Sunday Express writer and close friend of Gary Speed, John Richardson, writes about his difficult week in the aftermath of the Wales manager’s death.
Sunday November 27th.
A lovely Sunday morning, the traditional walk with my wife Sue – I don’t know how she puts up with me either – by the river in our home city of Chester which must encompass a bacon or sausage bap in our favourite waterside cafe.
It’s one of the delights of being a Sunday newspaper man – Sundays completely to yourself. If you’re lucky maybe Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays as well. If Sports Editor is reading this, just joking.
What’s this, a missed call from Chris Bascombe of the Daily Telegraph? What does he want on a Sunday morning? Maybe he just wants to check something out.
Nothing personal Chris but it’s probably the worst return call I’ve made in my life. He informs me very hesitantly knowing the likely impact that there are rumours circulating about Gary Speed. “Like what?” I enquire a little nervously. “That he’s hung himself,” answered Chris.
My mind is in a complete whirl. Speedo is a big mate. I’ve got three chapters of his autobiography sitting in my bottom drawer. We often meet in his local for a chat, both living in the area. He and his lovely wife Louise joined us on a boat on the River Dee to help celebrate our wedding just over four years ago.
This has got to be one of the sickest rumours that has ever circulated around the football world…surely? But the fact that Chris had heard it from two different sources put me on edge.
I rang a mutual mate, fellow Welshman Ian Rush. He would be able to nail these stories. He was in Dubai and the way he answered his phone suggested the worst case scenario. Normally he would be ready with a quip. This time it was a solemn “Hi Ricco.”
“You’ve heard the rumours Rushy about Speedo?” I replied. “Yeah, I think they’re true mate,” were the words I will never forget.
Right, there’s only one way to prove everyone is barking up the wrong tree. I’ll ring Speedo. His mobile rang out – there you are it’s not switched off, he’ll answer in a moment. I’ll be able to tell him there’s some sick people out there. It went into message. “Do us a favour pal can you ring me back. I’ll then put you in the picture about some gossip doing the rounds.”
There would be no ring back. Within half an hour the news is out. Gary Speed who appeared to have the perfect life had ended it all at the age of 42.
I couldn’t handle it. All I could think of was the numerous conversations we had about the two boys Ed and Tommy who he absolutely doted on. I sobbed and then felt guilty that I hadn’t felt this bad when my lovely mum died in May. She was 86, had enjoyed a full life and was suffering from dementia. Speedo had the world at his feet at a relatively young age.
Took the father in law out for a meal as planned but it was a surreal afternoon. Originally told Sue I don’t care if he has to miss out on a pudding I want to get back for the Liverpool-Manchester City game on Sky Sports.
Now I couldn’t care less if he wanted to go through the card. Football was inconsequential. Arrived home at half-time. Watched the second half in a daze. Saw Mario Balotelli get himself sent off. But yesterday Speedo was alive, today he is isn’t…
Monday November 28th.
Went swimming after buying the normal mound of newspapers. There’s my mate all over them, a poignant reminder that it hadn’t been a nightmare that you wake up from.
Everywhere you go people – many of whom aren’t even interested in football – are talking about why somebody as rounded and principled as Speedo would end it all.
Never had so many text messages or spoken to so many people in such a short time – all about the one subject.
Had an interesting chat with Kevin Ratcliffe, a former Wales international and mutual mate who had played golf with Speedo on the Thursday. We were going around in circles, why? why? why?
For a few minutes we puncture the gloom by recalling the time when Speedo used to, or probably more correctly, didn’t deliver newspapers to then Everton star, Ratcliffe. “No wonder I never gave him a tip at Christmas,” Rats chuckled. “He was ruddy hopeless.”
For his book Speedo had admitted that if he was running late or his bike developed a puncture Rats, being one of the last people on the round, would miss out.
Sat up late unable to read the deluge of tributes in the papers just wondering whether I could have done anything to have prevented this tragedy. Had there been any signs of a change in Speedo’s character? I know I wasn’t alone in examining the previous weeks.
After all he had appeared on BBC’s Football Focus on the Saturday exuding all that charisma which lit up rooms.
Tuesday November 29th.
Typical of a so called journalist, I’m struggling to write the sympathy card to Louise and the boys. Can hear Speedo in my ear wondering why he had chosen me to help him write his autobiography when according to him I couldn’t even spell.
A few weeks ago a couple of financial problems surrounding the Wales team had got him down and he was fleetingly talking about making a stand and maybe resigning. I asked him where he was calling from. He replied he was at the Trafford Centre with Louise shopping. I told him he could be shopping every day if he quit.
“You’re right,” he chortled. “I’d better stay working.”
I know one day this week I will have to write my personal tribute for Sunday’s paper. Can’t face it right now. To be honest I’m struggling to piece together my week’s schedule. A light has gone out, football and life isn’t the same at the moment.
Have tickets to watch one of my favourite bands, an Irish group called The Saw Doctors in Liverpool. Sue and I go ahead and thankfully for two and a half hours the gloom is lifted.
Wednesday November 30th.
Thankfully this is the last day of my personal Ramadan. It’s been a tradition for a number of years now that myself and a group of mates don’t touch a drop of alcohol in November. Safe to say I can always tell you what date we are in this month as it seems to last longer than a John Ley intro.
Already made plans for lent to end the next night in the local with a good pint of Cheshire Cat.
Having been in Liverpool the previous night I had recorded the Carling Cup quarter-final highlights. Watch them with interest especially Chelsea’s latest demise against Liverpool.
Received a lot of stick for calling Chelsea manager Andres Villas-Boas “an imposter” on the Sunday Supplement. That might have been a bit strong but have you ever seen a manager look so out of his depth?
Was told that Steve Bruce was on his way at Sunderland after a meeting with owner Ellis Short. Not out yet but one thing’s for certain the story isn’t going to last until Sunday.
Watch Manchester United tumble out of the Carling Cup against Crystal Palace. Want to see some of these Palace youngsters for myself. Not disappointed. It’s great for the Championship which is almost forgotten, especially by the BBC who show it during the graveyard shift on a Saturday night.
Thursday December 1st.
What a marvellous day, the first day of December. Already made plans to visit the local, Harkers, in the evening for that first pint. Better do some work first. Can’t put it off any longer, deliver 1,000 words for my Gary Speed tribute. It just came from the heart.
Make several calls to contacts for pieces for my column but of course the conversations were dominated by you know who.
Finally it’s that time – off to the pub with wife and step daughter who can always sniff out a free meal.
Break off to speak to some of the regulars in their corner – a place where Speedo would often pop in for an hour or so on a Monday evening. Plenty of hugs and tears. Great lads who are hurting.
Four pints down the hatch aided and abetted by fish finger sandwiches – don’t laugh, they are all the vogue now. Crikey we’ll soon be having egg, sausage and chips for our January Tribute dinner at the Savoy. And why not?
Friday December 2nd.
Off to Manchester for a double date with Sir Alex Ferguson and Roberto Mancini. For Sunday purposes it’s all about Champions League previews. En route while flying down the M56 I’m talking live – and hands-free – with Rob McCaffrey, former Sky Sports host who has TV and radio shows in Dubai.
It’s his radio show which is full of middle of the road pop crap – don’t worry I’ve told him and his listeners about the motley collection of records. Makes Ken Bruce seem like John Peel. At least one week he managed to find a Bruce Springsteen track to try and pacify me. After all there’s only so much Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep you can take while waiting to express your views.
Fergie in good mood although I cop it when I’m out of the blocks too quickly for the Sunday conference which follows his top table briefing with TV and the dailies. “Richardson, where are you going?” he barks at least with a smile. Had enough hair dryers over the years to open up a hairdressers.
Always more relaxed with the Sundays mainly because we’re prehistoric and he has pity that we are still roaming the football world.
Off next door to see Bobby Manc. He is more relaxed now and starting to understand the English media. Talk about the forthcoming game with Bayern Munich. He’s confident City can still remain in the Champions League. His team seems unstoppable in the Premier League.
Told football is off in the evening. I know, don’t laugh…still playing at my age along with Roscoe Tanner of the Daily Express. Something about pitch maintenance. Go swimming instead. Anyway always a chance of chatting up some decent totty in the sauna instead of listening to Roscoe dribbling on.
Saturday December 3rd.
The day from hell. On the road before 7am to travel up to Tyneside for Newcastle v Chelsea knowing I’ve then got to drive down to London to appear on Sunday morning’s Sky Sports’ Sunday Supplement. Vanity sometimes gets in the way.
Never enjoy covering Newcastle – kick every ball as well as trying to concentrate on compiling a half decent match report. Feeling okay until walking down to St. James’ Park after parking up and see a billboard on a lamp-post advertising the Gary Speed tribute programme. Whack, I’ve gone again, God knows what I will be like when they hold the minute’s applause?
Actually I’m okay until I see Newcastle coach John Carver crying his eyes out being comforted by fourth official and top guy Mark Halsey.
Chelsea win 3-0 but only after somehow David Luiz is given a yellow card instead of red. See one of the best ever goalkeeping displays from Newcastle’s Tim Krul. Impressed by how Villas-Boas handles himself in after match press conference.
After four and half hours finally arrive at the Marriott, Heathrow – my traditional overnight stay when appearing on the Supplement. Just have enough time to visit the local McDonalds for a quick take-away before getting back to the room in time for Match Of The Day.
There’s an obvious language problem. Ask for large Fiesta Chicken. Get a Latte. No large please, don’t even like coffee. Finally believe I’ve made a breakthrough and eagerly take my package with orange instead of coffee back to room. Somehow the Fiesta Chicken has transformed into what looks like a Big Mac. So hungry by now could have eaten a horse – probably have!
Sunday December 4th.
Never sleep well before Supplement duty so awake before alarm goes off at 6.45 am. Picked up by car and into Sky to meet host extraordinaire Brian Woolnough and producer Dave Wade. Honestly feel Woolly is one of the best presenters on TV and a top bloke to boot. (If that doesn’t continue my appearances, don’t know what will). On with two mates which always helps – Rob Beasley and Paddy Barclay.
Good knockabout stuff although receive a gentle telling off for telling Beez that he’s a “tight arse” after he admitted he doesn’t tip his postman at Christmas. Trouble was it’s picked up live after coming back from an advert break. Not exactly a Richard Keys-Andy Gray job though is it?
Drive back to Chester listening to Andy Dunn on Five Live or is it Five Dead! Come on Dunny raise your game. Seriously as usual he talked a lot of sense. Good to have him back on the Sunday Mirror.
Quick meal with my good lady and it’s off to Manchester to watch Coldplay at the Arena. Why is it that, unlike football, you never know when the group or singer you have gone to see are going to come back on stage? Finally Chris Martin and the crew bounce on stage at 9.15 pm. Enjoy a rousing 90 minutes but takes nearly as long to get out of the car park.
Arrive back home at 12.30 am, the missus asleep in the car even though The Stranglers are on full blast.
Pogo to bed.