In the early hours of Saturday the 26th November, Stan Collymore made a post on his Twitter page. It was a long account of his battle with depression – how he hadn’t slept for four days, how he was riddled with suicidal thoughts.
It was a tragic coincidence that the next day terrible rumours of Gary Speed’s suicide began to surface.
The news stunned the footballing world, and many outside of it.
In this post-Diana age we are a nation of grief-junkies. Whether it’s an earthquake in Japan or the death of Jimmy Saville, people are all too keen to show their concern in the form of Twitter hash-tags and Facebook statuses.
Yet when it transpired that Speed had hung himself the tributes which followed were borne out of genuine sadness and shock. There were no band-wagon jumpers who wanted to get their fix of public mourning – people, like myself, who had no real attachment or affiliation with the man from North Wales, were completely stunned.
The same day as Speed’s death the game between Swansea and Aston Villa went ahead. The Sky cameras lapped it up – cruelly focusing on a visibly distraught Shay Given as a minutes silence turned into a minutes applause. That evening on Radio 5 Live Robbie Savage was present in his usual role as co-host of the 606 phone-in. The programme began with Land of my fathers in tribute to Speed and when it was Savage’s turn to speak he simply couldn’t, as he broke down in tears on national radio.
‘Why?’ he asked. Why would a man like Gary Speed, respected up and down the country, with a brilliant career behind him and an equally promising one ahead of him – a man with a young family and movie star looks – kill himself?
It is the question on everybody’s lips. From the outside looking in, Speed had it all. This is the scariest, most sombre aspect of his suicide. How tormented, how mentally ravaged must Speed have been for him to take the most fateful of action?
It appears that even those closest to Speed had no idea about his depression. Less than 24 hours before his death he had appeared on the BBC’s football focus – an articulate, likeable, affable man.
Like homosexuality, depression is one of sport’s last taboos. It is obvious that top flight sports people – people who operate in a fierce, pressure cooker of an environment – are likely to be susceptible to mental health problems. Yet why can’t they speak about them?
In recent times stories of sporting depression have become more commonplace. Ronald Reng’s biography of German goalkeeper Robert Enke and his suicide was named William Hill sports book of the year. Former Somerset captain Peter Roebuck, and German referee Babak Rafati, who was found bleeding to death in a hotel bath just hours before he was to take charge of a Bundesliga fixture, are recent examples of desperate cries for help.
Yet nothing has reverberated or saddened people quite like the death of Gary Speed. Since his suicide five footballers have contacted the Sporting Chance clinic, seeking help. Maybe if Speed’s death can urge people to seek treatment – and shatter one of sport’s last taboos – then maybe something positive can come from something so tragic.
Gary Speed should never be forgotten. We can only hope that whatever demons he had have been put to bed.
Goodbye, and rest in peace.
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