There are times in life when sport is put into perspective in the saddest of ways.
Gary Speed’s death at the age of 42 is a prime example of this. A celebrated football player and manager, father of two boys, the desperately sad news of Gary Speed’s death didn’t seem real as it filtered through.
A superb model professional during his successful playing career, Speed was always respected by his peers and made the most of all of his talent. From starting out at Leeds, where he won the First Division in 1992, his career went from strength to strength and he moved to Everton in 1996 where he became club captain. Only two years later though and he was on his way to Newcastle for £5.5 million and he went on to enjoy the most successful time of his career, despite not winning any silverware.
Newcastle lost two FA Cup finals, in 1998 and 99, but qualified for the Champions League in 2002-03 where Speed excelled. Newcastle manager Sir Bobby Robson was sad to see him leave the club in 2004 when he moved to Bolton and it was here that Speed’s coaching career began in 2007, taking on a player/coach role under Sam Allardyce.
After Allardyce left the club, Speed went back to being solely a player under Sammy Lee, but he also left not long after, joining Sheffield United in 2008. He became vice captain
but age slowly began to catch up with Speed and injuries began to plague him, leading to his retirement.
His dedication to training allied with his ability led to him setting a record amount of appearance in the Premier League, 535, which was only broken by David James and the patriotic Speed is the record out field appearances holder for Wales, winning 85 caps.
He took on a coaching role at Sheffield United in 2010-11, but only three games into the season manager Kevin Blackwell was sacked and Speed took over.
It was a baptism of fire for him, as he struggled to adapt to management, but that didn’t stop the Welsh FA picking him to succeed John Toshack as manager of the national side in December 2010.
It took Speed a while to get his ideas and philosophy across to the Welsh squad and they slipped to their lowest ever FIFA world ranking, 117th, after a string of poor results. However, things began to pick up and after three wins in four games, they rose to 45th in the rankings and in Speed’s last game in charge they dismantled Norway 4-1.
The future was very bright for the Welshman – his Wales side, for it remains his team, is full of potential and are playing great football and Speed’s career in management looked likely to go from strength to strength.
But the amount of tributes paid to Speed and the heartfelt nature of all of them is proof that his death transcends sport – Gary Speed was a good man and inspired a lot of people.
Just an hour after the news of his death broke, the Premier League match between Swansea and Aston Villa was due to take place. A minute’s silence spontaneously turned into a minute’s applause and the crowd chanted ‘there’s only one Gary Speed.’ Proof, is proof was needed, of how sorely he will be missed.
1992-1996 –Leeds United
1996-1998 – Everton
1998-2004 – Newcastle United
2004-2008 – Bolton Wanderers
2008-2010 – Sheffield United