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?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Spanish Speaking

£17000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - German Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Japanese Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you are fluent in Japanese a...

Recruitment Genius: Graphic Designer - Immediate Start

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Dom Joly owns a pig. That thinks it's a dog.  

I'll bow out. Let Wilbur, the pig that thinks it's a dog, bring home the bacon

Dom Joly
 

Forget charging by the page - with books, heart matters more than heft

Katy Guest
The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
Compton Cricket Club

Compton Cricket Club

Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

It helps a winner keep on winning
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'