It seems almost incredible – but on the 27th of November it will have been two full years since the tragic news broke of the death, apparently by suicide, of Gary Speed. Rarely can news of a sudden death have taken the football world so utterly by surprise. Speed was the current manager of the Welsh national team and, by common consent, was doing a fantastic job in reviving their fortunes. He was a hero to the fans of all the clubs he had served – Leeds United, Everton, Newcastle Utd, Bolton Wanderers and Sheffield United. He was only 42.
The eventual outcome of the inquest into Gary Speed’s death was a “narrative verdict” of death by self suspension. A narrative verdict exists to give the coroner the option of arriving at a cause of death without attributing that cause to a named individual. The verdict therefore stopped short of a conclusion of suicide, where obviously there would be an attribution of cause to the deceased. To this extent, Speed’s death remains an imponderable mystery. He had appeared on the BBC’s Football Focus programme on Saturday 26th November, less than 24 hours before he was found dead by his wife Louise. It had been noted by Focus presenter Dan Walker that Speed had been “in fine form”. The shock and dismay among those who had known him, and more widely among his legion of fans, is not easy to describe. The feeling was perhaps best summed up by his close mate Bryn Law, a football reporter who appeared on Sky Sports News to talk about what had happened but, distressingly, was clearly overcome by the emotion he felt.
Two years on, the known facts behind Gary Speed’s death are still insufficient to lead to any understandable reason for why and how it happened. Fans at his various clubs have continued to pay tribute to his memory at various intervals, or when two of his former teams have met – as with the Capital One Cup match between Newcastle and Leeds United earlier this season. Tributes have usually taken the form of chanting Speed’s name from the 11th minute of a game, for a period of 11 minutes. This first happened during Leeds United’s first game after Speed’s death, a 4-0 success at Nottingham Forest when Leeds actually scored during the eleven minute tribute. The chant was resumed after the goal celebration subsided.
It is planned and requested by Leeds United Football Club that there should be a similar 11 minute chant from the 11th minute during Saturday’s visit of Middlesbrough. The banner pictured above will also be paraded around the ground. Gary Speed was a fine servant to the club, as he was to his other clubs and to his country. An Everton fan as a boy, Speed achieved his greatest success at Leeds United, winning a Second Division Championship medal and then two years later the Football League Championship itself in the competition’s final year. He went on to appear in two consecutive FA Cup Finals for Newcastle Utd.
Gary Speed MBE (8 September 1969 – 27 November 2011): proud Welshman and a Leeds United Title-winning hero. Taken two years ago next Wednesday – taken far too soon at only 42. RIP Speedo.