Flags lowered as football mourns Gary Speed

The flags at Leeds’ Elland Road Stadium were lowered Sunday in

honor of one of the key players from the club’s last title-winning

side.

Elsewhere, one Premier League crowd honored Gary Speed with a

minute’s silence and another opted for an impromptu minute’s

applause following the news that a man renowned for his longevity

as a player – and burgeoning promise as a manager – had died aged

42.

The youngest member of Leeds’ 1991-92 title-winning midfield and

the first player to reach 500 Premier League appearances, Speed was

renowned as a dedicated professional and had just coached his

native Wales to three straight wins.

Friends and colleagues practically lined up to pay tribute to

Speed, who was found dead at his home Sunday.

”He lived his life the way he played football, without

blemish,” said Joe Royle, who signed him for Everton in 1996. ”He

was a good guy. I’ve never ever heard anyone say a bad word or make

a snide remark about him. It was just ‘Speedo is terrific.’

”I rated him so highly as a man and as a person.”

A minute’s silence was observed before the Premier League match

between Liverpool and Manchester City at Anfield. But when they

were asked to observe a minute’s silence, the fans at the game

between Welsh side Swansea and Aston Villa instead broke into

spontaneous sustained applause and chanted ”There’s Only One Gary

Speed.”

Villa goalkeeper Shay Given was in tears thinking of his former

Newcastle teammate, while Wales striker Craig Bellamy was so upset

he was left out of Liverpool’s squad entirely.

Wales internationals Ashley Williams, Neil Taylor, Joe Allen and

James Collins started for either Villa or Swansea, with emotions

running so high that Villa manager Alex McLeish said he would not

have protested if the game had been called off.

Wales midfielder Joe Ledley wrote on Twitter: ”So saddened by

the loss of a great guy, manager & footballer. It was a

pleasure to work under him. My thoughts are with his family.”

With Speed having played 85 times for Wales – a tally beaten

only by goalkeeper Neville Southall – and racking up 535 Premier

League appearances, a recurring theme of the tributes paid was his

dedication. Speed maintained his body in peak condition even past

the age when most of his peers had dropped down the divisions or

retired.

Speed’s Premier League appearance record has since been

overtaken by goalkeeper David James and Manchester United stalwart

Ryan Giggs, who played alongside Speed for Wales.

”I am totally devastated,” Giggs said. ”Gary Speed was one of

the nicest men in football and someone I am honored to call a

teammate and friend. Words cannot begin to describe how sad I feel

at hearing this awful news. It goes without saying my thoughts are

with his family at this tremendously sad time.”

Former Wales striker Dean Saunders, who shared a room with Speed

when the pair were called up for internationals, said Speed would

do sit-ups and press-ups before going to bed every night. Another

Wales teammate, Mark Bowen, said Speed was one of the first players

in British football to properly tailor his diet to maximize his

performances.

Former England midfielder Royle said that helped persuade him to

sign Speed at Everton, the club Speed had supported as a boy.

”He always came in looking a million dollars and there was

never any indication that he wasn’t ready to train,” Royle said.

”He played with a smile on his face and he was one of the best

players I was fortunate enough to manage and handle and I still

can’t believe it.

”He was part of the North Wales-Everton supporters band and

from the minute he came he was perfect for the club.”

Current Everton players weighed in with their tributes on

Twitter.

Australia forward Tim Cahill: ”Gary Speed was the ultimate pro

on and off the pitch. So sad to lose someone so special to

football, friends, fans, family. Rest in Peace mate.”

Everton captain Phil Neville: ”Horrific news about Gary Speed,

my thoughts and prayers are with his family.”

Simon Grayson signed for Leeds on the same day as Speed and is

now manager of the northern England club. Grayson had been friends

with Speed, who played alongside Gordon Strachan, David Batty, and

Gary McAllister in Leeds’ title-winning side, for 25 years.

”Speedo was a true friend and a very, very popular man,”

Grayson said. ”We signed on the same day and played in the youth

and reserve teams together. We also did all our coaching badges

together. He was a good friend and this is a very sad day.”

Newcastle assistant coach John Carver worked with Speed during

Bobby Robson’s stint in charge of the club.

”Gary was as perfect a professional as you could ever wish to

work with: 100 percent committed, dedicated to his profession and,

above all, a wonderful colleague and friend,” Carver said. ”I

worked with him at Sheffield United too and of course was delighted

to see the fantastic job he was doing with Wales.

”Gary was an exceptional person and a very dear friend.

Football has lost a truly great man.”

Real Madrid midfielder Xabi Alonso played against Speed during

his time with Liverpool in England’s Premier League and remembered

his opponent fondly.

”RIP Gary Speed. My first PL game was against him, he showed me

in that game what is British football about,” Alonso wrote on

Twitter.