While the entire world fights against an invisible enemy in form of COVID-19, there’s another invisible enemy that we have been fighting since centuries. Depression, anxiety and other mental disorders are the foes that have traumatized millions across the globe. Just like the COVID-19, it simply doesn’t differentiate among people. It attacks the poorest of the poor as well the filthy rich. Politicians, Oligarchs, Actors, Artists, and Sportsmen, all have fallen prey to this enemy.
Fame and success is no guarantee that things like Depression won’t hit you, 23 times Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps has admitted suffering from anxiety and depression even when he was ruling the world stage in swimming. There are people in Football fraternity who have undergone huge amount of mental stress often resulting in wearing out early and enduring high level depression.
The bonuses of being a footballer are huge. The job’s benefits are significant, ranging from lavish income of up to £300k a week, fast cars, luxurious homes and journeys to exotic countries where they can perform in front of masses of worshipping fans. What is it they must be depressed about? It is difficult to derive sympathy from the regular-life struggle. Yet depression still breeds as a contagion among the wealthy and the popular. The media swallows up stars like Paul Gascoigne and David Beckham with too much coverage at a young age, heralding them as “the” boys of English football. Yet antics on and off the pitch, a pint at a bar, a sending off in a decisive game and they’re spat out easily and left isolated. Beckham coped with death threats when he kicked another player, and rose to become an icon of British sport, Gazza dissolved in tears when denied his place in the World Cup final, and is now dealing with alcohol-related issues. Different players, different psychological designs. Another such example is of Gary Speed.
Gary Speed, former Welsh national team captain-turned boss, had movie star looks, a million pound estate, a stunning young wife and two sport-obsessed sons. It looked like he had the world at his feet. Yet nine years ago after an embittered battle with depression he took his own life. Bill Shankly’s quote about football being more important than life and death simply is not true. Gary Speed’s life is proof that money and fame may not simply keep your mind at peace. Despite the tragic end to his life, one should not forget his glorious journey from being an adorable boyhood Everton fan to one of the most influential managers of the Wales national team.
Where it all began…
Gary Speed resided in Flintshire, Wales and was a die-hard Everton fan since childhood. His love for Everton was also fueled by the fact that former Toffees captain Kevin Ratcliffe lived on the same street as Speed. His boyhood hero often joined him with other local lads in evening kick-abouts. As a boy, Speed worked as a paperboy delivering the newspaper to Ratcliffe’s house. However, the young kid often arrived late but gave no explanation for his delay. Apophenia, the peculiar human tendency to identify similarities in otherwise unrelated occurrence, intervenes here, as Speed’s natural timing on the football field, arriving late in the box or jumping to reach the ball with a header, has turned him from a mediocre paperboy into a footballer world won’t easily forget.
Recognizing that Speed won’t find the right guidance or the technology in Flintshire to reach the pinnacle of football, he moved to Leeds, joining Leeds United as a trainee in 1988. In those days, budding youngsters who joined youth academy, often volunteered as boot boys for the first team players thinking that they would receive invaluable tips and guidance as perks in exchange of washing the dirty boots. Hence, Speed climbed up the ladder from being Kevin Ratcliffe’s erratic paperboy to Peter Swan’s whimsical boot boy. Speed found the new life at Leeds very blithe, but for wrong reasons. Living away from home instigates a different kind of freedom. Secretly sneaking out for a fast food meal on his way home, spending most of his afternoon in front of the TV watching Sitcoms at his new apartment put him on the wrong track with many in the management questioning the expectations set for him.
During this stage of Speed’s life, senior player and arguably leading Leeds icon of that time, Gordon Strachan and Billy Bremner tutored the young Welshman about the importance of diet and fitness in the game. Gary soon understood the significance of having a healthy calorie diet and quit the burgers and bagels, choosing to focus on cementing a place in the first team. Nutrition was a facet of football championed by Speed for the rest of his career.
Under the management of Howard Wilkinson, Gary Speed made his first team debut aged 19 against Oldham Athletic in the Football League second division. Leeds had struggled in the lead-up to the end of the twentieth century going through a tumultuous few decades. An ill-fated final appearance of the European Cup quickly passed but was not forgotten, and the club was desperate to resurrect a spirit of glory after the failure of the 1980s. Howard Wilkinson was their answer and Gary Speed came along with him. Speed, still a youth and the baby face of the squad was used as the ultimate utility man in Leeds’ 1991-92 title-winning Football league first division campaign, featuring for the Whites in every outfield position except centre-back.
During the exuberant 1991-92 campaign, Speed forged a solid midfield partnership with David Batty, Gordon Strachan and Gary McAllister, famously becoming Leeds’ midfield cast. For the pundits and analysts, it was a daunting task to dedicate a single position to Speed. However, in the quartet he was extensively used as a left wide midfielder. Strachan was deployed as a wide right midfielder who was instructed to dart crosses in the box. Strachan’s experience to the teenager on the opposite flank proved indispensable for the midfield’s perfect balance. Speed offered archetypal boldness and a thrilling burst of raw, youthful pace, quickly becoming an essential part of the team. Gary McAllister pulled the strings in the centre, while local boy Batty anchored the ship which won the last title of First Division before the Premier League was formed.
Since debuting in 1988, Speed won his first major honor and he had all the reasons to be proud of him. From potentially surrendering himself to the distractions of fame and youth to accepting the seriousness of the game, Speed made a paradigm shift. The 1991-92 season for Speed also saw him garner praises and earn nicknames like the ‘Speedo’ and ‘Mr.Versatile’, mainly because of his overflowing pace and his ability to play anywhere and everywhere. Speed had enhanced his high jumping ability and polished his runs in the box. His knack of arriving late in the box and scoring was praised by his fans and the media.
The next season saw the Peacocks feature in the UEFA Champions League, though their progress was restricted to the second round, the match against VfB Stuttgart was full of drama. Stuttgart won their first leg at home 3-0 meaning Leeds having a tough mountain to climb in the second leg. The Whites won 4-1 but were eliminated on away goals rule. The 4-1 thrashing included a superb left footed volley from Speed which could be regarded as the best goal of his career. It was later found out that the German team fielded an ineligible player and Leeds were allowed to play in the Round 2 instead of Stuttgart.
After 312 games for Leeds, Gary Speed finally lefty Elland Road in 1996. He had amassed 57 goals in his 8 years as a first team professional but most importantly leaving as a refined diamond with the potential of becoming the best of the best.
There was only one club that could prize Speed away from Yorkshire that was the club he ardently supported as a child: Everton. He adored the Toffees ever since he was a kid and when the Toffees came calling there wasn’t even the slightest of hesitations. Then Everton manager Joe Royle signed Gary for £3.5 million. Making his Everton debut in August 1996, he marked the start of his Toffees career with a goal against Newcastle United. Gary Speed’s only hat trick of his career came in his first season at the Goodison Park in a 7-1 battering of Southampton. Speed finished with 11 goals as the joint top scorer along with Duncan Ferguson. Speed’s time at Everton got even better when new manager Howard Kendall appointed Gary as the captain of the Blues. However, questions quickly rose on Speed’s leadership when Everton struggled in the bottom halves of the table. The relationship between Kendall and Speed hit a dead end and Speed never played another game for Everton after 18th January 1998.
After lingering in the relegation zone a few weeks, Everton were able to save themselves from demotion in the Championship by wafer thin margins, only surviving due to a better goal difference to Bolton Wanderers. Despite Speed’s all round efforts as the captain, the 17th place quickly overshadowed last season’s high sixth place finish.
Just when the Toffees thought they had survived their worst nightmare, another cloud of smoke and uncertainty descended over them when Speed presented a transfer request to the club hierarchy. The fans’ allegiance to Speed was quickly converted to astonishment when he presented the transfer request. He never gave a reason for his departure but in a very calm and kind way he told: “You know why I’m leaving, but I can’t explain myself publicly because it would damage the good name of Everton Football Club and I’m not prepared to do that.”
The Gary Speed transfer saga appeared to be drawing to an inevitable conclusion with Newcastle United ready to improve their offer for the transfer-seeking Everton skipper. Finally a £5.5 million fee was agreed between the two parties and on February 6, 1998 and Speed moved to St.James Park. Under Toons coach, Kenny Dalglish, the Welshman rediscovered his touch and dynamism that seemed missing in last few months. Not only did he regain his lost confidence, but some of the best years in Gary’s playing career also came at St.James Park.
Until now, Speed was renowed as a wide left midfielder but at Newcastle he transformed himself into a typical central midfielder. From a marauding player on the left flank running up and down with burning pace, he switched to a cool headed central midfielder whose playing style often reflected calmness of his nature. His composed personality allowed him to control the play from deep with remarkable ease.
His debut came against West Ham United which ended in a 1-0 defeat. His first goal for the Black and Whites came in the FA Cup tie against Barnsley which they won 3-1. While the Toons toiled hard in the Premier League, it was the FA Cup journey that really boosted their confidence. Newcastle reached the finals with Speed featuring in the final but failed to make a lasting impact as Arsenal ran down a 2-0 win to claim the trophy.
The following season was the same story as Newcastle continued their underwhelming performances in the league and reaching the FA Cup final but coming back empty handed as Manchester United beat them 2-0. Speed also got a taste of Champions League football during his time at St.James Park and served as a loyal Newcastle player until 2004. In his six and a half seasons with the Toons, he managed to play 285 games and scored a respectable tally of 40 goals, considering he now operated in a much deeper role.
In July 2004, Speed signed for Bolton Wanderers for a fee of £750,000. The 35 year old had accepted that he won’t be a regular starter and continued to help the team in bits and pieces. Then came the match against West Ham United in December 2006. Gary Speed achieved an invincible feat, a feat that was just a myth until Speed made it a reality. Gary Speed became the first player to play 500 Premier League games. Since then, a total of 13 players have made more than 500 outings in the Top Flight but Speed will always be the first.
When Sam Allardyce left the managerial role at the Reebok Stadium, Speed was announced as the replacement at the helm. In a way, Speed had entered the age where he could help youngsters groom into better footballers and better humans. Just like Gordon Strachan helped the young Speed to get his act together at Leeds, life coming a full circle.
However, it felt a little too early for Speed to take such a big step of a manager and he stepped down as the manager later that year. In December 2007, reports emerged that Speed would move to Sheffield United on loan with a view of making the move permanent for £250,000.
Gary made his debut on New year’s day in 2008 for the Blades in 1 0-0 draw against Wolves. He finished the season with three goals to his name and occasionally deputized as the captain when Chris Morgan wasn’t available. In several interviews the 39 year old hinted that the 2008-09 season would be his last season as a player but he also flirted with a lot of team owners when he admitted about his interest in taking over as a coach in the future. An injury forced him to undergo surgery in November 2008 and despite the successful surgery, he failed to regain fitness easily. He now decided to concentrate on polishing the aspects of being a coach. Speed finally announced retirement at the age of 41 but would remain at Sheffield as a coach in the coaching staff.
What was Gary Speed footballer like…
In this day and age, neglecting statistics, number of goals scored, and other data is difficult, probably impossible and Speed is a statistical gold-mine with more than 500 professional games in the Premier League, five clubs represented across 3 decades. However, Speed is that kind of a player who cannot be assessed on basis of the statistical gold-mine. Numbers can’t describe the hearts he had touched with his human nature and professionalism.
The always polite, kind, jolly faced Speed graced English football for over three decades and his ability to bring joy to his fans was unparalleled. Speed was never unbeatable, his trophy cabinet was never huge but it was his charisma that attracted people towards him.
As a player he was gullible, and goal minded, clear in his mind what he wanted to achieve. Starting his career as a left back he quickly transitioned into a left side wide midfielder and with loss of pace in later stages of his career due to age, he operated as a deep lying midfielder. The Welshman was widely known for his late runs in the box and his bullet headers. Often as a knowledge tank, he was able to find out of the box ways to create goals and score them. As a captain, he was an inspirational figure for the rest of his teammates, leading from the front.
His strict approach to diet and fitness should be a bible to many players of this generation who are considered to be careless when it comes to following a healthy diet. His high degree of physical proficiency allowed him to remain injury free for most parts of his career. A charming persona made him a favorite among peers and colleagues.
Where is Gary Speed now
Gary Speed was confirmed as the Sheffield United manager after just three games into the 2010-11 season. However, despite just months of experience as a first team manager, his name started circulating for the vacant role of Wales National team. Sheffield United gave Speed the permission to give the interview for the vacant position. In December 2010, Football association of Wales confirmed Gary Speed as their manager and paid compensation to the Blades. Speed was seen as strong personality to whom the dressing room will be able to connect easily.
In his first official game as the manager, Wales lost 2-0 to England in the 2012 Euro qualifiers. Wales dropped to 117th position in the FIFA rankings. Speed knew how to turn this around, winning against Montenegro, Switzerland and Bulgaria and in the process jumping the world ranking of 45. Speed managed his last game as the Wales coach on 12th November 2011 which ended in Wales’ favor as they beat Norway 4-1.
The sad end…
Disillusion, disappointment and hopelessness: were everyone’s feelings on the morning of 21 November 2011. Gary Speed was found dead in his Cheshire home garage, his own life taken just hours after he appeared on national television, seemingly in good spirits. There was no particular reason for as to why Speed committed suicide. As lively as he was, one could never predict that how tragically life would end for the Welshman. Let’s look at what some of colleagues and friends had to say about Speed.
Aaron Ramsey: “I was given the tragic news this morning. To say I am devastated is an understatement. My thoughts and prayers go out to Gary’s family and friends. Today the world has lost a great football manager but even more sadly a great man. He will be missed by all.”
Ryan Giggs: “I am totally devastated. Gary Speed was one of the nicest men in football and someone I am honored to call a team-mate and friend. Words cannot begin to describe how sad I feel at hearing this awful news”.
Michael Owen: “He was a gentleman and his footballing ability is without question but I would focus on him as a person. Gary probably lived 10 miles away from me and the other day I saw him on the way to school on the kids’ run and we shared a wave as we drove past each other. It’s a terrible loss and the mood of Cheshire was just utter shock and disbelief and devastation that he leaves a lovely family behind.”
What are the moments we remember Gary Speed for…
A hero in Leeds’ first division title win
Gary Speed made his debut under Howard Wilkinson on the left back. While observing the youngster, the coach soon realized his potential and decided to hand Speed regular playing time. Soon the Flintshire-born became the answer to every tactical and positional question for Wilkinson. Especially, in the 1991-92 season, Speed was used in every outfield position except the centre half. However, he was fondly remembered for his contributions on the left side of the midfield in a quartet consisting of Gordon Strachan, David Batty and Gary McAllister. Leeds brought glory to Elland road winning the first division title that year with many rightly crediting the successful quartet for the title win. Amidst all this, people had realized a true match winner was born in the name of Gary Speed
Merseyside Derby equalizer
In 1996, Gary became an Everton player and with the blue shirt came the anticipation of playing in his first Merseyside derby. Liverpool of those days were big and badass. The likes of Robbie Fowler, Jamie Carragher, Stan Collymore made this tie a one sided affair but as history suggests, the people always tend to back the underdog. This backing was enough for Speed to transmit support into inspiration. In his first derby at Anfield, the Reds took the lead via Fowler and quite predictably Everton trailed. Then in the 82nd minute, Speed found his head to a free kick, scoring the equalizer. This sent a clear message that Speed was there to not only uplift the morale of the team but also uplift their position.
His only hat-trick
During his time in the Premiership, Speed scored more than 130 career goals across but during that period he only netted one hat trick. Yet, it sure was a memorable, a typical Speed. During a match in 1996 in which Everton slaughtered Southampton by a 7-1 score, three of the goals came from Gary Speed, starting with a beautiful strike sailing right past the Saints’ keeper, followed by a pair of smashing reinforcement headers. Speed was a childhood Everton supporter and to score a single hat-trick throughout the career that too for Everton makes the moment even more special and worth remembering.
Cap number 500
Reaching 500 appearances is not an easy task and reaching that feat today is harder than ever before. Players tend to change teams and switch leagues in order to obtain higher pay packages or simply to prove that they are the best not only in a particular league but in multiple countries.
Speed continued to find ways to impress at Bolton Wanderers, becoming the first player to cross 500 appearances in the Premier League and holding briefly the record for becoming the first player to score in all Premiership season he featured in (fellow Welsh international Ryan Giggs broke this several months later).
Nurturing talents like Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey
Gary Speed was an influential Wales manager whose foundation helped Wales become a giant today. One of Speed’s boldest decisions was to appoint captain, Aaron Ramsey, a 20-year-old Arsenal midfielder, a huge vote of confidence for Ramsey, and maybe a smart step to help form a new generation of national team leaders. Following Bale’s long injury-induced absence, Speed also returned Tottenham Hotspur speed demon Gareth Bale to the national side, and others including Cardiff City defender Darcy Blake, showed promise under his leadership. Speed helped to lay the groundwork for a potential Wales powerhouse team.
How other premier league professionals view Gary Speed…
Sir Bobby Robson: “We can’t replace Gary Speed. Where do you get an experienced player like him with a left foot and a head? Gary Speed has never played better, never looked fitter, never been older.”
Alan Shearer on Speed’s 500th appearance: “Gary could go on forever. He’s a top pro who looks after himself so well, it’s right that he’s got the Premiership appearance record.Gary should be an inspiration to any youngster coming through the ranks.”
Alan Shearer: “Gary was a magnificent person, bright, fun and a wonderful family man — he lit up every room he walked into.I am proud to have been his friend and will miss him dreadfully.”
Mark Hughes: “If Gary sees his future as a manager, then being an international coach for Wales is a fantastic grounding. There’s no reason why Gary can’t make a good fist of it given his standing in the game.In fairness the group of players there now is better in terms of quality than the squad I inherited”
What Gary Speed says about Gary Speed…
“I had a lot of times with Wales as well when we were getting beat – and beaten well – and you learn to deal with it. You learn that next time it happens, you roll your sleeves up and give everything for the team.”
“I don’t like the showy nationalism – a tattoo, wrapping yourself in a flag – that doesn’t matter to me. The way to show your patriotism and commitment is to go and support or play for your team.
“If I had my time again and was able to change one thing from my career then I wouldn’t have retired. I would have played for Wales longer.
“If you’ve got aspirations to be a manager or coach, obviously coaching your country would be a great honor.”
Gary Speed was awarded the MBE (Member of the Order of the British Empire) in the 2010 Queen’s Birthday Honors List for his services to sport.
Author John Richardson was a close friend of the man he knew as ‘Speedo’ and was entrusted to write his autobiography. Gary completed two chapters of his life story before putting the project on hold because he thought he had not achieved enough in the game to merit a book. For the first time, these revealing chapters were published in the original form they were written, with insights from Richardson on the personal story that would remain so sadly untold.
Gary Speed told Richardson: “Despite the accusations, which first came my way from the Everton supporters, I didn’t join Newcastle for a penny more than I had been earning at Goodison Park.“What was even worse on a personal front was that just a few weeks later Newcastle faced my old club Everton at Goodison Park in a league game. Having been captain of Everton, I was seen as a Judas figure for seemingly walking out on my own people.“
As a precaution, Everton erected some steel shutters to protect the players’ entrance.Those shutters are still there to this day — ‘The Gary Speed Gates’ the locals call them!
Gary Speed stats , what you can find on Wiki ( and other sites )…
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