Bramall Lane pays its respects to footballer, coach and manager
IT was almost as if the footballing gods themselves had intervened.
On the afternoon Sheffield United mourned Gary Speed, another son of Wales, Ched Evans, scored twice to help the South Yorkshire club give their former player, coach and manager a celebratory send-off.
Exactly what Speed, a consummate professional whose humility and dedication to the beautiful game earned him the admiration of its followers both in Great Britain and abroad, would have wanted.
The FA Cup enjoys a special place in the hearts of football fans the world over but those who descended upon Bramall Lane for Saturday’s second-round tie with Torquay - indeed even at Hillsborough where Sheffield Wednesday were entertaining Aldershot - had more than victory in mind.
Speed’s passing had cast a sombre shadow over United’s preparations for the visit of Martin Ling’s side with floral tributes, pictures, poems and handwritten messages of condolence being placed outside their stadium within hours of the 42-year-old’s death being announced last month.
Heads bowed and in respectful silence, crowds of men, women and children, young, middle-aged and old, gathered at the home-made shrine before filing through the turnstiles.
There were poignant scenes inside the ground too with Robert Page and Chris Morgan laying wreaths in the centre circle ahead of kick-off.
A small army of Speed’s friends and old colleagues surveyed the scene from the touchline while a giant electronic screen relayed some of the finest moments of his glittering career.
Given Speed’s achievements at Leeds, Everton, Newcastle and Bolton before arriving in the Steel City and, of course, with the country of his birth, this visual montage could still be running now.
But a distinguished career was carefully condensed in to five inspirational minutes followed, as tradition dictates, by 60 seconds of heartfelt and deserved applause.
Perhaps the moment which illustrated his standing best, however, came towards the end of United’s 3-2 triumph.
The strains of “There’s only one Speedo” reverberating across the terraces.
Not only emanating with gusto from the throats of United’s followers.
But also those who had made the long journey from Devon as well.
It was impromptu, moving and genuinely heartfelt.
A fitting way to remember not only a fine footballer, but, even more importantly, a humble, down-to-earth and much-loved man.