Gary Speed - Remembered in love and in legacy
About FAW
27 November 2021

Gary Speed - Remembered in love and in legacy

On 27 November it will be 10 years to the day that the football world was rocked with the shocking news that Cymru manager Gary Speed had died at the age of just 42. While his close friends and family continue to mourn his loss, the anniversary of that darkest day provides an opportunity to celebrate the decade of success that has followed his passing. Success that will ultimately define his Cymru legacy.

Gary Speed: 10 Years

Football clubs across Wales have been invited to observe a one-minute silence ahead of their fixtures this weekend in memory of Gary Speed. 

Together. Stronger. 

The outpouring of love that followed in the subsequent days and weeks of 27 November 2011 will not be forgotten. Speed wasn't just a Cymru football legend, but a hero at Leeds United, Everton, Newcastle United, Bolton Wanderers and Sheffield United, and he was without doubt one of the true great players of his era.

A talented midfielder who played almost 950 games for club and country, Speed represented Cymru with an unwavering passion and pride during his 85 appearances with the dragon on his chest.  

Like many great Cymru players of his era, Speed never made it to the finals of a major tournament. But he did much more. His legacy will forever live in the achievement of reaching consecutive EURO finals in 2016 and 2020, while the 2022 World Cup dream remains very much alive.

Speed didn't live to see Cymru compete on the biggest stage, but the professional culture and environment that he developed during his time as manager shaped the foundations for those who succeeded him. 

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While his predecessor John Toshack spent his time at the helm of the national team ensuring that the young players emerging through the pathway system would gain international experience above their years with the help of Brian Flynn, it was Speed who changed the dynamic of the international environment.

Demanding the same high standards he set during his playing career, Speed's work on the field was complimented by the investment he drove forward off it. Without his influence, Cymru would not have established the professionalism required to achieve the success that followed.

Despite a slow start, Speed's time as manager ended with four wins from his final five games, and it was poignant that his last match would provide the most complete performance of his time in charge.

A convincing 4-1 win over Norway at the Cardiff City Stadium in November 2011 offered a clear indication that Cymru were making significant progress ahead of the next World Cup qualifying campaign. The draw had been made and Speed was excited for the competitive challenge ahead, but a fortnight after the Norway victory, the result became an irrelevance as his untimely death was announced.

A relevant figure to emerging talents like Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey, Speed was an inspiration to the group of players he inherited from Toshack, and he restored a pride in representing Cymru that had been missing for too long.

He ensured that the platform provided for the players matched the professional standards that they had come to expect from their clubs, and there was an immediate excitement and anticipation about what the nation could finally achieve under his guidance after so many years of heartbreak. The familiar withdrawals became few and far between as this was a movement that the players wanted to be a part of. 

While his work with Cymru at the time of his death was distorted through emotion, it is clear now that the foundations he put in place were solid and effective enough for his successors to thrive upon. Now a decade on, his legacy continues to spread.

The Cymru women's team are pushing for World Cup qualification, but in order to be in that position they have followed the example of the men's team by creating a similar culture and environment while demanding the same professional facilities. It is yet another spin-off from Speed's legacy. Without Speed taking Cymru forward the way he did, a whole generation of men and women would have played in a very different looking international system.

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What is also significant is that Cymru has only progressed, and not regressed, since Speed's appointment as manager. There have been highs and lows that make football the game it is, but the fundamental aspects of his work remain in place today.

As Cymru gained the crucial point against Belgium, Speed's name rang around the Cardiff City Stadium on the 85th minute as his familiar steely expression appeared on the big screen. He was not there in person, but he was there in spirit, and in the legacy that has brought unparalleled joy to the Red Wall over the course of the last decade.

Gary Speed will be forever missed, but he will also be forever loved and forever celebrated by those who continue to share his Cymru passion.