Sheffield United hero Paddy Kenny reflects on a decade without Leeds United, Newcastle United and Everton legend Gary Speed
“Gary, you were not the most successful manager at Bramall Lane in your short spell,” read just one of the tributes to Gary Speed left outside Bramall Lane following his tragic passing, 10 years ago this weekend.
“But you definitely were the most likeable.”
Speed graced Bramall Lane for only a brief period, as a player, coach and manager, but left a lasting impression that endears to this day.
At half-time of the Blades’ clash with Bristol City yesterday afternoon, almost a decade to the day since his death, his image was projected onto the big screen and fans invited to take part in a minute’s applause in his memory, to the backdrop of ‘Wish You Were Here’ by Pink Floyd.
It was a sentiment throughout the football world, with the former Wales captain also representing Newcastle, Leeds and Bolton during his glittering career.
“I can’t imagine what Speedo went through,” said Paddy Kenny, the former United goalkeeper who played alongside Speed at Bramall Lane.
“He was someone I looked up to over the years, even before I got the chance to play alongside him, and it was a massive shock when I found out.
"On the surface he had everything. He had an unbelievable career and was always talking about his kids. But something drove him to that dark place that no-one who hasn’t been there could possibly begin to imagine.”
Speed was approaching the end of his playing career when he joined United, but kept himself in remarkable shape and took the first step on the managerial ladder at Bramall Lane.
His time at the Blades ended in December 2010, when he found an approach from his beloved Wales impossible to turn down.
Just over a year after his appointment, on December 21, 2011, Wales were awarded the ‘Best Movers of the year’ title after gaining more ranking points than any other nation in 2011. Tragically, Speed was not there to accept the award.
John Carver had worked with Speed at Newcastle, and moved to Bramall Lane to assist Speed when he took over the Blades.
“My first thought was, ‘Wow’,” Carver told The Athletic this weekend.
“I was working at Plymouth Argyle, but it was a chance to come north and closer to home. It was a great feeling. I had so much respect for him and it meant he respected what I could do.
“The first session Gary did, I thought: ‘I recognise this’. It was based on some of the work we’d done at Newcastle. I loved that. When he was a player he would come up to me after a session and say: ‘That was great, I’m going to write that one down’.
“Or it might be: ‘I won’t bother with that, JC’. He was super-intelligent. It was a huge honour to be there. We had a great understanding.”
Speed had the aura of a giant of the game but humility of an ordinary football man, and a description of him from The Star’s Blades writer James Shield endears.
“He was 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.”