God Speed – In Memoriam

by admin

Thursday, December 1st, 2011
 

November 27, 2011 will long be remembered in footballing circles as a day on which on-field matters paled into insignificance. With the breaking news of Wales manager Gary Speed’s tragic death, the sport was sent into a sudden state of paralysis. Stunned shock and overwhelming sorrow were expressed through an endless series of heartfelt tributes and fond memories from both those who knew him well and those who didn’t know him at all. Two of football’s household names, Alan Shearer and Robbie Savage, shed tears for their close friend live on air, whilst radio phone-ins were inundated with supporters’ grief-stricken messages and offers of condolences to his family. Speed’s was a life that had touched so many. His passing serves as a reminder that, for all the unbridled emotion football can foster in its followers, it is only a game.

The two previously hyped top-flight matches that took place that fateful Sunday sunk into inevitable dejection, marked with a minute’s remembrance before both kick-offs and epitomised by the tears of Aston Villa goalkeeper Shay Given. Given was a teammate of Gary Speed’s during his Newcastle days and was overcome with sadness as his current side lined up to face, fittingly, Swansea City. The proposed minute’s silence in South Wales was broken by spontaneous applause throughout the ground, indicative of the respect and adulation that Speed’s character deserved.

Away from the Liberty Stadium and Anfield, the whole of Britain was struggling to come to terms with the awful death of a football legend. Touching eulogies began to pour in from all over the globe via every form of social media and, before long, fans, players, pundits and even the Prime Minister were all sharing their experiences of Gary Speed, both the midfielder and the man. He was only 42 and it seems strange to already be looking back on a career that seemingly still had so much more to give.

When Speed was handed his first-team debut for Leeds United aged 19, he cannot have foreseen the long and illustrious playing career that awaited him, and the admiration that he would garner along the way. He went on to represent his boyhood club Everton, Newcastle, Bolton Wanderers and Sheffield United respectively, collecting a league championship winner’s medal and gracing two FA Cup finals in the process. He also donned the Welsh jersey an impressive 85 times, making him the most capped outfield player in the country’s history. Gary Speed was not a Cristiano Ronaldo or a Lionel Messi. His presence on the pitch was understated by the press but recognised week in, week out by his peers. A leader of men, he captained every club he was at. Speed’s playing career lasted until the age of 40, a staggering feat in the modern game, for which he was appointed an MBE in 2010. He remains a hero of the Premiership era.

Speed started his all too brief managerial career with a short stint at Bramall Lane in charge of the team with whom he finished playing. And it wasn’t long before the FAW came calling and this bright new chapter in his life really began. Speed’s record with Wales had been so good that many were tipping him to steer his country to a first appearance in a major tournament in nearly 40 years when the World Cup qualifiers come around next September. The story of Gary Speed, the manager, however, was one so horribly curtailed. Those Brazil 2014 hopefuls, along with so many others that his life affected, must now play on in honour of a man who, though gone, will not be forgotten.

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