Football loses Gary Speed

photo via The Guardian

Rest in peace Gary Speed MBE, I hope you’ve found the tranquility you were looking for.

Gary was a great professional player, national team manager, true ambassador for the sport of football and an incredibly humble and genuine person. Football will remember and miss you deeply.

Petulant prima donnas, designer labels and glamorous girlfriends usually dominate popular perceptions of an industry more than happy to revel in its position as the world’s most popular sport. How can anybody on the surreal wages commanded by top players possibly struggle with mental illness? Depression has yet to be positively confirmed as an element of Gary’s death, but for a 42-year-old fit and healthy man to be allegedly found hanged at home surrounded by his family, has to suggest a deeply troubled, if apparently successful role model of a professional athlete.

I was lucky to have briefly met Gary a couple of times during my days at Everton FC, and also a certain Paul ‘Gazza’ Gascoigne. Of the two I can’t think of anybody that would have bet a single penny on Paul out living Gary, but the world is a crazy place sometimes, often making no sense. The solitude of depression and its ability to completely debilitate outwardly appearing robust people should never be underestimated.

The Secret Footballer wrote in Friday’s Guardian Sport Blog, a scarily premonitory post about the “darkness behind the limelight” offering a glimpse into a hidden world of mental illness in an alpha male world.

The sheer scale of the shock and devastation across sport may lead to Gary being remembered as much for the cause of his final moments as his sporting talents.

7 thoughts on “Football loses Gary Speed

  1. Julia Opie

    Well said, David. How many times have we all heard that “money cannot buy happiness”? Mental illness crosses all socio-cultural-economic boundaries. The stigma attached to mental illness must be erased and energies instead directed towards helping people deal with it – regardless of how rich or poor or “famous” they may be.


    1. davidcoethica Post author

      Hi Julia

      I’m struggling to comprehend the possibility that such surprise from everybody ‘close’ to Gary yet to publicly comment equates to mental illness. I can’t disagree that it is the most likely candidate, however out of character.

      The out pouring of condolences, the almost routine tv appearance (including smiling photo with fan
      outside the studio) hours earlier and his family (& two friends?) at home at the time just doesn’t compute.

      Without doubt the stigma of mental illness needs smashing and in a hopeful sense Gary’s premature death may serve as a rapid catalyst for change.

      There is also a tiny part of my predominantly logical character asking almost conspiracy theory like questions about the available evidence so far! The whole story, as it unfolds, just sounds too unlikely to be true.

      Then again mental illness seldom offers logic as a reason for its prevalence. I only wish that his family and friends can find solace in the great attributes of the man we publicly knew, and the scale of the emotional support his passing has already created.


  2. Andrew McGuirk

    Well done David : a tragedy. I’m also surprised that the incidence of depression and mental illness within sportsmen is not commented upon more : cricket and rugby, for example. Sport does have a high statistical abberation of such illnesses when compared to other “areas” of activity : why is this? Thank you David.


    1. davidcoethica Post author

      I think you mentioned two main contributing factors in one word Andrew – “sports – men”.

      I’m sure the numbers of those dealing with the various challenges of mental illness are there, with many either not recognising the serious nature of such, or more likely, most burying their testosterone saturated heads in the sand and attempting to compete their way through.

      Football is not unique but ironically probably near the top of the sports league for hiding such self perceived weaknesses.

      I saw first hand, and vocally disagreed with the ‘nuturing’ of this ethos at the youngest Academy level. At the tender ages of 5 or 6 children are EXPECTED to demonstrate a mental toughness required success in this hyper competitive environment just to get past trial stages.

      Whilst I agree with appropriate selection criteria at any age, the problem is the underlying prevalent ethos, i.e. ‘players’ are expendable products until they have certain financial value. Even then pastoral support is at times superficial.

      Jerry Maguire time – “Show me the money!”


  3. Daniel Cade

    David, I really was shocked by this sad news on the weekend. I was not as fortunate as you to have met Gary but was well aware of his high-standing reputation and huge popularity. Thanks for your sensitive portrayal and for highlighting the extent and seriousness of depression within the game, which, as you allude to, could itself help raise understanding of the disease among the general public.


    1. davidcoethica Post author

      Hi Daniel.

      I think the word shock is overused by the media, but definitely not in this case. I didn’t know Gary but I felt uncomfortable, shaken and confused when I saw the news.

      Mental health issues are still treated as a taboo subject by the majority, and like many disabilities reinforced through ignorance.

      As you know we had tremendous success with our approach to providing disability sport opportunities at Everton, but when we wanted to raise awareness and support mental health related participants we hit many unnecessary cultural obstacles.

      There is much work needed to be done. Maybe football owes it to Gary to grasp this nettle, save lives and help the trapped silent community find direction through the fog.


  4. BFA Support

    Thank you for posting this, David.

    Even though I never met Gary Speed, he always struck me as a very genuine, grounded professional in a sport which I have turned away from due to what I consider to be obscene amounts of money and over-inflated self-importance of most of its participants. I was surprised at how shocked I was when I heard the news and even more so hearing the cause.

    At a much lower level, I have experienced the lonely darkness of separation, running a struggling business, the spiralling, deepening abyss of its failure and the consequences which continue today 2 years later. If I’d had a heart attack or a stroke, I’m sure those around me would have found it easier to deal with. And maybe I too would have found it easier to ask for and obtain ongoing support.

    But the fact is that, being of a certain social and educational background, the expectation (from others and possibly from myself) is to “just get on with it”. It is this expectation which turns most of us into “human doings” rather than “human beings”, all for the sake of surviving in a monetary-based system in which sensitivity, empathy and co-operation are diminishing values.

    Kind regards



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s