Finding a light in the darkness

Welsh football legend Gary Speed, found dead today at age 42.

As I walked back from the shops with my seven-year-old an hour or two ago, I took a moment to think about how lucky I am.

Two children, a growing business, a new house and a book nominated for two prizes.

It doesn’t get much better.

My daughter was going through a list of animals to see if there was one I could consider getting her as a pet.

Despite the grey, blustery Stockholm weather, I wouldn’t have swapped places with anyone else in the world at that moment.

Shortly afterwards, the news of the death of former Newcastle and Wales midfielder Gary Speed hit me like a punch in the stomach.

I met him briefly in Dublin once. He was different to most other footballers- self-assured but not arrogant, confident but not cocky. Intelligent, well-spoken, a gentleman.

There is nothing gentle about depression or suicide.

Depression doesn’t care about your skill, or your money, or how many medals you have.

Depression is not a passive lying-down in the face of the challenges of life.

It is a battle, a struggle. Sometimes it is a fight to the bitter end. Sometimes it doesn’t end well.

Just before I moved to Sweden a team-mate of mine took his own life. Few things have affected me as much as that did – he was a young man, a superb footballer with a beautiful young son. But none of this mattered in the end.

Aside for the grief and memories of his family and friends, all that is left is a fair play trophy named after him- ironic given that he was known as the hardest tackler on our team.

The coming days will see much written about what a great player Gary Speed was for his clubs and his country. Much will be written about depression and suicide, and a lot of it will be nonsense.

If you haven’t suffered it, you will find it hard to imagine just how suffocating and crushing it can be. It is not an illness that can be cured by simply talking to someone, or going for a walk or “copping yourself on”. It’s a lot more complex than that.

But one thing that is certain is that there are organisations who do great work in helping people who are depressed or suicidal. The likes of the Samaritans and Pieta House have a proven track record of helping people who suffer from depression to find a light in the darkness. They are deserving of your support.

As Swansea played at home to Aston Villa today, the minute’s silence was interrupted by spontaneous applause and the chant of “there’s only one Gary Speed”. It was a far more fitting tribute to a man whose goals and tackles often brought the crowds to their feet.

But it is a tragedy for the man, his family and for football that his undoubted skill and courage on the field wasn’t enough to help him defeat depression off it.

Rest in peace Gary. You were a great champion, and you will be missed.


Suicide won’t solve your problems, or make people love or respect you more.

Call the Samaritans or visit and get help. There is an answer, but suicide is not it. 

FIFA, feminism and the axis of evil

The Iranian ladies' football team, whose dress has been deemed "haram" by FIFA

Reuters runs some great stories every day under the banner of Oddly Enough, collecting all that is weird and wonderful on the newswires and putting it together.

I often wondered if the editors worry that the constant stream of tales of cats driving dumper trucks will ever dry up, but what is truly amazing is that more straight news stories don’t wind up under the heading.

And viewers of the recent FIFA congress will wonder how it doesn’t have its own special section there, such was the bizarre behaviour around the re-election of blusterer-in-chief Sepp Blatter.

That corruption exists within FIFA is in the “dog bites man”field of news, in that everyone knows it – that someone was almost on the verge of doing something about it turned the tables, albeit for a very short while.

Then we have the latest FIFA ruling on Islamic dress for Iranian female soccer players, one of those wonderful stories where no-one comes out of it with any credit whatsoever.

Now you could say the onus is on the women to throw off the shackles of oppression and refuse to wear anything other than a normal kit, but in doing so you’d be as wide of the mark as a cross from Aiden McGeady. What they do or do not wear is their own business and irrelevant as long as they aren’t a danger to themselves or others.

The big “dog bites man” article here is the seemingly boundless stupidity of Iran, FIFA and all points inbetween.

Let’s deal with Iran first. It’s been said that if, after ten seconds at a poker table you haven’t worked out who the sucker is, then it’s you.

With secular uprisings taking place throughout the Arab world one would have thought that Iran might be about to drop the charade and get on with moving into the 20th century in the way they run their affairs, especially where they relate to women.

But no. Still, the “revolution” continues, as blatantly corrupt and morally bankrupt as it ever was.

Which brings us nicely on to FIFA, which has ruled that a compromise football kit consisting of a kind of tracksuit and hijab that covers the hair, ears and neck is illegal. Why? Let’s let FIFA themselves answer that:

“Fifa’s decision in March 2010 which permitted that players be allowed to wear a cap that covers their head to the hairline, but does not extend below the ears to cover the neck, was still applicable.”

Working in journalism, I get to witness an immense amount of stupidity at close hand, but this is a brilliant example of idiocy taken to its illogical conclusion. We will stop women playing football because we don’t quite agree with what they use to cover their heads.

No reader needs me to explain how ridiculous this is; no reader needs me to explain how wrong it is that in the 21st century, we are still having discussions about women’s rights that we should have left behind when we left the caves and invented fire. FIFA is not based in Tehran, but in Switzerland. From a ruling like this you’d never guess.

All this sorry episode proves is that, once again, the chauvinists in Iran and the idiots running FIFA have no balls. But – oddly enough – they have some neck.