Brian Viner: Tragic news that no one saw coming

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

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?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

IT Project Manager

Competitive: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Chelmsford a...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

IT Manager

£40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Nigel Farage has urged supporters to buy Mike Read's Ukip Calypso song and push it up to the No 1 spot  

Mike Read’s Ukip calypso is mesmerisingly atrocious — but it's not racist

Matthew Norman
Shirley Shackleton, wife of late journalist Gregory Shackleton, sits next to the grave of the 'Balibo Five' in Jakarta, in 2010  

Letter from Asia: The battle for the truth behind five journalists’ deaths in Indonesia

Andrew Buncombe
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

'You need me, I don’t need you'

Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
12 best children's shoes

Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells