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We All Feel Powerless in the Face of Gary Speed's Suicide, but That Doesn't Mean There is Nothing We Can Do

Posted: 03/12/11 00:00

I wake up and think about Gary Speed. I go to bed thinking about Gary Speed. My day is punctuated with thoughts about Gary Speed, his life, but particularly his death. It's now a week since news broke that the lifeless body of the Wales manager had been found hanging in his garage, and I can't stop thinking about Gary Speed. What's happened is bewildering, mysterious, tragic and more.

I never met, let alone personally knew Gary Speed, but he wove himself into my life for 20 years. From being part of that glorious Leeds midfield in the early 1990s, to his spells at Everton, Newcastle and Bolton, he has always been part of the Premier League landscape. It's a landscape I've studied, increasingly and probably too often, all these years. In newspapers, on television, in fantasy football lists, for the best part of two decades it has always featured Gary Speed. Playing (and captaining) Wales on countless occasions, international nights, too, would invariably contain Gary Speed.

When his playing career stopped he didn't go away, remaining at Sheffield United as assistant manager, then manager, and then back to Wales, this time as manager, where he was overseeing an exciting transformation. Approachable and eloquent, he regularly popped up in the media. How many morning commutes did I hear him chat with Alan Brazil? And right to the end, too. Gary Speed was on Football Focus on Saturday. On Sunday he was dead.

He had a happy marriage, two thriving children, huge respect, a stellar career to look back on, a new one to look forward to. He was clearly a decent guy, wholehearted, committed, often made captain. You don't become the first player to make 500 Premier League appearances without these qualities. He received the MBE last year.

It makes no sense.

Why, why, why? Choking back tears, friend and former colleague Robbie Savage spoke for many when interviewed at the weekend. Gary Speed. Why?

On Monday, the day after Gary Speed's body was discovered, a haunting biography of German goalkeeper Robert Enke was named William Hill Sports Book of the Year. Robert Enke jumped in front of a train in 2009.

The day following his death, his wife bravely highlighted his struggles with depression. It at least provided a context for the tragedy. So far there has been no explanation for Gary Speed.
We have shock and tributes and a void. How can you process something when you don't know why it happened? I feel powerless. I didn't even know him, but I can't stop thinking about Gary Speed.

But step back and there is much to be done - much to hope for, pray about, guard against. First and foremost we can pray that his family and all those closest to Gary Speed receive the support they need to come to terms with their tragedy. To mourn, to somehow, when the time is right, move on.

We must guard against the baseless speculation that occurs whenever something this unfathomable happens. It was out there within hours of his death. There are some things we will never know, nor have a right to know, and inventing theories has consequences of its own. The Bible treats the sin of gossip so seriously that in one memorable passage it links it to "murder, malice and inventors of evil" (Romans 1: 29b-32). If this seems over the top, imagine the effect on Gary Speed's boys should they turn to the internet to find out about their father. Take it down.

We can hope and pray that those who suffer from depression are more minded to seek help. We do not know if Gary Speed wrestled with depression - his family don't believe he did - but a willingness to admit to it has been a consequence of his death. Already the Sporting Chance clinic has been contacted by 10 professional footballers this week. May there be more acceptance and understanding of this most complex of conditions, that never again will a sufferer be told, "pull yourself together." Yet, as Martin Samuel noted in a brilliant piece in the Daily Mail, it is those who don't come forward we need to worry about. We must pray fervently that Gary Speed's death does not lead to copycat suicides.

Finally, we can applaud the way the worst has brought out the best in the football community. From the impeccable crowd response at both Swansea and Liverpool, the two games played in the immediate aftermath of the news, repeated at all the mid-week games, to the tributes outside the stadiums he once graced and the words spoken by those who knew him, football has been dignified, respectful and united. It's not always, and to continue in this manner - the manner in which Gary Speed conducted himself - would be far more fitting than anything cooked up at the Sports Personality of the Year awards.

None of us wanted him to go. Gary Speed brightened many lives. But in death, after the shock, the mourning and the tributes, may he continue to do so.