A tribute to the peerless Gary Speed

I can’t believe I’m writing this. Gary Speed passed away on Sunday at the age of 42.

A titan of Welsh football’s recent past and set to be a pillar of Welsh football’s bright future, it’s truly heartbreaking news. The tributes have arrived thick and fast since the news broke on Sunday morning and rather than the usual platitudes you encounter in such tragic circumstances, the sentiments have been truly raw and heartfelt. Everyone associated with him is shocked and devastated, many witnessing Speed’s upbeat appearance on BBC’s Football Focus the previous afternoon.

A consummate professional and model pro, Speed made 677 senior club appearances, scoring 103 goals. He represented his country 85 times, a record for an outfield player, scoring seven times and captaining the side on 44 occasions. As former international team mate Mark Bowen highlighted in his touching tribute: “He was captain of Wales when the likes of Mark Hughes and Ian Rush were still playing and I think that tells you a lot about the man he was.” A touching epitaph took place at the Liberty Stadium ahead of Swansea’s game with Aston Villa, where a minutes silence was engulfed by applause, with several players on both sides closely linked to Speed, including a visibly distraught Shay Given.

As a keen Welsh football fan of a certain age, I rate none higher than Gary Speed. He was peerless. The duration of his career mirrors that of mine as a football fan and his role was always significant. He may not have been a footballer of the standard of Ryan Giggs or Gareth Bale, but he embodied everything to be proud of regarding Welsh football and was a quality player in his own right.

He always made himself available for selection, was a role model on and off the pitch and it was inevitable that he would manage his country at some point. That he achieved so much in such a short amount of time is satisfying because he proved to be every bit as enthusiastic and inspiring as we all hoped he would be. It also makes his loss all the more painful. There’s nothing worse than unfulfilled potential and his managerial career will be speculated upon forever.

Although it feels insensitive to speculate on the future of Welsh football, it is safe to say that Speed’s absence leaves an almighty void that will be impossible to fill. Only Ryan Giggs has the stature required to inherit the role. Any successor has the unenviable task of replacing one of Welsh football’s most loved players with a managerial legacy that will be difficult to top, climbing 72 places in FIFA’s rankings during his brief tenure.

As a football fan, you emotionally invest in footballers, especially players that endure and deserve your respect and admiration. The likes of Gary Speed are rare and when I heard the news it felt like a family member had passed away, despite having never actually met the man in person. I hope he has found peace. He enriched football and will be never be forgotten.

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