HARTLEPOOL United star Nobby Solano fought back tears as he paid tribute to tragic former team-mate Gary Speed.
The Peruvian was big mates with the Wales manager having linked up with him when he moved to Newcastle United back in 1998.
Like the rest of the football world, Nobby was stunned when it emerged on Sunday morning that Speed had been found dead at his home in Cheshire having apparently taken his own life.
Solano, who spent four seasons at St James’s Park alongside Speed in the Magpies’ midfield, admitted he was still struggling to come to terms with the news.
He said: “I still cannot believe it, it is unbelievable.
“When I turned my phone on on Sunday and saw the amount of messages flashing up, I just knew something was wrong.
“I texted Alan Shearer, I didn’t want to believe it.
“When I saw our former team-mate Shay Given crying before his game on the TV, I broke down in tears, I don’t mind admitting that. It is tough.
“Everyone who knew Gary loved him, he was a great player and a great bloke.
“When I signed for Newcastle, I was new to the country, it was strange for me. But Gary was one of the lads who made me feel welcome and we became good friends in the four or five years we were team-mates.
“I’d kept in touch with him. When I was playing for Hull I saw him in Sheffield, and we used to send texts and things like that.
“It is just tragic what has happened. It is not right that he is not here now.
“But only Gary will ever know why this has happened.”
Solano’s boss Mick Wadsworth also knew Speed well having worked with him during his time as a coach at Newcastle, and he said the whole of the Pools squad was shocked by the news.
He said: “The lads were all talking about Gary on Monday morning at training, it has shocked everyone in the game.
“He had been around for so long, everybody knew him. It has affected a lot of people, it is just so sad and my initial reaction was one of great shock and sadness.
“When I got the first message, with things like this you tend not to believe it. But then the next message came, and another one.
“It is difficult to get your head around, and it goes without saying our thoughts are with his wife and two boys.
“I have worked with some fantastic people in the game, but Gary Speed was above that level.
“He was the perfect professional, he was dedicated and never gave his managers any trouble.
“He was low maintenance, like a Rolls Royce footballer.
“He was not just a gentleman, he was a gentle man. Robbie Savage asked why, why. why? I’m the same, we all are.”
Cheshire Police confirmed an inquest into his death will be opened at Warrington Coroner’s Court this afternoon.
They had previously said there were “no suspicious circumstances” surrounding the 42-year-old’s death.