God’s Speed for Gary Speed By Bagga Wilks
Gary Speed by conventional standards was a very successful man. He enjoyed a long professional career as a footballer in the Barclays Premier League. He was loved by his colleagues. After retiring from his job as a professional footballer, he worked as a manager in the professional game and was recently appointed manager of Wales.
Speed was presumably happily married and the father of two teenage sons. As some would say, “Gary Speed had it made in the shade”. Last week the clubs in the Barclays Premier League paid tribute to this beloved footballer. The puzzle is why does a retired professional footballer at the age of 42 wakes up one early morning, enters his garage and takes his life?
What drove Gary Speed in the prime of life to take his life? Obviously, this was a man struggling with demons that were greater than he felt he was capable of handling. The signs are that Speed must have been plagued by some mental tribulation such as depression. Was he clinically diagnosed as depressed or suffering from some other psychological malady? Were there warning signs that were not heeded?
A couple of years ago, Germany’s top goalkeeper also took his own life. He was suffering from depression. Football is a sport that generates great fan enthusiasm but there is always tremendous pressure on professional athletes to win, to keep their jobs and to function in the real world. Speed’s suicide forces the question how many other professional footballers are dealing alone with the scourge of depression or mental illness?
The soccer world suffered another premature death when the Brazilian soccer player, Socrates, died at the age of 57. Socrates is remembered as the architect of the 1982 Brazilian World Cup team. That team was knocked out by Italy in the 2nd Round but even though they did not win, they were one of the best Brazilian teams ever assembled.
Socrates was a medical doctor who during and after his playing days consumed too much alcohol. Socrates, his wife and a friend had the misfortune of being food-poisoned. His wife and friend recovered but Socrates was in such poor health that he succumbed.
Professional athletes often have a difficult time surviving after the lights have been turned off. The life of a professional athlete is sometimes short-lived as was the case of Speed and Socrates. Much attention has been given to the high salaries that professional athletes command. Soccer associations need to pay far more attention to the athlete’s mental well being.