Gary Speed, Wales, and me.

I am not Welsh. I wasn’t born here; I’m not even truly sure I have any Welsh blood in me. I went to Anglesey once when I was a child, but until a fateful Cardiff University open day about five years ago… that was it.

Likewise, growing up, I didn’t care much about sport. Especially football; even with three brothers, it just wasn’t on my radar.

Today, though, it’s a different story. I’ve lived in Cardiff for five years, I have a lovely Welsh boyfriend, I can do an accent that’s pretty darn convincing and even string a few Welsh words together (though I’m not sure how far “fish and chips, thank you very much” will get me).

I wouldn’t dream of supporting anyone other thanWalesin the rugby (which I now watch), and am the first in line for the face-paint on a match day.

My friends at home (Bournemouth, England) tease me about how much I love Wales. I am roundly abused via text message during England/Wales games, and am often greeted with a dodgy-accented “What’s occurring?” when entering my local. Bournemouth will always be my home and where I grew up – but I love living here.

I even know a little bit about Welsh football, even though – and I’m ashamed to admit this – I didn’t even know there WAS a national team when I first moved here. Now I’ve been to matches, I can tell my Bale from my Bellamy – and I know who Gary Speed is.

This may be in part thanks to the aforementioned lovely Welsh boyfriend. A life-long Wales and Newcastle United fan, both former clubs of Speed, the man was something of a hero to him. They even went to the same school – though obviously not at the same time – and the phone call I received shortly after he bumped into him on a pre-Christmas night out in Chester, a couple of years ago, remains the most excited I have ever heard a single person sound. Ever.

Over the past few years I’ve come to learn something about Gary Speed for myself. He seemed like a wonderful, calm, quiet, family man. I still don’t care too much for football, but I liked him. He was a good man, and fantastic for the game. You couldn’t help but like him.

I first heard about what had happened to him via Twitter. I stared at my computer screen, and I felt a bit numb. Bizarre, you would think, for someone who didn’t actually know him. But the sadness I felt wasn’t for my loss. It was for his family’s loss, his parents, wife and his two sons. It was for my boyfriend’s loss – someone he really admired and looked up to. And it was for Wales’ loss. They’d lost one of their own – and a good one at that. And in such a tragic, seemingly incomprehensible way.

It’s my personal opinion that it’s none of our business why he decided to do what he did. But I can understand that the people that loved him, even if they didn’t personally know him, and they’d want answers.

I didn’t go to the memorial match last night, but reading the papers today, the atmosphere and the emotion that was in the air is palpable. Like I said, I am not Welsh, I am not a football fan, but seeing the pictures and reading the words you can’t help but be affected.

Obviously there is a huge amount of grief surrounding the gap Gary has left in so many lives. But while undoubtedly sad, the reports from last night’s memorial embody what I have come to love about Wales, the sense of community and of pride. People coming together in memory and respect, to give a member of that community, their community, a worthy send off.

You just don’t get that “togetherness” everywhere. People may say it’s a football thing, but it’s not – it’s a Welsh thing. Community, family, friends – welcoming everyone. Even if you’re the bloke in the England shirt down the pub on match day – you might get a bit of banter, but that in itself is a way to include.

Last night was a fantastic way to show people that. It’s St David’s Day today, and I for one am proud to be associated with this lovely little country, and for the welcome it has shown me.

 Dydd Hapus Dewi Sant – see, even my Welsh is improving.

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4 thoughts on “Gary Speed, Wales, and me.

  1. Great blog. I totally agree. I didn’t particularly care for Speed as a footballer, but I was deeply upset by his passing. Upset about the grief that those who loved and admired him were felling. That’s why MIND, who campaign for better mental health awareness, are one of the charities I will be cycling across America for at the end of the month.

    • Loved your blog about the charities you’re doing it for – great stuff. Would love to do some kind of charity adventure in the future! Though I’m not sure my legss would be up to that amount of cycling!

  2. About time too! No, only joking. A blog should only be written when you feel there is something worth saying. Well, that’s my excuse! Your blog, which is always so well written, is very topical and I agree that speculation about Gary Speed’s death is probably unhelpful. Wales has experienced religious and political fervour in it’s recent history, neither of which are anywhere near as powerful today, but sport remains the great unifying source of community and pride.
    Your status as an honorary Taffy is richly deserved!

    • Indeed – I know I hadn’t written for a little while but I don’t see the point in waffling, and I really felt like this was something I wanted to talk about. I’m glad tou liked it 🙂 and “honorary Taffy”! High praise indeed!

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