My obituary for Gary Speed
November 27, 2011
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What follows is entirely my own, personal, unresearched reflections.
I have decided to say something about the death of Gary Speed because, although I never met him, I did see him play many times at Elland Road. I have considerable experience of bereavement, and that has taught me that dealing with bereavement requires effort. Everybody is different, but there are right ways and wrong ways of going about it, and the worst thing of all is to pretend that everything will be all right on its own and do nothing.
I am not going to speculate about why (according to the reports) Gary took his own life. I don’t have any data and so there is no point in saying anything. Gary Speed was born 2 years after me.
I had started to watch Leeds United at Elland Road just as Speed’s first team career was beginning. He was a player who was left-sided, athletic, and very good at heading. It used to amuse me that so many of the young supporters in the crowd had the same gelled hair-style as Gary. It even became known at a GSHC (Gary Speed Haircut) and there was consternation and head-scratching among the barbers of central, south and east Leeds when he adopted a different style.
Speed was good at a number of important footballing skills and one of them was avoiding injury. He set records for number of appearances for Leeds and for the Premiership. He was the left-side component of the midfield of Leeds’s Championship-winning team of 1991-92.
I missed him when he left Leeds to join Everton.
He is one part of one of the most abstruse football trivia questions that I know: which former Wales and Everton midfielder as a boy used to deliver newspapers to which former Wales and Everton goalkeeper? (Answer: Gary Speed used to be Neville Southall’s paperboy). I won a signed football in a raffle at Elland Road in about 1993. Speed’s signature is on it (and is just about the only one which is decipherable).
Football is a strangely feminine activity. It is one of the few endeavours in which men openly express emotion and talk of things like “support” (both for individuals as well as clubs). At this traumatic and tragic time, I am relieved to see hard men such as Robbie Savage and Craig Bellamy openly expressing their grief. I hope that everybody who was touched by Gary’s celebrity and playing career will concentrate on his or her own sense of loss, and not attempt to encroach on the private feelings of his family and close friends. Those who knew him as a person rather than a man who kicked or headed an inflated air-sac around a field have a different and much harder task to overcome.