NORTH-EAST football was in mourning on November 28, 2011, after the death of former Newcastle United midfielder Gary Speed.

Speed, who was 42, was found dead at his family home in Chester in the early hours of the morning.

The Wales national manager, who left a wife and two children, made more than 280 appearances for Newcastle between 1998 and 2004 and also won the old First Division title in 1991-92 with his childhood club Leeds United, probably his greatest achievement.

During his spell playing for Sir Bobby Robson's Newcastle side, the club secured three consecutive top-five finishes and qualified for the Champions League twice.

Sir Bobby's widow, Lady Elsie Robson said: "I'm very shocked and very sad. Gary was a lovely boy and Bob thought a lot about him as a player and as a person.

"He regarded him with great respect and he was such an important part of the team Bob had at Newcastle.

"He was a wonderful and generous supporter of our charity and seemed to have a bright future ahead of him.

Another former professional footballer, who was suffering from a rare illness, was given a remarkable role by his hometown club.

Gary Parkinson had been rating potential transfer targets for Middlesbrough after the Championship club's manager, Tony Mowbray, moved to help his 1980s team-mate in his recovery from locked-in syndrome.

Parkinson, who has been receiving specialist care at a rehabilitation unit in Bury since September last year, watches DVDs he is sent by the club. He then gives his opinion on whether the players in action should be pursued.

Only able to communicate with his eyes after being left paralysed, Parkinson communicates with those around him by blinking.

He has devised a ratings system with his wife, Deborah, that enables him to give a verdict on individual players.

Speaking to The Northern Echo last night, Deborah, 43, said: "Tony and his coaching staff, like Mark Proctor and Stephen Pears, have been fantastic for Gary.

"When Tony first came to see Gary, he could see Gary was still aware of everything that was going on around him, so he asked Gary if he wanted to do some scouting for him."

If Thornaby-born Parkinson really likes a player, he raises his eyelids to look up when Deborah goes through a scale of one to four with him.

If he looks up when she says "one", he is not impressed and Boro are advised not to push for a deal.

Deborah relays the message back to Mowbray, who uses the information to come to a final decision on players from around the world with the rest of his backroom team.

Finally, a NASA astronaut spent November 23, 2011, describing his space voyages to school children.

Dr Nicholas Patrick, who now lives in Houston, US, is one of the few British citizens to make it into space.

In February 2010 he spent 13 days orbiting the earth as part of a five-man mission to the international space station.

The astronaut formerly lived in Ingleby Greenhow, near Great Ayton in North Yorkshire, and visited Roseberry Community Primary School, in Great Ayton, and also spoke to children at Marwood CE Infant and Ingleby Greenhow CE primary schools.

"It's an honour and a treat to come back to the place I'm from, " he said.

He showed children photographs and videos taken on board the international space station.

Dr Patrick's voyage on board the Endeavour space shuttle involved adding a new room to the International Space Station.

It was a particularly complex mission that involved three space walks to work on the outside of the room.

Dr Patrick told pupils he had wanted to go into space from the age of five, after watching the Apollo moon landings. He encouraged them to have their own aspirations.

"It's important to have a dream, a really interesting dream, whether it's being a doctor or an astronaut, " he told them.

"Even if you don't go to the moon, you can get somewhere really, really interesting."

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