Wales

Gary Speed: Ex-team-mate Matt Jones' final challenge

Matt Jones holds up a flag paying tribute to Gary Speed prior to Wales' home friendly against Costa Rica
Image caption Matt Jones is nearing the end of his year of fundraising for Gary Speed's charities

An ex-Wales footballer who has undertaken a year of challenges in memory of his former team-mate Gary Speed is embarking on his final feat.

Matt Jones has done marathons, a sky dive and has run up and down Snowdon - but has saved what he believes is his toughest challenge until last.

He will cycle for 24 hours in Llanelli to coincide with the anniversary of the Wales manager's death.

He hopes to reach his £10,000 target for charities Speed supported.

Jones decided to do "something positive" after the death of his "mentor and hero" Speed, who died aged 42 last year.

He has dedicated the last year to raising money for the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation and the John Hartson Foundation, along with the Spinal Injuries Association.

His final challenge will start on Monday in a Tesco supermarket in his hometown of Llanelli, where he will ride for 24 hours continuously on a static bike.

"When it comes to challenges, if you are challenging yourself you need to make it difficult, " said the 32-year-old.

"Being on a bicycle is one of my most hated things when it comes to sporting life. I think it's just the boredom. I think the most I have actually ever spent on a bike is one hour.

"This is my last challenge and it represents the year I sacrificed in order to pay tribute to Gary. It's going to be punishing and as much a mental challenge as a physical one."

But he said Speed, who was "like an older brother" to him when they were both at Leeds United, had always inspired him to do his best.

Image caption The body of Gary Speed was found in the garage of his home in November

"Although I'm petrified, I'm constantly thinking of what Gaz would be telling me - that this major challenge will be a breeze and I'll smash it," said Jones, who also played for Leicester City before a back injury cut short his football career.

"I was a young boy of 13 when we first met when I went up to Leeds. Gary was in the first team there and because he was a fellow Welshman, he came up to me and put his arm around me.

"He was like my older brother. He helped me not just on the football pitch but in my personal life as well and gave such positive advice and motivation.

"The reason I wanted to do these challenges was because I knew how much the charities meant to Gary. He was my hero and mentor and a true inspiration."

During the past year he has completed two marathons and three half-marathons, sky dived and run 1,085m (3,560ft) up Snowdon and back.

He said the experiences had shown him just how much Speed meant to people.

Image caption Jones ran up and down Snowdon as one of his challenges

"He had an impact on so many people and I'm so proud of that," said Jones, who lives in Llanelli with his wife and children.

"I'm yet to hear a negative thing about Gary. People come up to me when I do the challenges and say what a gentleman he was, not just on the football pitch but in all walks of life."

Jones said he had spoken to Speed's mother and father ahead of his latest challenge but he said they would not be at the event as they would be remembering him in their own way.

The challenge will start on Monday at 12:00 GMT, when Wales manager Chris Coleman will join Jones at the Tesco store at Trostre Retail Park.

Wales captain Ashley Williams will also ride alongside him on Monday afternoon, followed by Wales football great John Hartson on Tuesday morning - the anniversary of Speed's death.

The body of Speed, whose clubs included Leeds, Newcastle, Everton, Bolton and Sheffield United, was found hanged in the garage of his Chester home last November.

The coroner at his inquest said he could not be satisfied he had intended to kill himself, and returned a narrative verdict.

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