There are times in life when rivalries are set aside and you can have nothing but respect for even your most hated of rivals.

In my lifetime, there have been two instances of tragedy overcoming football fan divide that really stand out – both of which involve the “War of the Roses” rivalry between Manchester United and Leeds.

The first was eleven years ago following the murders of Christopher Loftus and Kevin Speight, when fans of clubs from across the country came to Elland Road to lay tribute to their memory.

I too was in Turkey for that game against Galatasaray, and when I returned home we went via the Billy Bremner statue to lay a Leeds United shirt we’d scrawled our own messages of condolence on.

It was there that I met a Manchester United fan laying flowers on behalf of his fellow supporters. He was understandably nervous entering enemy territory, fearing he may be an outlet for the Leeds United fans’ anger, but the rivalry between the two sides seemed incredibly petty in light of the tragedy we were there to mourn.

It was one of those ‘some things are bigger than football’ moments that always seem to catch you by surprise, and tonight, I caught news of another one.

Despite the fact Gary Speed tributes have taken place up and down the country, I never really considered Manchester United would hold their own minutes applause. But they did, and credit to the club for doing so – it’s nice to see the football world honouring such an inspirational figure, regardless of his personal allegiances.

But that wasn’t the part that shocked me. As deeply encoded into my DNA as the rivalry with Manchester United may be, I’m not at all surprised to hear they honoured the minutes applause. What surprised me was that the fans went above and beyond that, chanting “there’s only one Gary Speed” from the terraces.

My unreserved respect goes out to the Manchester United fans that took part in that chant tonight, and to all the football fans – regardless of club – that have stood united to mourn the loss of one of football’s true heroes.

As one Twitter user put it, “Gary Speed – played for Everton, Liverpool fans liked him. Played for Leeds, Manchester United fans liked him. Says it all.”

Of all the condolence messages I’ve read, nothing sums up the reaction we’ve seen quite like that tweet – the response has been truly heart-warming and I’ve never been prouder to be a small part of the footballing community.