Stunned. Speechless. Desperately saddened.
Just four of the words which sprung to mind when news of Gary Speed’s death was announced yesterday.
As a player, the 42-year-old needed no introduction.
One of the finest midfielders of his generation, ‘Speedo’ as he was affectionately known to friends, colleagues and supporters alike, also appeared destined to enjoy an equally successful career in the dug-out having cut his coaching teeth with Sheffield United before taking charge of Wales.
But, more importantly, he was a damn good bloke.
The consummate professional who always remained courteous despite knowing that his achievements in the game meant, no matter how he conducted himself, he would still command folks’ respect.
And that, more than any medal or cap, was the mark of the man.
Those of us fortunate enough to get to know Gary during his time at Bramall Lane can also bear witness to the fact he was engaging company.
A Christmas lunch, organised by the region’s journalists and attended by several managers and former players, is a popular fixture on Yorkshire’s sporting calendar.
Gary was gracious enough to attend last year’s bash despite, as was soon to become apparent, having much on his plate thanks to those on-going negotiations with the FAW.
Rather than immediately disappear after polishing off his pudding, Speedo joined us for a game of pool and a gallon or two of ale in a nearby pub before also mingling with a several of its astonished regulars.
The fact that his passing has prompted tributes from so many clubs both in the British Isles and beyond speaks volumes about the esteem in which he was held.
A footballing colossus who nevertheless remained down to earth and possessed the human touch.