A tribute to Gary Speed – from a Sheffield United & Wales fan
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The outpouring of grief for Gary Speed in the past day is a testament to how widely respected he was in the game. 24 hours on, and I’m still in a state of shock. I learned of the news through Twitter, and naturally assumed there had been an accident. Then came the news that Speed had taken his own life, and the extent of this tragedy emerged.
So much of the reaction from the footballing world has included the words “I don’t understand it”. I think it’s hugely important that we try to understand why this happens. Speed had by all accounts a successful career, a current high-profile job going well, and a loving family. When you suffer from mental distress, these aspects of your life don’t necessarily factor into the equation. Depression can be highly visible and shared to others (as Stan Collymore recently revealed), or completely private and extremely difficult to spot.
As a society, we could be much better at discussing mental health. Around one in four people are likely to experience a mental health problem every year, and in sport that will be no different. There are plenty of taboos football still needs to sort out – the tragic loss of Gary Speed highlights the need for greater awareness of mental health, and the support available to those that need it. More than anything else, the stigma attached to issues of mental health needs to be tackled. Paul Farmer, Chief Executive of Mind, commented yesterday:
“The macho culture of football means that we have seen very few professionals come forward to talk about mental health problems. But it is only by speaking out about mental health, whether through the media or privately, that we can increase understanding and awareness of these issues, and encourage people to be able to seek the help that they need.”
The lack of discussion on mental health is not a football-specific problem. But football is a particularly high-pressured environment, and we can forget that each person connected to the game is a human being like you or me. Think of the players at your clubs that often receive abuse from other fans, or indeed your own fans. An issue like depression is a serious one – one that too many dismiss as trivial. Football has such a strong influence on people that if more people in the game like can highlight their own experiences, it can really help people to get rid of this stigma and enable people to get the support they need.
I saw Gary Speed on numerous occasions at Bramall Lane, and feel privileged to have seen him play, and manage both the club and country I support. He is a huge loss to the game, respected by so many fans at so many clubs – we owe it to him to not just mourn his death, but try and ensure that this sort of tragedy is avoided in the future.