Speed honoured at matches across the land (pictures)
Published 23:02 29/11/11 By Phil Cadden & John Percy
From Cardiff to Nottingham, London to Burnley and all points in between, football stood in silence and roared in approval last night of a Welsh sporting hero.
Only 17 days earlier, Gary Speed celebrated his final win in charge of Wales at the Cardiff City Stadium with a thumping 4-1 success over Norway.
It was therefore a near-impossible task to compute the contrast in images from then to seconds before kick-off of the night’s Carling Cup quarter-final tie between Cardiff and Blackburn.
The teams emerged from the tunnel and past the same dugouts Speed occupied earlier this month, where a Welsh flag was placed on the turf.
Then, opposing managers Malky Mackay and Steve Kean as well as Football Association of Wales chief executive Jonathan Ford laid wreathes on the pitch to honour the 42-year-old, who was found dead at his Cheshire home on Sunday morning.
After two days of mourning throughout Wales and beyond, there was an appeal to celebrate the life and achievements of Speed.
Applause reverberated from all four sides of the stadium as, just like at the Liberty Stadium on Sunday, a cry of ‘There’s only one Gary Speed’ went up.
One hundred and thirty miles away in Nottingham, 4,000 travelling Leeds fans had planned to sing from the 11th minute for 11 minutes in recognition of the number he wore during an eight-year spell.
But the chants for the former midfielder started two minutes early and continued for most of the first half, and who knows how much influence they had on Speed’s former club opening the scoring against Forest after 20 minutes.
Speed made his senior debut at the age of 19 under Howard Wilkinson and played a major role in leading the club to the First Division title in 1992.
He was also named player of the year that season and made 312 appearances, a service clearly not forgotten by these fans 15 years after he departed for Everton.
Leeds won the match 4-0, and at the final whistle manager Simon Grayson - who signed for Leeds as a lad on the very same day Speed did - went to the away end and pointed to the sky before leaving the field in tears.
"It's been a difficult couple of days for myself and Gary's family, supporters of Leeds United and supporters in general," he said afterwards.
"Gary Speed was a fantastic person and I wanted my players to go out and produce a performance for him.
"That was right out of the top locker of our performances.
"It was very poignant that the first goal came right as the 11 minutes of singing ended and was a left-footed shot. Gary Speed scored many goals like that.
"It's been difficult, but I'm a very proud manager tonight. I'm delighted to have got a result for Gary Speed.
"It has been a very difficult time. I had to put my professional head on, but during the minute's applause it was difficult to keep concentration. But I had to do it, because I knew he would want us to put on a performance and the manner or how we played was a reflection of what Gary would have been delighted with."
Back in Cardiff, celebration quickly turned to reflection as referee Martin Atkinson blew his whistle for an impeccably observed minute’s silence, repeated at grounds across the country.
This last-eight tie was Cardiff’s chance to reach the semi-finals of the League Cup for the first time since 1965.
Yet it felt as though you were at an international game with the number of Wales shirts, flags and scarves on display, paying tribute to the nation’s most-capped outfield player.
Outside there was a shrine dedicated to the memory of the former Leeds, Everton, Newcastle, Bolton and Sheffield United player, who won 85 caps on international duty.
Cardiff beat Blackburn 2-0, and Mackay said the result was a fitting tribute.
"I am very proud of the group, and proud of everyone at the football club," he said. "It was an emotional evening for everyone at the club and everyone in Wales.
"We knew that 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."
Speed was also remembered by fans and players at other games played on Tuesday, including the Carling Cup ties at Arsenal and Chelsea.
Tributes to Speed have poured in from far and wide, with thousands posting heartfelt messages on the FAW’s online book of remembrance inside 36 hours.
But as much as the numbers, it was the representation from so many parts of the world that said so much about a man whose passing football fans continue to struggle with.