As solid a man as you could ever meet

File photo dated 17/8/2010 of Gary Speed. PRESS ASSOCIATION PHOTO: Issue date: Sunday November 27, 2011. Wales manager Gary Speed has died, the Football Association of Wales have said. See PA Story SOCCER Wales. Photo credit should read Anna Gowthorpe/PA Wire

File photo dated 17/8/2010 of Gary Speed. PRESS ASSOCIATION PHOTO: Issue date: Sunday November 27, 2011. Wales manager Gary Speed has died, the Football Association of Wales have said. See PA Story SOCCER Wales. Photo credit should read Anna Gowthorpe/PA Wire

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Unassuming, unpretentious, never put himself above anybody. . . words to describe Gary Speed from the man who shared a flat with the football legend during his time as Sheffield United boss.

How can these be descriptions of a great of the game who set a record of 535 Premier League appearances, won 85 caps for Wales and was admired by everyone he met?

Npower Championship 28/12/010''Norwich City vs Sheffield United ''Utd's  Sam Ellis ask's for more

Npower Championship 28/12/010''Norwich City vs Sheffield United ''Utd's Sam Ellis ask's for more

Yet this is the common currency of the sincere and heartfelt tributes to a man whose qualities as a person even outshone his magnificence on a football field.

And nobody knows the truth of the genuineness of his nature more than Sam Ellis, the former assistant to Kevin Blackwell who later did the same job under Speed.

They were virtual strangers when they met after Blackwell’s appointment as manager - with Speed the star of the dressing room - but went on to share a flat in Totley on the outskirts of the city.

Ellis had packed his bags after Blackwell’s shock sacking as Lane boss in August, 2009, with Speed set to take control.

“Actually I did leave,” Ellis, now with Stoke, recalls. “On the Sunday, the day after Kevin left, I rang Speedo to tell him I was leaving the way open for him.

“The following day he phoned me to ask me to stay. I couldn’t have been more flattered than to be asked a question like that by a man like him.”

Ellis, shattered by Speed’s tragic death at 42, added: “I can’t believe something like that could happen. How on earth could it? What signs? But that’s not something we should delve into.

“Gary was just a down to earth, normal lad who had the ability to inspire others. That’s why there has been all the attention. He was that type of person. Greatness isn’t just measured by actions but also by manners and humility.

“When Kevin and I went to Sheffield United Gary was already there. He was injured and we were desperate to get him back into the team, which we did.

“He played for us up to the middle of the 2008-09 season when we reached the play-off final. And of course it made a big difference to lose him with a back injury.

“Gary was 39 at the time but even at that age he gave us so much. It wasn’t just the authority he brought to midfield but the difference he made to players around him. He gave them assurance just by being the way he was.

“He was such an example to everybody that they became better players. And in the dressing room he was a calming influence, someone to look up to. Gary was the consummate professional - dependable, unassuming and unpretentious. As solid a man as you could meet.

“When he became manager I shared a flat with him for four months. I could see then how he was as a person. He was an avid reader and well educated but also a good raconteur.

“On nights when we’d been to watch different games we’d meet up for a pint and a chat. But above all, he was a family man. He doted on his kids. They were always at our games, as were his mum and dad.”

Virtually Speed’s last engagement in Sheffield was to attend a Christmas lunch with journalists almost a year ago at a time when his move to manage Wales was in the air. “That was the day he made up his mind to go and he confided that to me,” said Ellis who also attended a function that, in time honoured fashion, spilled over into a nearby pub. Typically, Speed came on with us.

“I remember it well and what a good do it was,” added Sam. “Gary said the Wales job was one he’d always coveted. He felt it might not come up again and he had to grab it there and then.

“I think everyone at Sheffield United will have only good memories of Gary. He got on with everybody and treated everyone the same way. He never put himself above anybody and that’s the measure of the man.”

Speed’s tragic death was also being felt across the city at Hillsborough this week.

Wednesday manager Gary Megson said: “I was his manager for a few months at Bolton and it’s just really, really sad. Life would be a lot better if everybody was like Gary.”

Twitter@AlanBiggs1