Wales soccer manager Gary Speed, who played more times for his country than any outfield player, died yesterday at his home in northwest England. He was 42.
Speed, who was married with two sons, hanged himself at his home in Huntington, media including the Sun newspaper and the British Broadcasting Corp. reported, citing unidentified sources. Police in Cheshire said only that the death was sudden and that there were no suspicious circumstances.
“He was one of the best players I was fortunate enough to manage and handle and I still can’t believe it,” former Everton manager Joe Royle told the club’s website. “I rated him so highly as a man and a person.”
Fans at Swansea’s Liberty Stadium yesterday initially began a one-minute silence before the Welsh team’s game against Aston Villa. The tribute turned into applause, which led to repeated chants of Speed’s name, leaving Villa goalkeeper Shay Given in tears over the loss of his friend. There was also a minute’s silence before Liverpool’s home game against Manchester City.
Speed spent most of his playing career in England’s Premier League and made 85 appearances for Wales. Only goalkeeper Neville Southall, who played for the country 92 times, surpassed his mark. Speed retired from international football in 2004.
The Football Association of Wales, which appointed Speed as manager in December 2010, said in a statement that his death is a loss “not only for his family and friends but a nation as a whole.”
The midfielder’s playing career began at Leeds United, where he won the league in 1992, the year before the old First Division was replaced by the Premier League.
Leeds manager Simon Grayson, a friend of Speed’s for more than 25 years, told the club’s website that the news of his death is “unbelievably sad.”
“Gary was such a popular person,” Grayson said. “This is a hard time for everyone.”
Speed, who was born in Mancot, Flintshire, also had spells at Everton, Newcastle, Bolton and Sheffield United. During his time at Bolton he became the first player to appear in the elite Premier League more than 500 times.
When he retired from playing he continued at Sheffield United as a coach before taking over as manager when Kevin Blackwell left the club in August 2010.
He was in charge for less than three months before taking the Wales job. Speed, who was made a Member of the Order of the British Empire in 2010, won five and lost five of his games as Wales coach.
“I, and all of the football family of Wales, am devastated by the news of Gary’s passing,” FAW Chief Executive Officer Jonathan Ford said in a statement.
Speed’s last public appearance was on the BBC’s live “Football Focus” television program two days ago.