The sad and untimely death of Gary Speed, manager of the Wales National Team has shocked many fans of football. The apparent suicide of the 42 year old will surely result in many questions in coming weeks regarding what would cause someone who has enjoyed a glittering football career to take his own life at such a young age.
Speed has been described as ‘one of the most respected young managers in the game’. He was a player at Leeds, Everton, Newcastle and Bolton, before moving on to coach the Welsh national team. In addition to this, Gary Speed was one of the most popular players of his generation. The highlight of his career, as a player, was winning the league title with Leeds United in 1992. It has been suggested that he was tipped to enjoy similar success as a manager after having made a successful start to his international management career. Since taking over at Wales in December 2010, Speed had remarked on the team’s improvement. They had enjoyed a 4-1 friendly win over Norway, which represented a third successive win for Wales, and Speed’s fifth in 10 games as manager.
Given the professional success that Gary Speed enjoyed, one issue that this tragic loss raises is the personal cost in the lives of professional players. There are many people in the world who struggle to make enough money to meet the basic needs of themselves and their families. On the other hand, there are those such as professional footballers that enjoy high standards of living as a result of high salaries. The one thing that unites all people is the need and quest for happiness. Hearing stories about what happens in the lives of high profile individuals such as footballers in the media consistently highlights the fact that the emotional needs of many wealthy and successful individuals from a variety of disciplines are left unsatisfied. Many people aspire to be like these people because they are certain that more success or money will make them happier. Seeing footballers such as George Best and Paul Gasgoine fighting public battles against alcoholism, and hearing the sad news that Gary Speed has committed suicide, sends a message to us all that success and money do not bring happiness or refuge from personal demons. This is an important lesson that must be taught to younger generations. Many young children are buying into ideas that becoming the next footballer or celebrity sensation will right all of the wrongs in their lives.
Gary Speed’s success as a footballer is unquestionable. He began his playing career at Leeds United after coming through the trainee ranks, and was part of the side that won the last Football League title in 1992, before the introduction of the Premier League. He left Leeds in 1996 after 312 appearances to join Everton – who he went on to captain – in a £3.5m move. Newcastle followed, in a £5.5m switch in 1998. During his six years with the Magpies, he suffered two FA Cup final defeats and sampled Champions League football. He then spent four years with Bolton Wanderers after agreeing a £750,000 move. He was handed his Wales debut as a 20-year-old in the 1-0 friendly win over Costa Rica in May 1990. Speed became the first player to reach 500 Premier League appearances and won 85 caps for his country during a 14-year international career. He retired from international duty in 2004, with a record of seven scored goals and 44 appearances captaining his country. Speed’s final appearance came in 3-2 World Cup qualifying defeat by Poland in October 2004. He was given the top job in Welsh football despite only having four months managerial experience at Sheffield United. This admirable record is no doubt part of the reasoning behind the Football Association of Wales and Speed’s former club Leeds being shocked and saddened by news of his suicide.
Whatever the reasons were behind the premature departing of Gary Speed, his story is a lesson for other footballers and all of us to ensure that our lives are happy and our emotional needs are met. May his relatives and friends find comfort in the wake of this sad news and all observers learn to assess what really makes life worth living.