On November 27th 2011 Wales manager Gary Speed took his own life at the tender age of only 42.
The tributes came flooding in as the footballing world mourned one of the greats. Speed epitomized the average British footballer. Loyal, hardworking and a very decent man too. He loved the game inside and out.
In the recent dynamics of football where we see racism, violence and greed take over it’s put into perspective what football really is about which is what he brought to the game and the people around him.
Speed at the time was the Welsh national team coach and had propelled the team up the FIFA rankings with 4 wins in their last 5 games. He was a well-liked manager, respected by all sections of football fans. I don’t think you could think of one person in the game who would have a bad word to say about Gary Speed.
It just feels like such a waste. Taken so needlessly it has left us all wondering why.
Speed at 42 had so much more to give. He had an illustrious career which spanned just over 20 years with spells at Leeds, Everton, Newcastle, Bolton and Sheffield United respectively. He at a time held the most appearances in the Premier League eventually being overtaken by countryman Ryan Giggs but in total notched up over 600 appearances in total with 103 goals to his name.
As a manager Speed was young, inexperienced with a couple of months under his belt at Sheffield United under his belt. Ever the experienced player it seemed destined he would enter a managerial role after deciding to hang up his boots at 40 years old.
He was chosen to replace John Toshack as the Welsh team national manager to the delight of fans and players alike. Mark Hughes responded to the appointment of his countryman saying:
“He’s got a strong personality, he’s good with people, (the players) will relate better to Gary than they perhaps did to the previous manager.”
Speed didn’t have it easy at first but he eventually did turn the country’s fortunes around. In Euro 2012 qualification Speed led Wales to a home win to Montenegro, a narrow 1-0 defeat at Wembley to England, a 2-0 win at home to Switzerland and an impressive 1-0 victory in Bulgaria. His final game in charge of Wales ended with a commanding 4-1 win over Norway at the Millennium Stadium. These results eventually propelled Wales from 117th in August to 45th in October highlighting Speed’s impact.
Looking at it in hindsight Speed had everything going right for him. He was enjoying being hailed for his heroics with Wales and his family life was good. Then again no-one knows what ever goes on inside a human’s brain. Many of us suffer in silence. Many hide pain. Some are used to it.
There was no hint of any problems with Speed as his last appearance on Football Focus alongside Gary McCallister. None of his colleagues saw anything to suggest there was a problem.
I remember Speed best from his Newcastle days. He was a fine midfielder with bags of experience. He had a great footballing brain but if anybody watched Speed throughout his whole career it was his sheer powerhouse headers that fans adored.
Among journalists he was respected.
In today’s game the relationship between player and journalist is not as friendly as they would like it to be but Speed had a great relationship with the press. He was also willing to talk football and give interviews. When Speed talked you listened.
He was never a player who you could point the finger at. He gave 100% on the pitch and wore his heart on his sleeve. One might wonder would his managerial career be as glittering as his playing career. The signs were there but sadly we will never know.
Speed leaves behind a wife and 2 kids but also a huge legacy. He touched lives.
Footballers shouldn’t be hailed as role models in today’s game but he was the epitome of it.
RIP Gary Speed. 1969-2011.
By Darren Hickey @DHick92