On a day in which we here at Lion of Vienna would like to bring attention to the serious issue of mental health in sport, but also just in life as a whole, it only seems right that we talk about Gary Speed, who oh so tragically killed himself in on November 27th 2011.
Speed was only 42 when he took his own life, but this article isn't about that, it isn't about his sad end, it's about a legendary footballer who brought joy to so many.
I was only young when I first began watching Bolton Wanderers and, as he no doubt did with so many, Speed quickly become one of my favourite players to don the white. He was always in the team without fail and he always performed without fail. There was nothing ever flashy about his performances but, with his black boots, he would marshall the midfield like a seasoned commander. He'd dominate on the ball and off it.
Speed scored the first ever goal of my time with a season ticket at the Reebok, the low and hard free kick against Liverpool after Pepe Reina had "handled" outside of the box. My prodiminent memory of Speed on the pitch was that he was always a good call for a 1-0/correct scorer bet, and he once obliged with a cooly taken last minute penalty.
Off the pitch, I will always remember Speed for his kindness. As a youngster I would often frequent the "Junior Whites" parties and Speed always looked happy to be there and interacting with the fans, never looked like he was just being forced to appear. I used to sit under the studio where the TV presenters would sit if Bolton were ever on TV, and Speed was a guest for them one. I remember looking up and seeing him and putting a thumbs up to him, in vein hope that he'd notice me. He did and happily returned the thumbs up. It was hardly anything ground shattering, but as a kid I was blown away that one of my heroes actually noticed me, and that I will never forget.
Speedo isn't just a legend in Lancashire, he's adored all over this land, especially in Newcastle, Leeds, Sheffield, Merseyside and, obviously, Wales. He made over 600 appearances, most of which in the Premier League, for such well renowned clubs and was unquestionably loved by all of them.
It should have been of little surprise that when Speed's career came to an end and he moved into football management, he was just as successful. As manager of his nation, he started the revolution that would lead them to be semi-finalists at Euro 2016. A feat that may never have been achieved if it weren't for him. There was little doubt in my mind that (had we still been in the Premier League etc) he would have managed us one day.
Gary Speed is player that I will always remember with joy, and then a pang of sadness, because there is no telling just what more he could have achieved.
Speed was on Football Focus the day before he took his own life, and I imagine not one of the people watching could have sensed that were was anything wrong at all. I still remember the shock and surprise that everyone felt when the tragic news was announced. Speed's death should be remembered because it teaches us all an important lesson, it doesn't matter how successful someone is, how much money they have, or even how they make themselves appear to the outside world. Mental illness is a disease that can attack and cripple anybody, at any time, and it shouldn't be a stigma to reach out and talk to someone about it.
Medical statistics show that 25% of the UK population will suffer from a mental illness at some point in their life, that's about 16025000 people. On this mental health day we should all remember that we all suffer in our own ways, some small some much bigger, but none of us should be afraid to talk about it.