Whilst the deaths of sports personalities are reported reasonably frequently during the course of time, none in recent memory except perhaps Seve Ballesteros, has given rise to the depth of feeling aroused by the passing of Gary Speed.
Perhaps the manner of his death, his young family or the relatively young age at which this happened have combined to increase this perception but the reports from all quarters of the sporting world and just from people who crossed paths with him suggest that he was a genuinely nice and respected person who had much to live for and a bright future in his chosen profession.
Having lived outside of the UK for the duration of his career, my knowledge of him is gleaned from the press and televised games and highlights; I can judge him only on what I have read and seen. To this end, one would expect a slanted view based upon the source of the information but it is difficult, in fact impossible, to find anything but praise and admiration for him on and off the field.
As a person who played for a number of clubs in the top tier, often going on to keen rivals, the fans of all clubs offered no animosity towards him and felt that he had been a model professional, contributed positively both on and off the field, committed himself 100% to every club for which he played and has been accorded the appreciation that he deserved from each and every one of them.
The fans appreciated the time he spent talking to them and signing autographs as he understood their role in the prosperity of the game, managers respected him as a committed professional and a worthy adversary, players and team mates relied upon him as a friend and leader, referees described him as a pleasure to officiate who could be in their faces but never disrespectful or a problem.
His death may not be reported widely abroad outside of footballing circles, but if, as speculation suggests, depression was the root cause of events, it highlights issues that have resounded for a number of years across a broad spectrum of sports on a global basis. An increasing number of sportsmen current and past have been unable to handle the pressures of changing from living in a closeted environment where their every need is catered for to a life without team mates, without playing and without the acclaim of the crowds. It would be wrong to add to the speculation but the PFA have reacted strongly by distributing their pamphlet on depression recognizing that there is a problem and high profile cases such as this represent only the tip of the iceberg. In a world where the sports psychologist is employed to instill the winning mentality and boost confidence, it would not be unreasonable to use these and other medical resources to assess the basic mental health of players and managers.
But this is not the immediate concern. Football is only a game and events such as this should remind us to keep it in perspective.
Losing a game does not compare to losing a life.
Losing a team mate does not compare to losing a father or a husband.
RIP Gary Speed