Pulis tribute to 'football man' Speed

Stoke City manager pays his respects and warns of loneliness and pressure of life in the dug-out

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The Independent Online

Stoke manager Tony Pulis yesterday paid his tribute to countryman Gary Speed following the Wales manager's death at the weekend.

The Potters will join the football world in honouring the 42-year-old with a minute's silence at tonight's Europa League game against Dynamo Kiev.

Pulis said: "There's been a lot of tributes to Gary, and rightly so, he was a smashing person. First and foremost a great, great footballer.

"As a family man, I wouldn't know, I didn't know his wife or his two children, but he spoke very fondly of the boys and taking them away to games. It's tragic. The football world has lost not just a good man but a good football man as well.

"The important thing is we give Gary's family the time and respect they need now to get through this. Football drops into insignificance in that respect."

Speed's death has brought the issue of depression in football into the limelight, and Peter Kay, the chief executive of the Sporting Chance clinic, revealed more than 10 professional footballers have been in touch since Sunday when Speed was found hanged at his home.

Pulis can understand how mental health issues could be a problem for managers especially and backed the Professional Footballers' Association to provide the right support.

"It's a pressurised game," he said. "Especially management, management is a very lonely job, especially when you're losing. You have to be a very strong as a character and as a person to get through difficult periods.

"As a player, I just enjoyed playing football. Every day that I woke up I thought I'd been blessed. So I can't speak for people who do get depressed being a professional footballer.

"The players' union is as strong as any union in the world and I'm sure [PFA chief executive] Gordon [Taylor] would be the first one to want to get that sorted out and get his members organised and set up in a way that would protect them."

Stoke defender Matthew Upson does not believe football has a particular problem but accepts it is something that should not be overlooked.

He said: "People would assume footballers wouldn't [have depression] because it's such a great job and a great lifestyle. We're very fortunate to do what we do. But that doesn't mean you still can't have your problems, and it's important to remember that."

Cardiff manager Malky Mackay dedicated his side's Carling Cup win on Tuesday night over Blackburn to Speed as they reached the semi-finals of the competition for the first time since 1966.

A Kenny Miller strike and a goal bundled in by a combination of Anthony Gerrard and Filip Kiss condemned the visitors to a 2-0 defeat at Cardiff City Stadium as the Bluebirds lifted the spirits of a nation rocked by the news about Speed at the weekend.

Prior to the game tribute was paid to Speed when the stadium, which hosted his last game in charge of Wales, united in a round of applause in recognition of his career before a minute's silence.

Both managers and Football Association of Wales chief executive Jonathan Ford also laid floral tributes on a Welsh flag, and during the game there were chants of "There's only one Gary Speed".

Mackay said the result was a fitting tribute. "I am very proud of the group, and proud of everyone at the football club. It was an emotional evening for everyone at the club and everyone in Wales," he said. "We knew that going out tonight we would have a big attendance and it was a very moving tribute to Gary.

"We wanted to get through just as that little tribute to him to get Wales into the semi-finals of the Carling Cup."

Blackburn enjoyed the better of the opening exchanges but from the moment Aron Gunnarsson robbed Morten Gamst Pedersen to set Miller away for his sixth goal of the season the outcome was rarely in doubt.

The visitors' best chances were headed efforts by David Goodwillie and Scott Dann, with Tom Heaton saving sharply from the former before former Birmingham defender Dann glanced wide.

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