PROFESSIONALISM was a word that cropped up in countless recent tributes to Gary Speed, so the man himself would have been proud of the way Wanderers bid him farewell before the game against Aston Villa.
Thousands of fans had taken to their seats early on a frosty December afternoon to pay their respects at the stadium graced for three-and-a-half years by the former Wales international.
Speed’s sons Ed and Tommy, and his father Roger were also in attendance as his penultimate professional club played two moving montages, the first of which listed his 14 goals for Wanderers, illustrating perfectly his iron nerve from the penalty spot.
A spontaneous ripple of applause broke out as footage of his vital goal against Manchester City played out on the big screen, as fans acknowledged what courage he had shown on that afternoon en route to the Whites’ first-ever qualification for Europe.
The second montage had more personal resonance for those at Bolton, however, as a collection of personal photos and images were played out alongside the Oasis classic “Wonderwall” – a song that struck a chord with club masseur Dave Dean.
“When I think of Gary Speed, I’ll always recall the time we were in South Korea for the Peace Cup and he picked up the guitar. He played ‘Wonderwall’ and it was one of the best cover versions I ever heard.”
Dean’s was one of dozens of poignant tributes included in a special matchday programme, which also included words from several former team-mates, including Nicky Hunt, Gavin McCann, Tal Ben Haim, Stelios and Robbie Elliott.
Former Whites skipper Kevin Nolan also made an emotional contribution.
“Everyone has described Gary as ‘Mr Reliable’ but I think he was a bit better than that. He was 8 out of 10 every week.
“I’m absolutely gutted that I won’t have him to ring when I need a bit of advice. Gary was a good friend and it was an honour to play with him. I’m going to miss him dearly.”
After a minute’s applause, Wanderers skipper Kevin Davies and his counterpart at Villa James Collins laid a wreath in front of the Nat Lofthouse Stand, with BWSA president Syd Farrimond also placing a tribute to represent the club’s fans.