‘My time with a legend...’

Tributes starting to be laid at Bramall Lane in memory of their former Plyaer and Manager Gary Speed who has died.
Tributes starting to be laid at Bramall Lane in memory of their former Plyaer and Manager Gary Speed who has died.

Star sports reporter Richard Fidler briefly played with Gary Speed at Leeds United. He pays tribute to a ‘top bloke’.

It was my bit of glory.

From a brief professional career as a player at Leeds United it was a line I always used: “Guess who I used to get changed next to in the dressing room? Gary Speed.”

It made me proud to be able to associate myself with a player who was such a successful and respected footballer. And it also made me feel special that I knew someone who was universally so popular.

Men wanted to know what he was like as a lad. Easy answer; top bloke.

And women wanted to find out everything I could possibly know. He was a good looking man, of that there was no doubt.

I can remember coming through the ranks at Leeds. He played down the left, so did I. I dreamed of one day wearing the number 11 shirt and receiving the same kind of acclaim from the fans that he did.

The closest I got was sitting next to him and barely being brave enough to strike up a conversation.

In truth I was in awe of him. Seven years my senior he had it all. He’d chat to us young pros one moment and then go off with the first team and be the best player on the training pitch against the likes of Gary McAllister, Tony Yeboah and Tony Dorigo.

He probably didn’t realise the effect he had on other people. No one would forget working with him, knowing him, playing alongside him.

The last time I talked to him was when he’d been appointed manager of Sheffield United.

I could see as we chatted that he was frantically trying to remember where he knew me from. It’s fair to say the years had been kinder to him, than they had been to me!

Of course to him I was just another young player trying to make my way in the game. To me, he was who I wanted to be.

I didn’t know him well. He didn’t know me at all.

But when I heard the news yesterday and I tried to explain to my five-year-old son who he was, and why daddy was so sad, all I could think was of how fragile life is.

Gary Speed lived the dream of every young player who has pulled on a pair of football boots.

I’m thankful he was briefly part of my life and so sad that he is no longer with us.

He will always be remembered.