Norwich City stars stunned by death of Gary Speed
Norwich City midfielder Andrew Crofts last night spoke of his devastation after learning of the death of his international boss Gary Speed.
Crofts, who along with colleague Steve Morison had been a regular in Speed's resurgent Wales side, said he was in a state of shock when he heard the terrible news.
Cheshire Police confirmed earlier in the day that Speed had been found dead at his home on the outskirts of Chester, and said there were 'no suspicious circumstances'. Sources confirmed he was found hanged.
'I've spoken to Steve (Morison) and we're just so devastated, we can't believe it,' Crofts told City's official website. 'Since he took over as Wales boss we've been with him a lot and you get to know him.
'I am just totally shocked. I got a text on my phone as I was out at the time and it just made me feel sick. I was with him a couple of weeks ago and you just can't imagine him not being here anymore.
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'He wasn't just our manager, he was a lovely geezer as well. It just hasn't sunk in yet, it's a big loss. My thoughts wholeheartedly go out to his family and friends.'
Crofts was full of praise for the manner in which Speed had turned around the fortunes of the Welsh national side after a difficult start to his international managerial career.
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The Principality finished their Euro 2012 campaign on a high and had recently made it five wins in seven games with a 4-1 friendly victory over Norway, in which both Crofts and Morison featured.
'Since becoming Wales manager he had turned us around,' said the City man. 'He made us into a really good team after times before when things just weren't as good. All the gaffer was talking about was getting us to the World Cup. That was his main aim and we have come a hell of a long way under him.
'That is a testament to just what a good job he did, but there are other things that are just more important than football in life and to have lost him is simply a massive tragedy.'
Robbie Savage, who played alongside Speed for Wales for nine years, broke down in tears as he reflected on the loss of his friend.
'I spoke to him yesterday morning. We were laughing and joking. He was in high spirits. I can't believe it,' he told BBC News. 'He came to Strictly Come Dancing (where Savage is a contestant) three or four weeks ago and he and his wife sat with us. After my routine I high-fived him and we had a drink in the bar afterwards. He is my mate and he's gone. He's left two gorgeous kids behind and a beautiful wife. He had everything.'
Manchester United midfielder Ryan Giggs, who played alongside Speed for 13 years with Wales, admitted his disbelief.
'I am totally devastated. Gary Speed was one of the nicest men in football and someone I am honoured to call a team-mate and friend,' he said. 'Words cannot begin to describe how sad I feel at hearing this awful news.'
Alan Shearer, who spent six years with Speed at Newcastle, is grieving over the loss of a bright personality whose company everyone enjoyed. He had spoken to him on the night before his death – when the friends arranged to meet for lunch this week.
'Gary was a magnificent person, bright, fun and a wonderful family man – he lit up every room he walked into,' he said. 'I am proud to have been his friend and will miss him dreadfully.'
Former Norwich City player and Welsh international Jeremy Goss said: 'I played alongside Gary Speed in all 12 internationals that I played for Wales, and I am numb to hear the news. Heartbroken.
'He was not only a fantastic player, he was a gentleman and an exceptional role model in this day and age. He led by example and so many young players looked up to him, along with established players like Ian Rush and Mark Hughes. All of us will be shattered, not least people like Mark Bowen who was very close to him. Most recently, as manager of Wales, he had turned the side around and the future for Welsh football looked really bright with him at the helm.'
As a manager Speed had only just started the job of rebuilding the Wales national side, but he had already ensured a lasting legacy as one of the finest players of his generation.
Although he started his career before the advent of the Premier League era he quickly established himself as one of its icons, becoming one of English football's most consistent performers during spells with Leeds, Everton, Newcastle and Bolton. In 2006, he became the first man to make 500 Premier League appearances.
He was also the proud holder of 85 Wales caps – a record for an outfield player and a testament to his commitment during a period when many higher-profile players routinely dropped out of international fixtures. He leaves a widow and two children.