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Football in shock at Speed's apparent suicide

Updated: November 28, 2011, 13:18


CORRECTS TRANS REF NO. FILE - In this Sept. 6, 2011 file photo, Wales manager Gary Speed directs his team during their Euro 2012 Group G qualifying soccer match against England at Wembley Stadium, London. The Football Association of Wales says Sunday, Nov. 27, 2011, national team manager Gary Speed has died at the age of 42. In a 20-year playing career, Speed won the English league championship with Leeds in 1992 and also played for Newcastle, Everton, Bolton and Sheffield United. (AP Photo/Sang Tan, file)

LONDON(AP) Gary Speed was smiling and relaxed as he spoke on national television about the day's upcoming football matches. A few hours later, he was found dead at his home in an apparent suicide.

The sudden death of the Wales manager and former Premier League star - who was only 42 - shocked not only the British football world but also touched many people outside the sport.

Why Speed would take his own life remained unclear Monday.

Several friends speculated that he could have been depressed. Unsubstantiated rumors circulated online that Speed was the subject of an upcoming tabloid newspaper story about his personal life.

Many were too stunned at the death of a seemingly happy man to demand answers just yet.

The first man to play 500 games in the English Premier League and the youngest member of the midfield that carried Leeds to its most recent league title in 1992, Speed had overhauled Wales' ailing national team and coached a young squad to four wins in its last five matches.

"Twenty minutes before we went on air on Saturday, he was the normal Gary Speed to me,'' said Gary McAllister, a former teammate who also appeared on the BBC program "Football Focus.'' "He was very excited about the prospects of the Welsh national team and was upbeat, looking class, immaculately presented. He was a movie star in my eyes.

"There were no signs, nothing to suggest he was troubled. He looked well and things are going well for him at the moment. I could never have thought that 10-12 hours after I saw him I'd be getting that news. It's a nightmare.''

Citing anonymous police sources, British media widely reported that Speed was found hanged Sunday morning in the garage of his home in Huntington, England, where he lived with his wife Louise and two sons.

While officials scheduled an inquest into Speed's death on Tuesday, police said there were no suspicious circumstances - a statement commonly made in instances of suicide.

Speed's agent, Hayden Evans, issued a statement outside the family house on Monday.

"We would ask that the family are now given the respect of some privacy to just grieve on their own,'' he said.

Fans left shirts and homemade banners adorned with Speed's name outside the stadiums of each of his five former clubs, while British Prime Minister David Cameron said he watched highlights of those same matches Speed had talked about on TV.

"I think it has been incredibly moving,'' Cameron said. "I was watching Match Of The Day last night and watching people, crowds, absolutely silent and footballers revering his memory.

"I know he meant an enormous amount to people and people feel very, very sad on his behalf and on his family's behalf.''

Former teammates, coaches and colleagues spoke at length about a man they knew as a dedicated player, a kind and considerate friend and an immensely promising coach.

"People have problems in football and you have an indication that you need to keep an eye on someone, but this was right out of the blue,'' fellow Leeds midfielder Gordon Strachan said. "It's hard for us as friends to understand.''

Even those who played against him remembered him fondly.

"He was an amazing, talented player, a player that had such a glittering career and just began a great career in management as well,'' former England captain David Beckham said. "It is a sad time to lose a man like this.''

Football Association of Wales chief executive Jonathan Ford said he had no idea why Speed had taken his life.

"I don't know if we ever will know,'' Ford said. "I am no further forward in my thoughts, when you hear the news you ask yourself why? But maybe will never know.''

British tabloids The Sun and The Daily Star both used their official Twitter accounts to deny rumors that they had been preparing to publish revelations about Speed's private life.

"No truth in this story. The Sun was not investigating Gary Speed in any way,'' The Sun tweeted.

Depression has been suggested as a possible reason. Speed died just a day after former Aston Villa and Liverpool striker Stan Collymore wrote about the illness from which he has suffered over several years.

"Suicidal thoughts. Thankfully I've not got to that part yet and in my last 10 years only once or twice has this practical reality entered my head,'' Collymore wrote on Twitter. "It takes a massive leap of faith to know that this time next week life could be running again, smiling, my world big and my brain back as it should be.

"So what do some do? They don't take the leap of faith, they address a practical problem with a practical solution to them and that is taking their own life. And sadly too many take that route out of this hell.''

Suffering from depression, Germany goalkeeper Robert Enke ended his life two years ago by stepping in front of a train. A referee in Germany attempted suicide last weekend hours before a Bundesliga game.

English football's most infamous suicide was that of Justin Fashanu. The first black footballer to move in a 1 million-pound transfer when he joined Nottingham Forest in 1981, Fashanu's career faded after he publicly acknowledged his homosexuality and he was found hanged in a London garage in 1998 at age 37.

"You would never hear a player confessing to his teammates that he had a problem and needed help,'' former Liverpool defender Alan Hansen wrote in his column for The Telegraph newspaper. "I spent 14 years in the Liverpool dressing room and I can't recall that happening. It's probably a man thing too, but a dressing room is supposed to be an upbeat place and it is not the environment for any show of perceived weakness.

"We don't know the circumstances that led to Gary's death, but as a former player, he will have been brought up in that same dressing room environment.''

FIFA President Sepp Blatter wrote to the FAW to express his condolences.

"Gary Speed was a hugely talented player and a great servant for both club and country who will be greatly missed,'' Blatter said. "He will always be remembered as a model professional and a fantastic ambassador for the game. It was clear to all there that he was a man who exuded enthusiasm and passion for the game.''

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