I couldn’t believe it when I got the phone call yesterday from our physio telling me the terrible news that Gary Speed had taken his own life. He was a player I had so much admiration for and the general reaction to his death doesn’t surprise me one bit. Tributes have been flowing in from all over the world for a man who was respected as much for his footballing ability and professionalism as he was for his qualities as a person.
I loved his style of play. As a midfielder, he had everything, an unbelievable range of passing (what a beautiful left foot), got stuck in when it mattered, scored some great goals (remember those bullet headers!) and was an inspirational leader. He captained every team he played for and lead by example. Most of his incredible tally of 677 league appearances came in the top flight but the fact he was still playing in the Championship at the age of 41 sums up what a true professional he was.
I’ll always remember playing against him for Dundee United in a pre-season friendly back in 1999 when he was at Newcastle as he was someone I genuinely looked up to. He made the game look easy, switching play with pin-point passes over 50 or 60 yards with hardly any back-lift. I’m honoured just to have been on the same pitch as him. He wasn’t a bad looking guy either. My wife used to have quite a few pictures of him on her bedroom wall when we first started going out as teenagers and I must admit, I felt a little bit under pressure! I think she was almost as excited as I was when I played against him in that friendly all those years ago.
In such a short time as manager of Wales he has given his country a team to be proud of, winning five of their last six games and rising to 45th in the FIFA rankings, with such a young and talented squad who knows where he could’ve taken them. It’s hard to imagine what’s driven him to take his own life but the tragedy has robbed football and the world of an honest, hard working young manager. My thoughts and prayers are with his friends and family who will miss him most. Rest In Peace Gary.
I found this poignant piece of video from the BBC particularly moving.
I’ve written another tribute for my Footy Extra Pro-View post this week, if you’re interested in having a look you can find it here.