LEADER, LEGEND, AND LOVED BY ALL
This past week marked the one year anniversary of the death of Gary Speed. Welsh football was rocked to its core, and the effects are still being felt.
Tributes to Gary Speed’s career, his longevity, commitment, and professionalism, have been spoken of countless times. Equally so, his personality has drawn unadulterated eulogizes. Touching stories from fans about his willingness to sign autographs, have a chat, and treat the average man in the street as an equal have again been spoken about this week.
His devastating death spawned such a feeling of public compassion that his passing made the front cover of every national newspaper and the headline story of the news and on radio; the flags were at half-mast at the Welsh Assembly, and Speed drew tributes from a wide range of public figures, including the Prime Minister.
As the Welsh manager, the improvements in results were obvious, but what’s more, he had re-ignited the pride, passion and fervour of Welsh football. He was a known admirer of Swansea City and their style of play, and was incorporating a similar tactic to the national team. Wales mattered to Speed — in one of his first meetings as manager he let the players know they would be learning and singing the national anthem in Welsh. This was not done for show; Gary Speed was not about that. ‘I don’t like the showy nationalism,’ he once said. ‘A tattoo, wrapping yourself in a flag — that doesn’t matter to me.’
“The way to show your patriotism and commitment is to go and support or play for your team.”
The hurt is still raw, on and off the field. Since his passing, the Welsh football team have had mainly underwhelming results. The Speed legacy is now being carried by his 14-year-old son, Ed, who was this week called up to the Wales u-16s squad. A heart-warming story for Welsh football, and I’m sure every football fan in Britain is wishing the boy the very best.
Above all his footballing achievements, many will remember him for his off-field attributes. My lasting memory of him will be as guest captain on a Question of Sport. His charisma and banter with Sue Barker; his wide sporting knowledge (with Matt Dawson calling him “Ceefax”), his easy-going nature, welcoming aura, and great personal charm, portrayed an honest image of Speed. He appeared someone you could relate to, and just generally someone you would like to call a friend.
We may never know why Gary Speed did what he did in November last year, on what was a tragic day for British sport. We can only take solace in the fact that his sporting legacy, and his passionate and caring personality will never be forgotten.
RIP Gary Speed MBE, 1969-2011.