In the days where every act or sin committed by somebody in the public spotlight is highlighted in a matter of minutes, not many pieces of news genuinely shock me. Therefore when I heard the news that Gary Speed, the Welsh national football manager, had tragically died in an apparent suicide, I thought it was some sort of sick joke.

The former Welsh Captain and ex-Leeds, Everton and Newcastle midfielder was found dead at home by his wife, Louise, the mother of his two boys, early on Sunday 27th November. Remarkably, I had seen Speed the previous day on the BBC 1’S Football Focus magazine show. He was live in the studio and appeared cheery, relaxed and completely at ease with himself. This along with the recent upturn in the Welsh National team’s form in the previous few months makes his passing all the more sad and shocking.

For me, as a fanatical Newcastle United loving child, Gary Speed was one of my heroes. I used to have a poster of him up on my wall and I always made sure I wore the no.11 shirt when I played football for my school. He was a heroic figure for many, as I’m sure you’ve come to realise in the days since his passing. Countless tributes and kind words from Speed’s illustrious colleagues in the game have been attributed to the former Welsh Captain; ‘role model’, ‘model professional’ ‘good guy’ and ‘gentleman’ to name but a few, all of which go to show just how highly he was regarded as a player and more importantly as a man.

My memories of Gary Speed are of a man who commanded respect on the pitch without ever asking for it. A goal scoring, cultured midfielder who was quiet and unassuming yet oozed self-confidence and authority that made him that man in the team who you could trust with your life. These qualities seemed to be engrained in him as he made the step into management, firstly with a largely unsuccessful spell at Sheffield United but then more recently he seemed to making big strides with his national team, a recent 4-1 thrashing of Norway being the highlight.

Why then would a family man with his experiences, resumė and talent want to end it all?  That has been the question on all of our lips. As of today, the whole story surrounding his death is still vague and still just as shocking. Speculation and rumour will be rife until the real story comes to light. Indeed we may never know what drove Speed to his untimely passing but it again poses stark emphasis on the volatility of the human mind, in particular the minds of those in the sporting arena. The death of Robert Enke in 2009, the German no.1 Goalkeeper at the time, was a tragic loss. Then Dale Roberts, the Accrington Stanley ‘Keeper committed suicide last year. In both cases, the players had suffered personal loss or heartbreak. Whether Speed suffered similar misfortune is unknown, regardless, it raises questions surrounding depression and mental health in the sometimes lonely and ruthless world of professional sport.

 

Speculation aside, Speed leaves behind a loving family, adoring fans and a legacy which singled him out as the perfect role model for any up and coming footballer. He was a real football man and I’m sure all football fans are nothing but proud to call him ‘one of their own’ regardless of the colours he wore.

May he rest in peace.

Words by Thomas Rutherford

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