THE FOOTBALL world was numbed yesterday and united in grief after Wales manager Gary Speed was found hanged at his home in Cheshire.
The body of 42-year-old Speed, who had appeared on the BBC’s magazine show Football Focus on Saturday afternoon, was discovered yesterday morning.
Police insisted there were no “suspicious circumstances” surrounding the death of Speed, who seemed destined for a stellar managerial career having recently triggered the renaissance of a vibrant young Wales side, spearheaded by the likes of Arsenal’s Aaron Ramsey and Tottenham’s Gareth Bale.
A spokeswoman for Cheshire Police said: “Officers went to the scene where a 42-year-old man was found dead. The next of kin have been informed and have confirmed the identity of the man as Gary Speed.
“There are no suspicious circumstances stances surrounding the death. The family have requested that they are left in peace to grieve at this difficult time.”
Tributes poured in yesterday for Speed, who leaves behind a wife and two young children, each one paying tribute to his unwavering professionalism and integrity.
Speed’s former Wales team-mate Ryan Giggs summed up the mood of disbelief. “I am totally devastated,” he said. “Gary Speed was one of the nicest men in football and someone I am honoured to call a team-mate and friend. It goes without saying my thoughts are with his family.”
Speed, the first man to play 500 Premier League games, made his debut as a 19-year-old for Leeds United and only hung up his boots last May when he was combining playing and coaching duties at Sheffield United, who he then went on to manage.
An elegant but fiercely competitive midfielder, renowned for his aerial prowess, Speed played an integral role in Leeds United’s First Division championship triumph in 1992. He moved to Everton in 1996 for £3.5m and after two seasons at Goodison Park he was lured to St James’ Park by then Newcastle boss Kenny Dalglish.
He spent six years on Tyneside, enjoying particular success under Sir Bobby Robson, who described Speed, capped 85 times by his country, as a “blue chip” player and person.
After Kevin Blackwell was sacked early the 2010/11 season, Speed took up the managerial reigns at Bramall Lane, and despite his limited experience, the Football Association of Wales saw him as the ideal candidate to succeed John Toshack as national team boss.
Speed, who was awarded the MBE in the 2010 Birthday Honours for his services to football, had recently presided over a run of four wins in five matches to climb to 50th in the world rankings.
Gary Speed, MBE 1969 – 2011
“I was given the tragic news this morning. To say I am devastated is an understatement. My thoughts and prayers go out to Gary’s family and friends. Today the world has lost a great football manager but even more sadly a great man. He will be missed by all – Wales captain, Aaron Ramsey”
“I am totally devastated. Gary Speed was one of the nicest men in football and someone I am honoured to call a team-mate and friend – Former Wales international, Ryan Giggs”
“He was a very respected man in and around football, not only for his ability but for the guy as a person. I signed Gary for £5m from Everton and he did a fantastic job for us at Newcastle, during the time I was there and after I’d left as well – Liverpool manager, Kenny Dalglish”
“Gary was a magnificent person, bright, fun and a wonderful family man – he lit up every room he walked into. I am proud to have been his friend and will miss him dreadfully – Former Newcastle captain, Alan Shearer”
“I, and all of the football family of Wales, am devastated by the news of Gary’s passing. My thoughts and prayers are with his wife and family at this difficult time – Football Association of Wales chief executive, Jonathan Ford”
A GAME IN MOURNING
Joe Allen was one of three Swansea players, who featured for the Welsh national team under Speed, to put yesterday’s shocking news behind him and turn out for his club against Aston Villa.
Aston Villa goalkeeper Shay Given, a former Newcastle team-mate of Speed, learned of the news shortly before kick-off.
Liverpool players observed a minute’s silence but Craig Bellamy, a former Wales team-mate of Speed, was given permission to miss the game