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On Sunday 27th November, I was sitting on my bed listening to talkSPORT, when at around 12.20pm, they broke off from their show to say that the Football Association of Wales had just released a statement saying that national team manager Gary Speed had been found dead at home.
It was one of those truly surreal moments where everything seemed to stop. I was left thinking 'that can't be right' but it soon hit home as Bobby Gould, the man who made him captain of his country, battled back the tears at the Liberty Stadium to talk in glowing terms about his captain.
I went up to Goodison on the Monday morning to see the tributes and i've been back a couple of times since, but even as I write this two weeks later, I still can't believe it!
Gary Speed's Everton career was all too brief, but as a 14-year-old when he signed, he soon became my favourite player in that side, alongside Neville Southall and Duncan Ferguson.
Speed's debut against Newcastle summed up what he was as a player - creative, hard working, a leader and a goalscorer. Speed and Ferguson terrorised Newcastle that day!
When I think of Speedo, I smile. I think of his nerveless injury time penalty at Filbert Street, which proved so crucial that season, while wearing my favourite ever Everton kit. I loved that kit and I loved Speedo in that side. He always wore long sleeve shirts and that is the reason why I only wear long sleeved football shirts, even now! During his time with us, he wore asics boots. I can remember saving up for a blue pair, the same style as the ones he wore. They were a size too small and I played in goal. Blue boots on a 14 year old goalkeeper make for an awful lot of ribbing, but I didn't care because he wore them.
I remember his goal at Anfield, a typical Speed header at the Kop and the delight on his face. As captain in the 2-0 Derby win in October '97, that big beaming smile at beating them. The hat-trick against Southampton. A superb performance and goal against Chelsea in what actually turned out to be his last game for his club.
We will never know exactly why he left Everton, but his dignified silence about it says all you need to know about the man. He wouldn't have a bad word said against his club.
In the past two weeks, several ex-teammates have spoken in glowing terms about him and how he would always ask them about how things were going at Everton. I'm glad that he was at Goodison for the Wolves game just a week before his death. He was one of us.
The thing that stands out for me with all the tributes about him is that every person has said what a wonderful person he was, followed by what a wonderful player. As a person, he seems to have had a huge impact on so many people.
I only met him once, at Roker Park in May '97. He signed my shirt and that of everyone else who asked him. A common theme about him appears to be that he always had time for other people.
The fact there has been such a huge reaction to his death is probably the biggest tribute you can pay him. I watched Wales completely outplay Norway last month, playing some great stuff, exactly as he wanted them to. You could see the pride in his face when he spoke about the team after the game. Everyone wanted to play for him, that was the affect he had on others.
I thought the tribute to him at the Stoke game was superb. The Welsh flag at half mast, his teammates and dad on the pitch, the kids in the kits of his former clubs and his name on the screens were lovely, but for me, the teams coming out to the Welsh National Anthem was the most moving moment. To go from the utter silence of that to the thunderous minute’s applause, followed by Z Cars was spine tingling. A truly fitting tribute to a wonderful man.
I think it would be lovely if the club could add him to the banners on the Main Stand with a quote that makes me smile...
"Playing for Everton was the fulfilment of a dream for me"
As I said before, Gary Speed made the 14-year-old me smile a lot.
I hope you are at peace at last. Thank you for the memories you have provided myself and thousands of others. It was an honour to see you play for Everton.
Gentleman. Footballer. Evertonian.
RIP Speedo x
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