Monday, 28 November 2011

Gary Speed: 1969-2011

It is too early to be writing this. I couldn't write this yesterday and I'm still struggling to write it today. Writing about the loss of Gary Speed hasn't come days too soon, but a great many decades. It is this that is so painful.

Writing memories of those who have lived through a great career and retirement hurts, but remembering someone who hasn't fulfilled so much of what we knew he could provides emotions more poignant than most.

In sport, our overuse of sensationalism is callous. Conceding a last minute goal is not 'heartbreaking', very little that happens on a football pitch is 'tragic' and now more than ever, we know that Bill Shankly was wrong when he said that football was more than a matter of life and death. It is not and it never will be.

The loss of Gary Speed is tragic. Whether you look at what Speed has achieved, what he would have achieved or those who have been left behind, the nature of Speed's death is something that many will never get over. We don't know the true reasons behind this and I am certain that deep down, I don't want to.

What will remain so heartbreakingly prominent is the feeling that this loss was so utterly preventable. Whilst the fragility of life remains at the forefront of our thinking, it is impossible to look beyond Speed's family and friends. I can't see past the feeling that this should never have happened. For those who knew Speed, this feeling must be intensified to an extend that I cannot comprehend.

The reaction of everybody in football on Sunday exhibited everything you need to know about the man himself. Initial disbelief was very quickly replaced by utter desolation. This reaction exhibited the utmost sincerity, played out in front of cameras which spread the feeling worldwide.

Gary Speed had a fantastic football career. He was the first player to make 500 Premier League appearances and was the second highest capped Welshman of all time. As manager of the national side, Speed transformed the team's fortunes in the space of ten games, changing the ideology of Welsh football in the process. Not being able to see where Speed would have taken this team is a loss and his footballing legacy must live on. Frankly, however, none of that feels very important at the moment.

With a career this impressive, it would be understandable if the recollections of those within the game focussed solely upon his career. That they have universally concentrated on the man himself is the ultimate testimony to who Gary Speed was and what he stood for. We have not just lost a talented man, but a true gentleman who was popular wherever he went.

David Prentice has recalled Speed's words when he left Everton in 1998. “You know why I’m leaving, but I can’t explain myself publicly because it would damage the good name of Everton Football Club and I’m not prepared to do that”. This is who Gary Speed was. This is what we have lost.

I do not want this to become clich├ęd. After all, this is a man who I never met. However, I know that feeling such sadness at his passing isn't strange. I'm far from alone.

One of my ambitions as a sports journalist was to interview Gary Speed about his plans for Welsh football. He understood the development of footballers and I know we were on the same wavelength. I've lost the opportunity to talk about something I love. In the past 48 hours, I have constantly reminded myself that others have lost the opportunity to talk to someone they loved. It is these people for whom we all feel the greatest sorrow.

For me, Gary Speed was Welsh football. I was proud to watch him play, I was proud to see him manage my team and more than anything, I was proud that he was one of us.

Thank you for the memories.

Thank you for making us dream again.

R.I.P.

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