A YEAR ago today, Simon Grayson – like millions of other football lovers – was left stunned at the news of Gary Speed’s tragic passing.
Some felt the pain more personally and acutely than others, with the news that fateful Sunday morning in late autumn simply a bombshell for the Huddersfield Town manager, who was on the training ground at Thorp Arch in his then role as Leeds United boss.
A few days later, Grayson’s Whites side triumphed 4-0 at Nottingham Forest with the ex-Leeds chief dedicating the win to the memory of Speed; the pair had signed for the club as apprentices on the same day in 1984.
That performance meant the world to Grayson, who made an emotional gesture and looked to the heavens at the final whistle in Nottingham and admits he wants both his current club and old one to triumph this evening.
Grayson, who will pause to remember his great friend of 27 years tonight, said: “Hopefully, my team can get a performance like we achieved at Forest, and Leeds do as well. Obviously, Gary was a close friend of mine and the Leeds connection is there for everyone to see.
“I will remember the game at Forest being a very poignant performance from a Leeds team.”
It is somewhat fitting that games are taking place across the country this evening on the first anniversary of the death of Speed, a football man respected and admired across the length and breadth of the UK.
Grayson cannot believe, like countless others, that 12 months have elapsed since and says Speed and his close family are in his thoughts today.
He said: “It is frightening how fast it has gone really. You do not expect these things to happen but, sadly, they do.
“It was a sad situation that weekend and nobody expected any news like that to wake up to on that Sunday morning.
“It was a tough time for a lot of people who knew him so well as it was so unexpected.
“Gary will be remembered in the manner he should be. He was a fantastic person and footballer as well.
“Anniversaries are tough times. You think of people it affects more than others. They are the most important people. I know Gary’s mum and dad really well and Louise, his wife, and this last year has been very difficult for them.
“Obviously, all my sympathies still go out to Louise, Gary’s kids and his mum and dad and close friends.”
Grayson has several injury and selection headaches ahead of today’s trip to Teesside, ravaged by elements yesterday, along with much of the North East. Definitely missing is midfielder Adam Clayton, who serves a one-match ban.
Grayson is hoping Keith Southern will be available with Town having appealed against his controversial weekend dismissal at Charlton Athletic.
A decision is expected this afternoon.
It is Town first visit to the Riverside in just over 15 years, with Grayson mindful of a Boro backlash after their shock 3-1 home loss to struggling Bristol City on Saturday.
Grayson, who has added Chris Atkinson to his squad after he returned from a loan spell at Chesterfield, said: ““They will want to bounce back from their disappointing display against Bristol City.
“We have to be hard to beat because as a team and as individuals, they are very good. It will be a difficult place to play football.
“But it will be a good atmosphere and, hopefully, we will be able to replicate a similar sort of performance to one we had at the weekend.”
Boro boss Tony Mowbray will be without Grant Leadbitter after the midfielder picked up his fifth yellow card of the season at the weekend.
Last six games: Middlesbrough LLWDWW, Huddersfield DLWDWL.
Last time: Middlesbrough 3 Huddersfield Town 0; October 28, 1997; League One.
Referee: S Mathieson (Cheshire).