WHEN I was told a famous footballer had died on Sunday, my mind instantly turned to the endless list of controversial figures that it might have been.
After a quick glance on Twitter, I was among millions stunned to discover the suicide of Gary Speed – one of my all time favourite players.
Considered one of the ultimate professionals in the game during his time as a player, the Wales boss appeared to have the managerial world at his feet.
By now you all know the details and have heard the countless tributes from the footballing world, but I’d like to share my favourite ‘Speedo’ moment with you all.
Regular readers of this column will know that I’m an Evertonian. Back in the summer of 1996, the boyhood blue was snapped up by then boss Joe Royle for a bargain £3.5m from Leeds United.
I remember (aged 13) being in a 40,000 strong crowd at Goodison Park for his debut against Newcastle United.
It was was supposed to be about Alan Shearer, who had just signed for the Magpies following England’s run to the semi-finals of Euro 96.
But Speed stole the show in midfield, scoring on his bow in a 2-0 win for us – and from that moment on he became a legend in my mind.
He went on to captain one of the better Everton sides I can remember (obviously I was too young to enjoy the title-winning teams of the 1980s), before being sold to Newcastle by Howard Kendall.
Regardless of who he played for after that, he was a player and a person I always admired.
It seems unfathomable that somebody like Speed would take their own life. Usually when something as wretched as suicide is mooted there is a sense of inevitability or foul play is suggested.
But not this time. Perhaps he had inner demons or a problem only he knew about, but you have to take the likes of Alan Shearer, Gary McAllister and Robbie Savage at face value when they stress just how happy he appeared to be.
I hope there isn’t a darker story behind his death, but to be honest it doesn’t really matter now.
Football has lost a genuine great in Gary Speed – and many of us fans are left to mourn a hero.