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Football: Father of Gary Speed leads the plaudits as son lands Welsh job

A MAN of substance, a man of honour, a man of character.

These days it is rarely possible to attach these words to someone working in the often murky world of professional football, but whenever you speak about newly appointed Wales manager Gary Speed MBE, these plaudits and many more pour forth in a torrent.

The Mancot-born lad has come a long way since he was spotted playing for Flintshire Schoolboys by Leeds United and signed up as a youngster.

But proud father Roger said despite all he has achieved in the game, his appointment by the FA of Wales last week came out of the blue.

“I never saw it coming,” he said. “I got a call from Gary saying that the FAW had approached him and that it was his decision whether he took the job or not.

“To be honest I was split because I was so proud that he had been called on by his country but I was also gutted because Sheffield United had been so kind to us when we visited.

“They are a great club with good values and no-one can fault how they have dealt with this situation.

“But the fact he took the job and felt such a pull for it is proof of just how much of a Welshman he is, he couldn’t resist the will of his country.”

Now 41, Speed retired from playing football aged 39 having accrued 640 top-flight appearances for Leeds United, with whom he won the First Division title before it was renamed the Premier League, Everton, Newcastle and Bolton Wanderers.

By the time he finished his career as a player with Sheffield United, he had made 768 competitive appearances and scored 124 goals.

He also earned 85 caps for Wales as he distinguished himself under then-Welsh manager Mark Hughes.

Despite all his success he has never severed his ties with the Flintshire and Cheshire region where he grew up.

He has settled in Huntington, Chester, and still pays visits to his alma mata, Hawarden High School, to present awards and speak to pupils.

He is at the pinnacle of Welsh football, commanding players of the calibre of Gareth Bale, Aaron Ramsay, Craig Bellamy and a crop of younger talent pushing its way through.

And whereas his predecessor John Toshack was brash, opinionated and difficult, Speed is respected in the football world for his modesty, honesty and integrity.

They are traits first spotted in him by Hawarden High School deputy head Paul Ellis, who taught a young Gary in the mid-1980s.

“He had already signed forms for Leeds at that stage but he was never big-headed about it,” said Paul.

“He never wanted special treatment or expected anything because he was on the books of a big club. He was modest about it all and just got on with his work.”

Despite Speed’s own admission that school often got in the way of sport, that’s not how Paul remembers it.

“He was very focused on sport obviously, but he got his head down and got good results in his exams and he was a good student,” he added.

“He is also an inspirational person. He has returned a number of times to hand out our Record of Achievement books to students and always makes time to speak to them.

“One speech he gave still strikes a chord. He told the pupils that when he went to Leeds he was not the best player at the club, or in his age group.

“But he listened to what the coaches said and worked harder than anyone else and that is what set him apart and made him a success.

“Another time he was due to attend a ceremony here the day after Wales played Germany in 2002. He was captain at the Millennium Stadium and Wales shocked the Germans by winning 1-0.

“We thought he might not come as he would be celebrating with the team but he did arrive, which is the true measure of the man. Gary Speed is a man of his word and a man of integrity and we all wish him well here.”

Speed’s achievements as a manager have yet to acquire the sparkle of his playing career as he was in charge at Bramall Lane for just 18 games, wining six and losing nine, before the FAW came calling.

But dad Roger has no doubt that his son will get the best out of Wales and will restore Welsh fans’ pride in their national side.

“Everyone respects him,” he said. “I am always amazed how many footballers call him up for advice because they hold him in high regard.

“And the fans respect him too. The team is very low at the moment but he will lift them. Everything he does now is down to him as he has taken on a team in the doldrums.

“I believe he will bring the pride back to Welsh football and the Millennium Stadium.”

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