Brian Viner: Tragic news that no one saw coming


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The Independent Online

In January this year I went to the offices of the Welsh Football Association to meet Gary Speed. It was the first interview he had given to a national newspaper since becoming manager of Wales the previous month, and I reminded him of a comment he had made in 2003, when asked if he could see himself one day managing his country. "If everything in life was perfect, yeah, but it's not," had been his reply. He smiled when I brought this up. "That was pretty profound for me," he said.

Tragically, it now appears that managing his country, and indeed making demonstrable progress in the job, did not mean that everything in life was perfect. Yet he seemed, on that cold winter's day in Cardiff, like a man who had pretty much everything he wanted. He talked proudly about his two sons, both talented at sport. He grinned at the suggestion that he might one day manage his older boy, Ed, who was in the Wales Under-14s development squad, and told me about his younger son, Tommy, a boxer, who was English champion at 40 kilos last year.

"Until they were six and seven, they were both mad keen on Newcastle," said Speed, who joined the Magpies from his boyhood club, Everton, in 1998. "Then we moved to Chester, where they got a bit of stick for that. I told them they could change, but would have to support one team through thick and thin, for ever, as long as it was Everton.

"But Ed chose Liverpool. And Tommy chose Arsenal. He said: 'Dad, I like the way they play football'. And I thought, that's a great answer, I can't argue with that."

He was as passionate a Welshman as Max Boyce, and admitted to me that in his playing days he would make sure that every time he crossed the border from England, Tom Jones was on the car stereo system singing "Green, Green Grass of Home".