Brian Viner: Tragic news that no one saw coming

The man I met 10 months ago seemed witty, charming and self-possessed

Share
Related Topics

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 Welsh 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."

Speed's own father had been a Liverpool supporter, but growing up in north Wales his best friend was John Ratcliffe, cousin of the Everton captain, Kevin. So Everton it was, and Everton it remained, even though his own two-year stint at Goodison Park came to an acrimonious end.

Some Everton fans, who thought – wrongly – that his abrupt departure was an act of disloyalty, gave him a torrid reception when he returned to Goodison but, in the wake of yesterday's shocking reports, the message boards, predictably, were full of plaudits. One fan recalled upbraiding Speed when he saw him at a service station climbing into his red Porsche, suggesting that no Evertonian should ever drive a red car. "It's Wales red, not Liverpool red," Speed replied.

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". The notion that rugby, not football, is the Principality's main sporting love did not impress him.

"I hate this football-rugby thing," he said. "I want Wales to win at bowls, darts, everything. We're a small country, we don't need any divisions. I played cricket for Welsh schoolboys, I didn't get in the football team. And I played rugby for Clwyd schools. I thought I was all right, actually. I was a centre, small, but pretty quick. But then we came down to play mid-Glamorgan and we got beat 78-0 or something like that, by lads who had beards. I put the rugby ball away after that."

Speed chuckled at that memory, and bantered merrily with me and the photographer while he was having his picture taken. Whatever personal demons drove him to end his life, the man I met 10 months ago seemed witty, charming and self-possessed. It is unspeakably sad news.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Assistant

£17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are a leading company in the field ...

Recruitment Genius: DBA Developer - SQL Server

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Office Manager

£26041 - £34876 per annum: Recruitment Genius: There has never been a more exc...

Recruitment Genius: Travel Customer Service and Experience Manager

£14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing travel comp...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A pack of seagulls squabble over discarded food left on the beach at St Ives on July 28, 2015  

Number of urban seagulls in Britain nearly quadruples: Hide food and avoid chicks to stay in gulls’ good books

Tom Bawden
 

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice
Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

The haunting of Shirley Jackson

Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen