Euro 2016: Gary Speed 'will be up there watching Wales' in France

By Aled WilliamsBBC Wales Sport
Roger and Carol Speed with Chris Coleman
Gary Speed's dad Roger and mum Carol with Wales boss Chris Coleman at the Gary Speed memorial match in 2012
Pre-Euro 2016 friendly: Sweden v Wales
Date: Sunday, 5 June Venue: Friends Arena, Stockholm Kick-off: 15:00 BST
Coverage: Live on BBC Radio Wales, BBC Radio Cymru & BBC Sport website and BBC Sport app, plus live text commentary.
Watch: Wales: The Road to the Euros documentary on Wednesday, BBC One Wales, 19:30 BST

"I know somebody up there will be watching and he'll be behind them all the time."

Roger Speed may be smiling but he has a lump in his throat as he ponders the summer trip to France that he should be taking with his son to watch Wales at the European Championship.

But although his legacy will be in France, Gary Speed will not be.

Capped by his country 85 times, he was Wales football manager when he died aged 42 in November 2011.

And as the Welsh celebrate qualifying for a major tournament for the first time since the 1958 World Cup, it is a poignant and bittersweet moment for the Speed family.

Gary Speed pictured in 2011
Gary Speed won five of his 10 games in charge of Wales

Speed Sr was a regular at their qualifiers and will travel to Wales' Euro 2016 matches and stay with the Wales team as a guest of Football Association of Wales chief executive Jonathan Ford.

He hopes his beloved grandsons, Speed's boys Ed and Tommy, will accompany their grandad to France, but for Speed's mum Carol, a trip to France will be "too much".

"She is coping well," said Speed Sr.

"She has done a good thing and has been made lady captain of the golf club. She is out all of the time, it takes her mind off. But she won't go to France. I think it will be too much. If I can free the boys from their exams, I'll take the boys. I'm sure the boys will be excited.

Change of belief

Speed had been in the role for less than a year before his death and took charge of a national team at a low ebb following John Toshack's departure.

They were as low as 117th in the Fifa world rankings during the first few months of Speed's reign but even during his brief spell the former captain and most-capped outfield player had transformed belief.

That team will be the first Wales team in 58 years to appear at the finals of a major tournament when they play at the European Championship finals in France, which start on 10 June.

"He'd have been over the moon," Roger said. "It was always what he wanted to do.

"He'll be there in the lads' minds I'm sure. The bond with the players was fantastic.

"The players just took to him straight away. I went to see a few training sessions and they were really enjoying themselves.

"I don't know what he said to them but they changed and it was great to watch.

"He'll be in my mind in France as well, especially if we score."

Roger Speed is an Englishman born in Chester but is a devoted Welsh football fan, especially as it is managed by his son's former international team-mate and close friend Chris Coleman.

Coleman lost his first six games in charge after succeeding Speed but the latter's father was a staunch supporter of the current manager.

I know he’s with me – Gary Speed’s dad

"I'm made up for Chris," he added. "He took on a tough job and he's done well, very well.

"He still calls regularly and the first thing he always says is 'how's Carol?'. It was great Chris succeeded Gary as they were such great friends. It was great for us. He is similar to Gary, Chris works like Gary did."

He added that the team had got better and that Coleman had build on everything Speed had done.

"I couldn't understand some of the fans when we were losing games who wanted to sack him. I thought keep him there, he is doing well and is a nice lad," he said.

"He gets on well with the lads - ask any of the players. They're all made up and you can see when they're playing, they want to win.

Gary Speed's sons Ed and Tommy with Craig Bellamy and Aaron Ramsey.
Ed and Tommy were Wales' mascots for their father's memorial game against Costa Rica

"And they have a chance coming out of the group. And I really fancy them to get further."

Wales v England, Speed v Speed

Wales are in Euro 2016 Pool B with Slovakia, Russia and England - and Speed Sr now dreams of seeing his grandsons going head-to-head in a Battle of Britain.

Ed, who is studying at Brooklyn University in New York, is a former Welsh youth international while University of Derby student Tommy is playing for Independent English schoolboys.

"They're brilliant lads, they've done very, very well," Roger says. "They learnt a lot from Gary.

"When you watch them playing you'd think they were Gary. They do exactly what he used to do.

"When Tommy was at school, Barry Horne [former Wales captain and Speed's team-mate] was a teacher and I used to chat with Barry and he said 'Who does that remind you of?'

"It was uncanny the likeness, which is fantastic for me and Carol - it's like us starting all over again when Gary was at Leeds as a junior. We used to take the boys everywhere to play football.

"They know the game inside out because they were so young when they started playing.

Roger Speed with Gary's sons Ed and Tommy

"Tom is playing for Independent England schoolboys. I'm made up because my bucket list is for England to play Wales and have Ed and Tommy playing against one another. I've never seen that. I'd love it too, touch wood.

"Gary would be proud of them. They are always phoning Grandma and and that gives her a lift. 'How are you G'ma?' they say. She loves it."

Team Wales

Speed Sr hopes to be flanked by his two grandsons for Wales' Euro 2016 Pool B opener against Slovakia in Bordeaux on June 11.

Speed then will move on to Lens with old friend Coleman and his team - and despite being born in England, the father of a former Wales captain and manager insists there will be no split loyalties.

"I'm an Englishman born in Chester but I'll be supporting Wales," he said proudly.

"Wales have always been good to us. When we qualified, Jonathan Ford wrote to us and said he'd like us to join them on the plane and at the hotel with the team. You couldn't wish for anything better than that."

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