City star Andrew Crofts tonight joined the football family in mourning the shock and sudden loss of Wales manager Gary Speed.
As an industry, professional football can sometimes resemble little more than a meat factory; as a sport, it has more than its fair share of odious villains and ne’er-do-wells.
But on occasions like today, football still has the capacity to draw itself tightly together as befits a close-knit family and mark the passing of one of its much-loved own with genuine dignity and feeling.
Not to mention profound shock as everyone slowly awoke to the news that Speed was found dead at his home overnight – apparently having taken his own life.
Less than two weeks ago and Speed was managing both Crofts and his Canary team-mate Steve Morison as a resurgent Wales dismissed Norway 4-1. With the likes of Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey offering genuine, world class potential, all set fair for Speed to lead his young charges into next year’s 2014 World Cup qualifying campaign.
Life, however, had other plans.
“I’m devastated,” Crofts told the club’s official website this afternoon, as events in Chester came to wholly over-shadow yesterday’s 2-1 home win over Queen’s Park Rangers. Speed’s passing will cast a long shadow over the game – and particularly in Norfolk where the Wales connection is strong.
Craig Bellamy has obvious Carrow Road connections; likewise Iwan Roberts, who has carved out a successful new career for himself as a Welsh media pundit.
But it is to Crofts and Morison to whom thoughts will immediately turn tonight – both enjoyed a close relationship with their international manager after Speed gave both the opportunity to blossom amidst his collection of bright, young footballing things.
“I’ve spoken to Steve (Morison) and we’re just so devastated,” Crofts told the official site. “We can’t believe it.
“Since he took over as Wales boss we’ve been with him a lot and you get to know him. He wasn’t just our manager, he was a lovely geezer as well. It just hasn’t sunk in. It’s a big loss.”
The fact that Wales appeared to be heading into a bright new era – full of genuine hope and no little potential merely added to the tragedy of this weekend’s shock events. Everything appeared to be in place; all was set fair.
“Ever since he took over with Wales, all the Gaffer was talking about was getting us to the World Cup. That was the main aim and we’ve come a hell of a long way under him,” said Crofts.
“I was with him a couple of weeks ago and you just can’t imagine him not being here anymore. My thoughts go out to his family at this awful time.”
Speed was just 42; the father to two young children. He appeared on the BBC’s Football Focus show only yesterday; to the watching footballing world he appeared not to have a care in the world.
Within 24 hours, however and Cheshire Police were making a short statement following the initial news first released by the Football Association of Wales this morning.
A spokeswoman for Cheshire police said: “At 7.08am today, Cheshire police was informed of a sudden death at an address in Huntington, Chester. Officers went to the scene where a 42-year-old man was found dead. The next of kin have been informed and have confirmed the identity of the man as Gary Speed.
“There are no suspicious circumstances surrounding the death.”
Tributes rightly poured in from across the game; Scotland boss Craig Levein being one of dozens at a loss for words – other than to recognise that the game had lost one of its most-loved sons.
“Football has lost a real talent and a gentleman; Gary was a young manager with the world at his feet. Stewart Regan [SFA chief executive] and I were laughing and joking with him just last week,” he told the BBC.
“He was doing some fantastic work with the Welsh national team and I was looking forward to pitting my wits against him over the next couple of years. My deepest sympathies go out to Gary’s family and the football community in Wales.”