BBC presenter Dan Walker fought back tears to pay an emotional tribute to the late former Newcastle and Leeds midfielder Gary Speed, who died 10 years ago. Walker had spent the final day of Speed’s life with the then-Wales manager.
Speed, who was 42, died on November 27, 2011.
Walker has paid tribute to the ex-Wales international and believes his death has opened up a conversation about mental health.
“Gary Speed was an amazing footballer and just an all-round good bloke,” he said of Speed, who made 841 appearances for the likes of Newcastle, Leeds, Everton and Bolton during a mini film posted to the BBC’s social media accounts.
“Anyone who played alongside Gary would always say that he was brilliant in the dressing room. He was always the player who others went to when they had a problem.
“I always found him to be a really kind bloke. He was always interested in other people. He would always ask you questions about your family, about what you’d been up to, and he would remember things you had said in previous conversations.
“And I don’t think there are many people like that.”
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Speed had been a guest on BBC’s Football Focus the day before his death. Walker presented the show up until last month and recalls their final meeting.
“First of all, I can’t believe it’s 10 years ago. I’ll be honest, I remember the day really vividly and I do go over it in my mind quite a bit,” he said.
“I remember that one of the camera operators came over and spoke to Gary about the fact that they had gone to the same school. Gary did his normal thing, he just talked for five or 10 minutes.
“I saw the look on the camera operator’s face. He was absolutely delighted that Gary was interested in him and that Gary was asking him questions about his family. And that was what Gary was all about.
“After the show finished I took him upstairs because Alan Shearer, one of his great friends, was working on Match of the Day. So we went upstairs to the Match of the Day production office.
“I stayed a little bit longer and the last thing I said to him was: ‘I’ll call you on Monday and we’ll organise a game of golf’. And that’s where we left it. Shook him by the hand, said ‘you were really good today’ and left.”
Walker continues: “The next morning, I remember being sat in church and my phone was going crazy. Phone call after phone call. Text, text, text.
“I remember exactly where I was sat. I said to my wife that something had happened and I need to go and find out. There was a call from Alan [Shearer] and he didn’t even say hello – he just said: ‘Have you heard about Gary?’”
Beginning to tear up, Walker recalls the moments after he found out the news.
He said: “I just couldn’t fathom what had happened when you think about the day that I had with him the day before.
“Then you just go back over absolutely everything. You can’t help but wonder whether you could have done something. Or whether there was something you should have seen.
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“But I really don’t think there were. The whole of the country were in shock, people were heartbroken.
“Nobody who knows him will say that they have the answer to why he did what he did, but I know that his two boys felt that something happened that day that Gary felt, for whatever reason, that there was no other way out.
“And that’s incredibly sad and distressing. Particularly for his family because his two boys absolutely adored him, and he loved them. But they miss him and nobody would have wished for them to go through what they have gone through.”
Using Speed’s two children as an example, Walker urged people to talk about how they feel.
“I think both of them know now that if they were ever struggling then they could go and speak to someone. If Gary had spoken to someone that night then I think he would still be here,” he explained.
“I’d like to think that if two blokes had gone to a game of football a decade ago then they would just talk about the football. I’d like to think now that things are different and that they might have a conversation about how they are feeling.”