By James Reeves
The word legend is used all too often in football. Gary Speed, or ‘Speedo’ as he was known to those in Football, may not grace the walls of too many young boys around the country, but he will forever be remembered as one of the nicest, most dedicated and friendliest men in the sport.
His longevity in the game and his gentlemanly manner endeared him to so many. Howard Wilkinson, his manager during his time at Leeds said “He was a star in the truest sense. For him at 42 to leave us is such a tragic loss. He had a life of success to look forward to.” The affection from both the football world and the public was evident minutes after the Football Association of Wales announced his death, with tributes pouring in from his colleagues and fellow professionals.
With the news of Speed’s death emerging within hours before kick-off of the game in South Wales as Swansea met Aston Villa at the Liberty Stadium, football achieved a sense of insignificance. A minutes silence was paradoxically unobserved by both sets of supporters, who instead chose to poignantly remember Speed with a minute’s applause that echoed the sentiments of everyone who had heard the gut-wrenching news. Speed was a man who needed to be celebrated.
Speed amassed an incredible record of 535 Premier League appearances, surpassed only by Ryan Giggs and David James. He also enjoyed a career as Wales’ most capped outfield player with 85 appearances for his country, captaining the side on several occasions. In the 5 competitive games Speed managed Wales, he led them to 3 wins and a meteoric rise in the FIFA rankings from 117th to a high of 45th. Such was Speed’s success he had encouraged many Welsh fans and players to begin dreaming of qualification for the World Cup in Brazil in 2014, and the football Wales played during his time in charge was some of the most pleasing seen in a Welsh side for many years.
There is little you can say at a time of such tragedy, and it is Speed’s family who our thoughts and condolences are with at this time.
Gary Speed was a legendary professional footballer. He was a legendary man. He was a legend. Rest in peace.