, lost one of its finest role models.”

The immense outpouring of grief that met his death in 2011 said more about him than words ever could, but all who met him - including this young journalist - were glad that they did. On his birthday yesterday, he was not forgotten - and it is unlikely that he ever will be.