Wednesday, 30 November 2011

For Gary

I'm pretty sure you know about the death of Gary Speed by now. I found out about it walking around the NEC on Sunday and browsing Twitter as I ambled around the stands, I happened upon a tweet that caught my attention, but not in a good way. Praying that it was wrong, I clicked on the link contained within but reading the story, my heart sank and my hand flew to my mouth as I learned the awful circumstances of his sudden death.

Gary Speed was a hero of mine. (You know, looking at that sentence doesn't feel right, referring to him in the past tense still seems wrong.) I even mentioned him in a silly post I wrote over a year ago after I was tagged to share my Laminated List. It seemed wrong on Sunday night to discover how many people were googling his name and finding that post.

On my way home from NEC on Sunday, I listened to a phone-in devoted to tributes to him. No-one, but no-one, had a bad word to say about Gary; he was extremely popular with everyone. That was because he had time for everyone, whoever they were. He looked out for the people around him and made sure they were OK. There was nothing fake about him and he was considered a true professional and a great advert for the game of football. People would run through walls for him as someone said. He was a man with the world apparently at his feet. All of which makes what happened seem more mystifying and shocking. Several people speaking on the show were clearly distressed and when Robbie Savage broke down retelling how he had rung Gary's mobile on Sunday as he didn't believe it was true he had died, I sobbed too.

I never met Gary, but I wish I had. He never played for any team I support. I am not Welsh so he never even played for my country. I still felt a huge sense of loss about his death. Excerpts of his interview on Football Focus from less than 24 hours before he died being shown on television caused me to leave the room. Having a 6 year old boy asking you how he died didn't help one bit because you cannot begin to explain the concept of suicide to such a young child.

I decided, then, that I wanted to pay my respects to Gary somehow so on Monday, I made a trip to the Reebok stadium, just 15 minutes from our home. Bolton was the last Premier League club that he played for and I knew there would be tributes to him there. Armed with flowers to match the colours of the Welsh flag, I arrived at the stadium, feeling strange as there weren't many people around, apart from a lurking press photographer. The tribute site wasn't huge but there were still more than a dozen shirts from a variety of clubs, flowers and cards in front of a window with a book of remembrance open and a large floral tribute. I placed my tribute down and took photos whilst reading the other messages. Other people drifted in silently, looking at the tributes, gathering their thoughts. If they were anything like mine, those thoughts were a mixture of attempting to honour the memory of a great man, but also dealing with the emotions of shock and disbelief that I still cannot shake some three days later.

I felt better for going to pay my respects, if only in a small way. Since then, I have also signed the online book of remembrance opened by the FAW. Do it too, if you like. For Gary.

Gary Speed 8th September 1969 - 27th November 2011. RIP.
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