The Star 2011 Year Review: November and December

Trgaic: Gary Speed.  Photo: Andrew Matthews/ PA Wire.
Trgaic: Gary Speed. Photo: Andrew Matthews/ PA Wire.
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FOOTball and the wider world was shocked by the tragic death of former Sheffield United player and manager Gary Speed at the end of November.

This month X-Factor and public sector strikes dominated the news agenda, reporter Erin Cardiff takes a last look back to those events in the final instalment of our news review of 2011

28.11.11, Pages 1-3: The untimely death of Gary Speed in November sent shockwaves through the sporting world, inspiring heartfelt tributes from fans and football players alike.

The Welsh team manager, who appeared for the Blades 37 times towards the end of a glittering playing career, was found hanged in his Cheshire home on November 27, aged just 42.

Speed, who coached United before leaving to join the Welsh side last December, leaves a wife and two children.

Blades fans and former colleagues reacted with shock to the tragic news.

Former Sports Minister and Sheffield MP Richard Caborn, a lifelong Blade, told The Star: “Gary was a true gentleman of the game, respected by players and managers alike.

“He was a tremendous player and was really going somewhere as a manager. He was just starting to turn the Wales team around.

“It is an absolute shock and a terrible tragedy.”

Blades star Chris Morgan, who was managed by Speed, said: “I just cannot believe that Gary has died. He was extremely popular at Bramall Lane, both as a player and in a managerial capacity with the lads. His death is a very sad loss.”

Speed had been in charge of the Welsh team since he left Bramall Lane in December 2010, and had led the team to four wins in his last five matches, to climb to 50th in the world rankings.

As a player he made nearly 700 league appearances, representing Leeds, Everton, Newcastle, Bolton and Sheffield United in a 22-year professional career.

He won the championship with Leeds in 1992 and was twice an FA Cup runner-up with Newcastle. He also won 85 caps for Wales and was awarded an MBE in 2010.

Former Blades boss Kevin Blackwell, who managed Speed at United, said: “When I heard the news I felt physically sick. It’s just such a terrible thing to happen and my heart goes out to his family.

“Gary was a great guy and a great guy to work with. A true professional.”

24.11.11, Page 3: Last month, The Star revealed that Ben O’Brien is going to be having the merriest of Christmasses – a charity has selected the Sheffield youngster to visit Father Christmas in Lapland.

Ben, along with 100 other poorly boys and girls from across the country are being whisked off to meet the man himself by children’s organisation When You Wish Upon A Star.

Husky rides, reindeer trails and plenty of sledging and snowballing are also in store.

After a gruelling year, it’s exactly what Ben needs.

In April he underwent life-saving surgery after doctors found aggressive bone cancer in his knee and shin.

Surgeons removed the tumour caused by osteosarcoma in his tibia and knee, but for a while they were worried he would lose his leg, having to replace his shin-bone with prosthetic titanium rods.

“We have had a tough few months,” said Ben’s mum Dawn Sowden, aged 33.

“Ben has just finished chemotherapy and is back at school part-time, but we need to go to Birmingham next week for intensive physiotherapy.

“So the trip to Lapland is something that he is really excited about.It will make a great Christmas for him.”

1.12.11, Page 2: The end of November saw mass walk-outs across South Yorkshire – and more could be on their way if the Government refuses to back down over plans to reform public sector pension.

As tens of thousands of workers downed tools - including teachers, police workers, health service employees, cleaners, cooks and council workers - union leaders said they hoped Government officials would take notice of the mass demonstrations up and down the country and enter into ‘meaningful negotiations’.

But union bosses in South Yorkshire said their members would ‘do it all again’ if required, in order to protect their pensions.

Police say 10,000 people attended the rally in Sheffield’s Barker’s Pool on November 30 - and scores more manned picket lines.

Schools and government buildings were shut, operations were cancelled and council and emergency services disrupted.

Paul Desgranges, NASUWT national executive committee member for South Yorkshire, said he wouldn’t be surprised if teachers took further strike action in the new year.

“I think it is a real possibility because the situation in education is currently so gloomy,” he said.

“Teachers are feeling they have nothing to lose. They can’t work until they are 68, their pensions are under attack and they face a further pay freeze.”

Charlie Carruth, Unison’s regional organiser for Sheffield health workers, said: “We didn’t want to take action - and we don’t particularly want to do so again.

“But if the negotiations don’t get anywhere we are ready to go again.”

29.11.11, Page 3: HUNDREDS of South Yorkshire gents took part in a bristling, hair-raising challenge in November - growing moustaches to raise awareness of male health issues.

They endured ridicule and abuse - and many had to resist the pleas of their mothers, wives and girlfriends to abandon the attempt.

But they stuck to their task, determined to highlight the often-overlooked horrors of testicular and prostate cancer.

On November 30 the chaps were finally allowed to shave their upper lips - for the first time in a month.

Photographer Lee Brown, aged 28, from Crookes, said: “I trained as a nurse for three years and worked with lots of people with prostate cancer. There’s not enough awareness of these kinds of diseases, so it’s great to be able to raise their profile.”

13.12.11, Page 3: EARLIER this month the great X Factor saga came to a thrilling conclusion as Little Mix won Britain’s top talent show - with a little help from Sheffield starmaker Eliot Kennedy.

Grammy award winner Eliot was brought in as the show’s Talent Development Producer by best pal Gary Barlow - who believed if a band could win he was the man to make it happen.

Eliot has developed, worked with and written chart-toppers for some of the biggest bands on the planet including The Spice Girls, Take That, Boyzone, Blue, Atomic Kitten and SClub7.

Now the man with music’s Midas touch has helped X Factor judge and mentor Tulisa Contostavios to turn her group of wannabes into the next big thing.

Take That superstar and head judge Gary ended up mentoring the boys but Eliot lived and worked with all the finalists for two months as he developed them in the new role created around his extraordinary ability to produce superstars.

Little Mix are the first girl group to even reach the final and are now reportedly set to earn a staggering £8 million from massive offers which will dwarf an advance record deal. Eliot praised the ‘amazing’ foursome who beat showman Marcus Collins and third place powerhouse Amelia Lily in the live final in front of 10,000 people at Wembley Arena.

He broke off from the party celebrations straight after the show to say: “I joined the X Factor after Gary asked me to get involved. He said there had never been a band to win it but if I was involved he believed I would make it happen. “I am so proud of Little Mix. They have been amazing to work with every day.

“They have worked so hard and I believe in them so much.

“I am so thankful to Gary for asking me to be involved. This is a wonderful result for four fantastic young ladies.”

Little Mix band members Jesy Nelson, 20, from Essex, Leigh-Anne Pinnock, 19, of London, Jade Thirlwall and Perrie Edwards, both 18 and from South Shields, say they would like to become global superstars like the first band Eliot developed, The Spice Girls.