Long experience of coroners’ courts has persuaded Monsieur Salut that depression can afflict the most successful, normally intelligent of people. We do not yet know what drove Gary Speed to suicide. Jeremy Robson offers a little more than the sympathy everyone feels …
Only Ryan Giggs and David James have played more games in the Premier League than Gary Speed who, sadly, was found dead yesterday at the age of 42.
A great many tributes have been paid to Speed, about his character and competitiveness. And he appears to have been a genuinely nice bloke. It would appear he had suffered from depression, and his suffering with this illness may have led in some significant way to his untimely death.
While I would not wish to speculate on his health history it is clear to anyone who follows football that Gary Speed was something rather exceptional not only as a footballer whose career outlasted those of so many of his peers, but also his true professionalism.
I mentioned Giggs and James in the opening sentence. Giggs’s personal indiscretions have been allowed to blur appreciation of a career that, it should be remembered, is unprecedented in the modern era. David James, of course, continues to play well into his forties, and still looks sharp. I recall a time when he was known as “Calamity James” and his penchant for video games was blamed for some of his less glorious goalkeeping moments.
So let me ask this question. When did you ever hear a bad word about Gary Speed? I dare say that you will be hard pressed to think of a single example.
In an era where professional footballers have every minor lapse scrutinised by the media, indeed where a great number seem to regard any publicity as good publicity, Gary Speed remained silent about an illness which seems to have been responsible, ultimately, for him taking his own life.
Reading the comments of his closest friends within the game, his death has come as a complete shock. Few if any were aware of the demons that afflicted one of the modern game’s most recognised faces. He was never a man to court publicity, or seek excuses for anything, and the game has lost a real gentleman.
More importantly, his wife has lost a husband, and his two children awoke yesterday morning without a father to guide them.
Depression is an illness that people often prefer not to speak about as sufferers recognise the stigma still associated with it. But for many it is a lifelong battle. It is hugely to Gary Speed’s credit that he was able to maintain such an illustrious playing career for so long.
Possibly, the football field was the only place he could escape the inner demons which gripped and tormented him, and it was only when he stopped playing that he could no longer keep them at bay. We may never know of course. It is only by speaking openly about this dreadful illness that we will help remove that stigma so unjustly associated with it and hopefully prevent the tragic waste of good lives. RIP Gary.