Game's ability to move on leaves a guilty conscience
Published 28/11/2011 | 05:00
Gary Speed's death is utterly tragic and horrific, but while the numbness and sense of loss throughout the game is genuine, the tragedy of football is its resilience when it is afflicted by such sadness.
In the 21st century, football mirrors life in that it moves on so quickly. It is a sad fact that while Gary's family and friends will continue to be affected by his death for the rest of their lives, football will continue as it always has.
In truth, I do not see how it can be any different, but that does not mean that it is right. When we took to the pitch with Liverpool at Heysel for the European Cup final against Juventus in 1985, we knew that people had been killed in the trouble prior to the game, but once you walk on to the pitch, you only think about the game.
It would take the loss of somebody very close to you for that to be any different, so I can totally understand and sympathise with Shay Given's tearful reaction on the pitch at Swansea to Gary's death or Craig Bellamy not playing for Liverpool against Manchester City yesterday. They both counted Gary as a close friend.
But the resilience of football on a wider scale is something that I have always felt uneasy about. Many people would argue that it is wrong and I would be one of those.
When 96 people lost their lives at Hillsborough in 1989, there was no doubting the scale of the tragedy. I went to some of the funerals that followed and each one was worse than the one before.
But the minute I returned to the pitch for the replayed semi-final against Nottingham Forest at Old Trafford, I was only thinking about one thing and that was the game.
We celebrated after we won that match and it was the same after we beat Everton at Wembley to win the FA Cup. We celebrated with the cup and we drank to our success.
But there was a sense of guilt about the resilience we displayed and the fact that we simply got back to playing again.
Just six weeks earlier, so many people had lost their lives, so it felt wrong -- and it was wrong -- that we were enjoying ourselves. We were told that many of those bereaved wanted Liverpool to continue and win the Cup in memory of those who had died, but I'm not sure I would have wanted football to go on had I lost somebody at Hillsborough. But the culture of football is as it is. The resilience is there and it is not a good thing, yet how can it change?
At 42 and with a wife and two young children, the futility and senselessness of Gary Speed's death is undeniable, but the game will continue because, unfortunately, that is how it is. Football is a tough sport and there is no support network for those who are troubled or in need of help. The minute you walk out of any club, you are gone forever.
That is not necessarily a bad thing because if you harbour any hopes of working for the club once your playing days are over, the truth is that there are very few opportunities to do so and the cold reality of life moving on ensures that any false hope you may have had is quickly extinguished.
But within the dressing-room, you would never hear a player confessing to his team-mates that he had a problem and needed help.
I spent 14 years in the Liverpool dressing-room and I can't recall that happening. It's probably a man thing too, but a dressing-room is supposed to be an upbeat place and it is not the environment for any show of perceived weakness.
Players know that any admission of a problem or a call for help would see them annihilated by their team-mates once they started to feel good once again, so as a result there would be a real air of silence when it came to telling people that you needed help.
Gary will have been brought up in that same dressing-room environment. There might be former player associations and other similar groups, but there really is no place to go and get help, no support structure.
Gary's death is an awful day for football. I didn't play against him or share a dressing-room with him, but I knew how popular he was within the game and how many people will be affected by his death.
He was a widely-respected player and somebody who looked like he was on course to become a great manager, but nobody can imagine what caused this to happen and we may never know.
But football will move on in its usual fashion and I can understand the sense of unease about that. (© Daily Telegraph, London)