A few words on Gary Speed

by Steve

I only saw Gary Speed play in the flesh once, towards the end of his playing career. He was playing in the Championship for Sheffield United and despite nearing 40 was clearly the best player on the pitch. There was a thoughtfulness and intelligence to his play. He didn’t need to run around like his younger team-mates and opponents as his mind always seemed to be one step ahead. Like all the best players he made playing football look easy.

He was clearly a great player, and as Manager of Wales appeared to be well on his way to becoming a great coach too. But no matter the background his death at the weekend was tragic. I’m not sure there is whole lot more that can be said right now, beyond wanting to extend thoughts to his family and friends.

Generally speaking, I think it is nearly impossible to look back objectively on someone’s life when they commit suicide. It is all too easy to view everything through the prism of their final act. We look for clues, for explanations. It can define them. I’m not sure that it should.

I guess this is particularly the case for artists. I’m sure many people have listened to In Utero as Kurt Cobain’ suicide note, or read David Foster Wallace and shivered when he writes about suicide. But that is evidently a simplification, albeit a human one. Death is enough of a mystery as it is. There is an impulse to make sense of the apparently inexplicable.

I hope that speculation around Speed’s death is kept to a minimum. That might be the case as there aren’t books or records to comb through. I don’t know. I guess we can’t help but wonder, no matter who it is.

Football often seems a callous, cynical business. So it has been refreshing to see the football community united in grief and united in honouring Gary Speed. Tribal rivalries have been put to one side. Football tends to get so much wrong, but I think has marked his death in the right way. I’m sure this is a comment on how respected and well-liked he was across the sport.

He has been remembered and honoured in a full and compassionate way that I’m not sure would have been possible 20 years ago. I hope this is an indication that there is now less of a stigma surrounding mental illness and related issues, that maybe death, and suicide, is less taboo or just less likely to be swept under the carpet. Society is hopefully less judgemental on these issues.

I’m loath to say anything as trite as “something good might come out of this”, but hopefully this will lead to more people feeling able to ask for help. And hopefully fewer families will have to go through such a horrendous experience.

But a good person has gone. Rest in peace.

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