There is no doubt last weekend was a tough one for the football fraternity. The death of Gary Speed has been a timely reminder that life is all too fragile and that the people we look up to and follow from within the beautiful game, the players and managers we seem to love or loath, are just flesh and bone like the rest of us. The tributes for Gary Speed have been flooding in since the news was announced on Sunday morning and it is surely a testament to the man he was, the man that privately many of us never knew.
I found out about the news on Sunday morning like everyone else, we were sitting around playing FIFA 12 when all of a sudden someone shouted out that Gary Speed had died. At the time information was limited, we started to speculate about the cause and could only conclude that it must have been something sudden, like a heart attack. We were all in shock saying how young and fit Gary Speed was, as a player he had an engine, even as a manger he seemed to be in better shape than most people I know. One friend even said ‘this shows you don’t have to be fit, when it’s your time, it’s your time’, little did we know…
When we found out that Gary committed suicide and was found hanged in his garage by his wife, the mood quickly changed to one of disbelief. I think it is human nature to look for answers why this happened and you try to rationalise it…but no one could understand as to why he would have ended his own life; he had a great job he was succeeding at, a beautiful wife, two kids and a loving family…everything most of us aspire to have.
I instantly turned to twitter to see if there was any further information on Speed’s death. All the talk was similar to the conversation we were having whilst in the living room moments earlier, speculation as to ‘why?’ had already begun. Depression was the main topic on everyone’s lips and after a week where Stan Collymore had been so open and honest about the depression he was personally suffering, it is no wonder that this topic was first on the list of explanations. Other speculation surfaced as everyone was seeking an answer to ‘why?’, but the truth was no one had a clue.
To the outside world nothing at all seemed to be troubling Speed, on Saturday he had appeared on the BBC’s Football Focus show and seemed content, happy and optimistic about the here and now and the future. Presenter Dan Walker was tweeting about how he couldn’t believe what had happened and how Gary seemed so happy when the two chatted off-air, talking about future plans, just having a normal conversation, like we all do whilst at work.
One of the most poignant tweets I saw came from Gary’s friend and ex-Wales teammate Robbie Savage
For me, it just summed up the mood all around British football. The response from the public has been overwhelming, as has the response from inside football, for a player who just seemed to be a ‘Mr Nice Guy’ and didn’t have the flashiness, arrogance or bravado of some of the new generation of football player.
Speed’s death is tragic, but is not the first. Only two weeks ago the case of former Rushden & Diamonds keeper Dale Roberts was again in the papers following an inquest in to his death. The inquest heard that he had hung himself over the embarrassment of his ex-fiancé having had an affair with another footballer, Paul Terry, another tragic tale. German international Goalkeeper Robert Enke took his own life by jumping in front of a train. Enke left behind a wife and child; his wife revealed that he had suffered from depression for 6 years.
Justin Fashanu was another footballer who committed suicide and there are many more from all over the world. I hope Gary Speed’s death is not in vain, whatever the reason was that he took his own life, it highlights that even the happiest of people on the outside can have problems on the inside. People within professional football and in the public eye have a different set of pressures to what we normal everyday folk have, it is a wonder they know how to deal with these at all.
Think about all the abuse someone like Stan Collymore gets because he is brave enough to give the public direct access to him through twitter. We all know he has a troubled past, a past that I am sure people have reminded him of many times before, but he is someone who should be applauded for being so honest about the illness he is currently suffering from. I cannot say I fully understand depression as I have never knowingly suffered from it, however I am sure abuse, via whatever medium, doesn’t help anyone, especially someone vulnerable who is just trying to help others and get better himself.
It’s times like this where people should stop and think about their actions, about what they say and do in all aspects of life. It is time for those people who hide behind things like twitter, abusing people on there, to have a good look at themselves. The homophobes, the racists, the people who will just abuse someone for no reason, take a good look in the mirror and realise your actions can have wider consequences. Abuse and discrimination in football, and in general life, needs to stop.
Gary Speed was a great footballer, someone who played in an honest and workmanlike manner, complimented by good natural ability. I only know Gary Speed from watching him play and the odd TV appearance or interview, going by the tributes from those who really knew him, there is no doubt he was a top man, a true gentleman of football. As a footballer he was a textbook role-model to established teammates and also young aspiring players, the kind of player who trained harder than most others and always had time for people.
The death of Gary Speed has seemed to unite the football family as one, something that unfortunately seems to be a rare thing these days. It is times like these we realise what is important, but it is also times like these where we should learn something. Football clubs and associations need to realise the potential vulnerability and huge pressures that football players and managers are under. We all need to start being more aware to potential problems and communicating better verbally in a time when face-to-face communication is further away than ever. We need to start considering our actions towards other people and the effects that they can have.
Gary Speed was a great footballer that any side could rely on. He was a manager on the verge of greatness with the advances and improvements he had made with the Welsh national team. It really is a great shame that he decided to go. Aside from football he was just a human being like the rest of us. He was a husband, father, son and friend to those who were part of his life. It is to these people my thoughts go out to, the impact this will have on their lives will be immeasurable. How I will remember Gary Speed is below, in my eyes he was a true Premier League legend. RIP Gary Speed.