Thoughts on Gary Speed
Yesterday was a strange day. I’d just woken up from a quick nap to see that I had missed calls and a message on my phone from my Mum and straight away I knew something had happened. So it was with great disbelief that I read the message…”Gary Speed has hanged himself, so sad”.
It’s strange when something like that happens. First there’s the disbelief, then the sadness, then the numbness.
Football causes funny emotions in people. Like the majority of those taking to Twitter, Facebook and various other social networks, forums and indeed physical shrines to grieve and give thanks to Speed I cannot claim to have known him personally, and still I woke up today with a sense of loss. I don’t know what has happened in his life or what was going through his mind at the end, and I’d hate to start speculating on what might have caused this tragic event, but still I feel profoundly about it being a massive waste of a wonderful life, not as a footballer or manager but as a husband and father.
All I can do is remember Gary Speed for what he was to me, a fantastic footballer and a great manager. It’s an over-used phrase but from the way he conducted himself on and off the field he genuinely was one of football’s good guys.
I remember him as part of the Leeds team that won the league and then went on to prove to be a difficult team to beat. I remember his battles with Roy Keane, Paul Ince, Bryan Robson and Nicky Butt in the early years of the Premier League alongside Batty, Strachan and McAllister. At the time he was probably the lowest profile member of that midfield, but he was also the best.
My Dad’s an Evertonian and one game that stands out was from 1996 when the Toffees hammered Southampton 7-1, spearheaded by a Speed hat trick. This was the same Southampton team that beat United 6-3, so they were no slouches, and yet Everton ripped them apart that day. I’d never known a midfielder score a hat trick up to then and the look of joy upon Speed’s face stands out when watch the old Match of the Day footage. He’d grown up an Everton fan and that day you could see how happy he was.
He was a consistent presence in a Newcastle team that reached both the highs of the Champions League and the numerous lows brought on by big “characters” and backroom strife during his tenure. He wasn’t one to go AWOL, throw a strop of complain like so many of his team mates did at the time. And you could see the influence he held in that team, bringing the best out of the likes of Kieron Dyer and Jermaine Jenas.
Even in his last days in top flight football at Bolton he looked (and played) like a man ten years younger than he was. Indeed one slither of goodness that might come out of this is that people will remember Gary Speed as a fantastic footballer and not a quiz question about playing the most Premier League games. I always felt that sold him short rather than highlighting that this was a man able to play consistently well in what we’re forever told is the “best league in the World” for 15 years.
Speed won 85 caps and as someone else online has stated he was involved in everything good that happened in Welsh football in the last 20 years. He was captain despite playing alongside the likes of Hughes, Rush and Giggs and at a time when so many players seemed to treat playing for Wales as a nuisance rather than a privilege the fact he won so many caps shows his dedication.
It’s devastating that he won’t finish what he started as manager of Wales. In a year he’s taken them from a team ranked amongst the worst in Europe to a team back in the World’s top 50. He had a group of players who not only had skill and ability but loved playing for their manager. I’m sure I’m not the only neutral who’ll be willing them on to qualify for Brazil 2014.
It’s too early to know what will happen next. Who will take the Wales job? What will the press dredge up and what little snippets of information will they distort (stories of them camping outside his house in the hope of catching a reaction from a grieving relative are sickening)? If there’s one thing I’d like to see it’s a game in his honour. Aston Villa and Swansea showed true bravery playing on yesterday but it was the best thing to do – join together and honour him through football. I’d like to see a charity game, the Wales team against a team made up of his former team mates and peers. Not a load of oldies, but players who can still perform and do justice to Speed; Given, Giggs, Bellamy et al. A game played at full pelt and with total commitment, just like how he used to play.
Who knows what will be revealed about the circumstances surrounding Gary Speed’s apparent suicide in the coming months and years. But no one connected to football, be it as a player or manager or even just a fan, should underestimate just how much the game will miss a man like Speed. A true legend of the game, the type of man who make it worthwhile to watch regardless of all the diving and cheating, the scheming and prima donnas and money-grabbing. Someone who loved the game and, in return, was loved back. Rest in peace Gary Speed, a true legend.