TRIBUTES have flooded in for Sheffield United legend Gary Speed, who tragically died aged just 42.
Shocked fans last night laid floral tributes at Bramall Lane, where the Welshman was a popular figure during his three years as player and manager.
Today, as football lovers everywhere take stock of the tragedy, Star sports writers James Shield and Richard Fidler join fans and colleagues in tribute to a true gentleman of the game.
SHOCKED football fans and colleagues have paid tribute to former Sheffield United player and manager Gary Speed, who has died at the age of 42.
The Welsh team manager, who appeared for the Blades 37 times towards the end of a glittering playing career, was found hanged in his Cheshire home yesterday morning.
Speed, who coached United before leaving to join the Welsh side last December, leaves a wife and two children.
Police said there were no suspicious circumstances surrounding the death.
Blades fans and former colleagues reacted with shock to the tragic news.
Former Sports Minister and Sheffield MP Richard Caborn, a lifelong Unitedite, told The Star: “Gary was a true gentleman of the game, respected by players and managers alike.
“In many respects he reminded me of Derek Dooley - he had no enemies, everybody spoke highly of him, and he knew so much about football.
“He was a tremendous player and was really going somewhere as a manager. He was just starting to turn the Wales team around.
“He is probably one of the last guys in the world you would expect to do something like this.
“It is an absolute shock and a terrible tragedy.”
Sheffield United director Scott McCabe said: “This is devastating news. All the thoughts and prayers of the board of directors are with Gary’s family at this very sad time.”
Blade star Chris Morgan, who was managed by Speed, said: “I just cannot believe that Gary has died.
“He was extremely popular at Bramall Lane, both as a player and in a managerial capacity with the lads.
“His death is a very sad loss.”
Speed had been in charge of the Welsh team since he left Bramall Lane in December 2010, and had led the team to four wins in his last five matches, to climb to 50th in the world rankings.
As a player he made nearly 700 league appearances, representing Leeds, Everton, Newcastle, Bolton and Sheffield United in a 22-year professional career.
He won the championship with Leeds in 1992 and was twice an FA Cup runner-up with Newcastle. He also won 85 caps for Wales and was awarded an MBE in 2010.
Former Blades boss Kevin Blackwell, who managed Speed at United, said: “When I heard the news I felt physically sick. It’s just such a terrible thing to happen and my heart goes out to his family.
“Gary was a great guy and a great guy to work with. A true professional.
“Nobody, genuinely, had a bad word to say about him.
“He had a remarkable career as a player and looked to be developing into a great manager too if you look at Wales’ recent results.”
Doncaster Rovers manager Dean Saunders, who played with Speed for Wales, said: “I just can’t believe it. I spoke to him last week.
“We roomed together all of our careers with Wales. I just can’t get my head around it. It’s incredible.
“He’s so level-headed. You never saw him down in the dumps. He was just a really nice fella. I’m just thinking about his wife and his lads. I feel sorry for them more than the football.”
Sheffield Wednesday legend Howard Wilkinson, who managed Speed at Leeds, added: “He had so much to offer as a person and as a sportsman.
“I just find it unbelievable. I cannot start to try to understand what his family are going through.
“Gary had a lot of talent and that talent became his job. Footballers are subject to all the stress and strains of things that happen in life.
“For him at 42 to leave us is such a tragic loss. He had a life of success to look forward to.”
Newcastle United assistant manager John Carver, who was Speed’s assistant at Bramall Lane and took over as caretaker boss when he left, said: “Gary was as perfect a professional as you could ever wish to work with - 100 per cent committed, dedicated to his profession and, above all, a wonderful colleague and friend.
“Football has lost a truly great man.”