Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 12 July 2014

Keith Gillespie in emotional tribute to Gary Speed

BOLTON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 28: A Newcastle United shirt is seen amongst tributes to footballer and ex Bolton Wanderers player Gary Speed outside the Reebok Stadium the home ground of Bolton Wanderers FC on November 28, 2011 in Bolton, United Kingdom. (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)

Northern Ireland great Keith Gillespie believes his former team-mate Gary Speed could have gone on to become a truly special manager.

Speed’s death has stunned everyone in football, not least those like Gillespie who played alongside him.

Welsh boss Speed took his own life at the weekend leaving a wife and two sons behind along with a host of memories for those who knew him.

Tributes have poured in for the 42-year-old, who enjoyed an outstanding playing career with Leeds United, Newcastle, Everton, Bolton and Sheffield United as well as playing 85 times for his country.

Gillespie played against Speed and became a friend and team-mate during spells at Newcastle and Sheffield United together.

“The awful news hasn’t sunk in yet, to be honest,” said 36-year-old Gillespie, who won 86 caps for Northern Ireland.

“I’ve heard several people stating no-one in football had a bad word to say about Gary and that is absolutely true. He was extremely well liked in the game.

“I had two spells with him, first at Newcastle and late in his playing career at Sheffield United.

“He was a really nice bloke, an excellent player, a great professional and everyone looked up to him in the dressing room.

“I first came across Gary when we played in opposition teams. He was really tough to play against. He had fantastic aerial ability, a great engine and got forward from midfield to score goals.

“It was tremendous to play alongside him, when by that stage he had moved from out on the left of midfield into the centre.

“We heard the rumours at the time that he was coming to Newcastle and when Kenny Dalglish signed him it was a big boost for the team.

“He played alongside David Batty, who was a team-mate of Gary’s at Leeds, and he settled in straight away on the pitch and in the dressing room.

“It was hard not to like Gary. He was just a nice, genuine guy.”

It was clear to Gillespie, these days playing in the League of Ireland with Longford Town, that Speed had what it took to become a successful manager.

“Being that bit more experienced he was always very vocal,” recalled Gillespie.

“In my second spell with him at Sheffield United you could tell that he was going to go on and become a manager.

“When he spoke everyone sat up and took notice.

“Towards the end of his playing career at Sheffield United, I had no doubt whatsoever that he would do well as a manager.

“Just look at what he achieved in a short time in charge of Wales. It has been quite remarkable and reminds me of what Northern Ireland achieved climbing up the world rankings so fast when Lawrie Sanchez came in as our manager.

“He could have gone on to be a really special manager for Wales and later at club level. He’s going to be such a sad loss to the game.”

Gillespie has been shocked as details have emerged of the manner of Speed’s death.

“Every time I see the news coming on TV, I still can’t believe it,” he says.

“I’m still getting my head around what happened and I know that others in football are feeling the same.

“It’s worst of all of course for Gary’s family. It is heartbreaking for them. They will obviously be going through a very difficult time and my thoughts are with them.

“I hope they are comforted by all the tributes being paid to Gary. It’s clear the esteem he was held in when you hear everyone speak about him.

“He was so respected in football and a hugely popular bloke. It’s unbelievable to think that he has gone.”

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