Monday, November 28, 2011

The footballing world was sent into shock yesterday by the death of Welsh manager Gary Speed at the age of 42.

Speed had no connection with any of my teams, but I wanted to pay tribute to a man that was a model professional and a son, husband, father and friend that will be truly missed my many. He was that kind of man. Fans of all teams admired and respected him.

When I woke up on Sunday morning and saw the headline on the BBC website, I just couldn't believe it. Finding out the sad facts behind his death was equally tragic and shocking.

This was a young manager who seemingly had everything going for him, but no-one, not even his closest friends seemed to have any idea of what feelings he was hiding behind his genuinely bubbly public demeanour.

Robbie Savage said it best on last night's 606 Football Phone In on BBC Five Live:

"I just can't understand it. The world was at his feet. I just can't believe it."

As a player, Welshman Speed touched the hearts of many. He had 23 years in the game, turning out for five clubs, and known to millions around the world for his times at Leeds, Everton, Newcastle and Bolton in the Premiership. His 677 appearances brought 103 goals, and he is behind only Ryan Giggs and David James as the player with the most matches played in the top flight of English football.

Capped 85 times by his country, he went from player to captain to manager, and was just starting to see the fruits of his hard work in turning the fortunes of the national team around.

The recent 4-1 defeat of Norway showed that things were starting to fit nicely into place and that performance was already a marked difference from how Wales played against Scotland in the 3-1 Celtic Nations Cup defeat back in May.

It was still very much a work in progress for the Welsh, but moving back into the top 50 in the Fifa rankings made it clear that they were moving in the right direction.

Players were clamouring to play for the Welsh national side again. There was renewed hope and whoever takes over the hot-seat from him will have a great legacy, built by a great servant to his country.

Upon hearing about Speed's death, my thoughts turned to ice hockey. For those readers who don't follow that sport, this may seem strange, but 2011 has been a year that has seen the suicides of a couple of NHL players.

Depression seems to be the link in all of them. It was a disease that some were known to suffer from, but some kept it, and their personal turmoil, hidden out of sight.

We of course don't know yet if Speed was affected by such a thing. Nobody seems to have had any indication that he did. The same was true of my wife's uncle who committed suicide in 2007 and to this day, no one knows why.

Listening to Darren Fletcher and Robbie Savage on BBC Five Live's 606 Football Phone In was so emotional. It was a fitting tribute to Speedo, and must have been so difficult for his close friend Savage to get through the show.

There were laughs. There were tears. There were fond memories. But most of all, there was just so much love for the man. No-one seems to be able to speak highly enough about Gary Speed and that says it all. He was a true gentleman who always had time for everyone.

It just makes it all the more confusing as to why such a talented man took his own life so early.

The show isn't an easy listen, but we urge you all to listen to the Podcast, as there will be no more fitting tribute to the Welshman than the outpouring of emotion therein.

RIP Gary Speed. You will be missed more than you could ever know.

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