There has been a lot of talk about a lack of leaders and professionalism within Newcastle United over the course of much of this season.
One man was not only a real leader but probably the most professional player I have ever seen play, and that was Gary Speed. This is someone who will never be forgotten, not just for his footballing ability but for the manner in which he represented Newcastle United.
Football itself obviously pales into insignificance when talking of the loss of human life but Gary Speed can, and should, always be honoured for the dignity he brought to Newcastle.
The term giving 110% is very clichéd but Speed represents such a phrase in its truest form.
Cover the ground to make a tackle?
Cover the ground to get in the box?
Put your leg in where it hurts?
Put your head in where it hurts?
Take one for the team?
All of these actions were not just carried out on a regular basis – they were carried out without one single thought given. And they were carried out without a single bit of praise expected in return.
To play in any other way was just alien to him, slacking off during a game because he’d maybe done enough running by that point just did not compute.
As a fan watching, it was just a pleasure knowing someone of his nature was representing the shirt. His consistency was such that I think some perhaps took his attitude and ability for granted. This is without mentioning the finer technical points of his brilliant all-round game.
The way he looked after himself, as a professional always waning to stay on top of his game, is reflected by how long he played at the highest level. His fitness levels were phenomenal and he’s an example to all current footballers everywhere.
I’ve heard it said by some ex-Newcastle players that he was the real captain in the dressing room at NUFC, which I can fully believe. Giving encouragement but also giving a kick up someone’s backside without hesitation if needed. He was always vocal on the pitch but always came across as incredibly selfless.
His famous heading ability was not just a testament to his ability but also his bravery – when Newcastle won a corner it felt like a genuine goal scoring chance. The man just wouldn’t back down, ever, and if there was the slightest possibility of getting on the end of a cross his head was going wherever he needed to go.
I will never forgot the shock when his death was announced back in 2011 but he will always live on as an example and influence to others within football. He is the cornerstone as to which every Newcastle United player should aspire to when they sign on the dotted line.
Back to the present and the players ought to be reminded of this man.
The past few weeks have seen definite signs of improvement in attitude and if they can match the same kind of application as Gary Speed in these final two matches, then we may actually achieve survival.
Over to you lads.