THE football world is united in grief following the suicide of Wales manager Gary Speed.
The 42-year-old’s death caused disbelief across all levels of the game, with the two venues which hosted yesterday’s Premier League’s fixtures reflecting the sense of shock.
There were emotional scenes at Swansea’s Liberty Stadium as a planned moment of silence turned into a minute of applause in Speed’s honour. Aston Villa goalkeeper Shay Given, a close friend of Speed, was reduced to tears. Earlier, there had been discussions about postponing the fixture, but it went ahead on police advice.
At Anfield, there was a minute’s silence, impeccably observed by supporters of Liverpool and Manchester City. Speed’s former Wales team-mate Craig Bellamy pulled out of the fixture upon hearing of the tragedy.
Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish, who signed Speed while working at Newcastle, explained how Bellamy was too distressed to play.
“It is devastating and it might be a cliche but these things make football
secondary,” said Dalglish. “Gary was a fantastic footballer and more importantly a decent fella. There will be a lot of people saddened. The most important people are his wife and two boys, and my heart goes out to them. They will get all the support they need.”
Bellamy was particularly affected by the news.
“It was a decision I decided to take on Craig’s behalf,” Dalglish added. “I felt Craig – who was really close to Gary – would not be in the frame of mind to play.
“He was like a mentor for Craig. I took the decision that there are more important things than a football match, so he took the day off.”
Speed, who had appeared on the BBC’s Football Focus programme and watched Manchester United’s game with Newcastle at Old Trafford just hours before taking his own life, was discovered at his house in Cheshire at just after 7am yesterday.
Police quickly issued a statement saying there were no suspicious circumstances. His wife, Louise, and two children, Edward, 14, and Thomas, 13, were believed to be staying at the house.
Incomprehension at the circumstances of Speed’s death was balanced by an overwhelming sense of sorrow that one of the most talented players and managers of his generation had gone.
Speed’s former Wales team-mate Ryan Giggs summed up the mood of disbelief.
“I am totally devastated,” he said. “Gary Speed was one of the nicest men in football and someone I am honoured to call a team-mate and friend. It goes without saying my thoughts are with his family.”
Former England captain Alan Shearer played alongside Speed at St James’ Park.
He said: “Gary was a magnificent person, bright, fun and a wonderful family man. He lit up every room he walked into. I will miss him dreadfully.”
Speed enjoyed a successful playing career at Leeds, Everton, Newcastle, Bolton and Sheffield United, with all his former clubs expressing sympathy.
“Gary was an inspirational and much-loved player at Newcastle,” read a club statement. “He was an excellent servant to the club, the ultimate professional, and an exceptional role model.”
Speed had his first taste of coaching at Bolton, whose chairman Phil Gartside said he was “stunned”. Everton’s chief executive Robert Elstone expressed similar sorrow.
“Just cannot believe the news regarding Gary Speed,” wrote Michael Owen, who lives close to Speed’s home in Huntington, Cheshire. “We waved at each other a couple of days ago dropping our kids off at school. I’m numb.”
Speed’s former international team-mate Robbie Savage revealed on Twitter that he had spoken to Speed on the telephone on Saturday and he had sounded “upbeat”.
“My captain, my hero, my mate is gone and I can’t understand why,” he wrote. “The ironic thing is that he was the guy you would always go to if you ever had a problem.”
While Speed’s death was felt far and wide, the impact was particularly felt in Wales. He had managed the national team since December last year, leading the side from 110th to 45th in the FIFA rankings.
Before becoming manager, he played with Wales as part of a 14-year international career, winning 85 caps with his national side.