Humble man was idolised by the fans

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Heartfelt tributes have flowed all week to Gary Speed whose tragic death shocked and saddened the football world.

There can sometimes be a degree of cynicism about all the fine words when someone from the combative arena of professional sport passes from our midst.

But in this case you can absolutely guarantee that every single word was sincerely meant. Speed himself was such a sincere person that never a bad one was said about him.

His quality as a human being went far beyond his excellence at football, his stature as a title-winning international football who had gone on to become an inspirational manager for his country, Wales.

As a player, he was always fair and generous towards opponents, a true sportsman and ambassador for the game. In interviews, he would give freely of himself and always take a positive outlook.

Latterly, those of us in the South Yorkshire media had the pleasure of knowing Gary, first as a player with Sheffield United in a career that stretched - courtesy of his enduring fitness and dedication - to the age of 40 and then as a budding coach and manager.

People everywhere looked up to him, from the players who learned at his feet to the fans of many clubs who idolised him.

But Gary was always humble, a man of pride but also of great humility. As journalists, our last memory of him here is of his being at our Christmas managers lunch at Bramall Lane just over a year ago, eyes twinkling and loving the banter.

As ever, he was great company, even going into extra-time with us to enjoy games of pool in a nearby pub. It is still almost impossible to believe that Gary is no longer around with his ready smile and self-deprecating sense of humour.

RIP, Gary Speed. A great man in every sense.

Twitter@AlanBiggs1