GARY SPEED (1969-2011)

Gary Speed, former Leeds United, Newcastle, Everton, Sheffield United and Bolton Wanderers player- currently serving as manager of the Welsh International football team- died last night on Sunday, 27th November. His death was first announced by the Football Association of Wales, and the footballing world- particularly the FA Barclays Premier League- came to an emotional standstill. 

Speed is said to have committed suicide by hanging himself at his home in Cheshire. He is now the second world-renowned sporting figure to have taken his own own life in less than a month, after celebrated cricket writer Peter Roebuck jumped out of his South African hotel balcony before the second test between Australia and South Africa. But unlike Roebuck, no murky circumstances or criminal investigations surround Speed’s death, as we speak. Not yet, atleast. 

As things stand, fans and admirers alike, prefer it to remain that way. 

Speed was known for his wholehearted dedication to the game, and remains one of two Premier League players (both being Welsh) to have scored in every season since his debut as a player when he played for Bolton in 2007 at the age of 37. Ryan Giggs later broke the record in 2008. In all, Speed played for a total of 20 years as an outfield player, becoming one of the most capped players for both league and country. 535 appearances in the FA Premier league made him sole owner of the record until David James passed it soon after, followed by Ryan Giggs. 85 international caps established him as the foremost of the Welsh legends of the game, until he took over as manager less than a year before his death. 

Gary Speed started his career with Leeds United as a teenager, and went on to play for his childhood-favorite club Everton from 1996 to 1998, also instilled as team captain for the period. He then moved on to Newcastle United, followed by his famous stint with Bolton where he became the first-ever player to clock 500 appearances for the league. He then began to dabble in life behind the scenes, as he was controversially named Manager after Sam Allardyce stepped down in 2007. He continued as player, but struggled with multiple responsibilities- and was relieved of managerial power a few months down the line. He remained a crucial cog in the midfield, though, and joined Sheffield United on loan in early 2008. 

He played half the 2008-09 season, ending with 3 goals- and suffered from a back injury later that year that effectively ended his playing career in the longer scheme of things.

He finally announced his retirement in his 41st year, and stayed on at Sheffield United and agreed to stay on as manager for another year. He was three months into a 3 year contract in the 2010-11 season, when he was approached by the FA of Wales for a possible managerial job at country level. He was allowed to pursue the offer by Sheffield United, and subsequently joined as manager of Wales on 14th December, 2010. 

Wales, as a footballing nation, had suffered the ignominy of not being able to appear in World Cups and other European tournaments for than a decade, inspite of having players like Giggs, Bellamy and Speed for a long time. Speed, though, when appointed as Manager, was expected to lift Wales back to the dizzy heights of their glory days decades ago. His first game in charge didn’t go down too  well, with Wales suffering a 3-0 defeat to Ireland in February at the Nations Cup.

Euro 2012 qualifiers were underway, and Wales lost twice to England in their group- home and away. But wins against Montenegro, Switzerland and Bulgaria lifted a bit of gloom and put Wales in contention for second place in the group. 

Speed, though, seemed to have other ideas- and the mystery surrounding his death could be revealed a few months down the line. One may suspect, as was always the case with a thorough professional like Speed, that the reasons could very well have something to do with his career. 

The Sunday games, which had Aston Villa face Welsh club Swansea City and Manchester City play Liverpool- were dedicated to the former Welsh Manager’s memory. Welsh internationals like Ashley Williams, Neil Taylor and Joe Allen struggled with the acceptance of the news, Shay Given for Villa openly wept on field before and after the game and Welsh striker Craig Bellamy was excused from the game against City altogether by Liverpool manager Kenny Danglish. 

The sporting world has lost another great ambassador, all too soon, and it is only a matter of time before the question begs to be asked: Does it, for most athletes and artists, all come down to one troubled moment of madness?

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