What Louise Speed saw when she looked into her garage one November morning in 2011 would haunt her for the rest of her days.
Gary, her childhood sweetheart, beloved husband, father of her two sons and a footballing icon, had hanged himself with a cable, and on the instructions of the emergency services she walked in and cut him down.
When paramedics arrived at their Cheshire home Louise was shaking, staring at her husband’s body, screaming at them “in hope and desperation” to resuscitate him, even though she knew that the love of her life was gone.
She hadn’t seen it coming. Nobody had. And almost seven years on she still can’t comprehend the act that devastated her family and shook the football world to its core.
“There’s never a day goes by that the memory of it doesn’t take my breath away. That scene was like a horror film. I wish there was an operation which could take your memory out and obliterate it from my mind,” says Louise.
“It’s something I will find hard to forgive Gary for. We were the ones who had to pick up the pieces and what he’d done was grotesque.
“Everyone asks why he did it but I have no answers. That’s why I’ll never have any closure.”
The day before he died had been a normal Saturday. The boys, 14-year-old Ed and 13-year-old Tom had been playing football and Gary, then the 42-year-old manager of Wales, had gone to record BBC’s Football Focus.
He was in high spirits, looking forward to the party that night at their nearby friends’ home, at which he had a great time.
“If someone had told me during that day what was going to happen that night I’d have been so shocked I’d have said Gary needed to be in some secure unit.
“But he was his normal self. There was no hint of what would happen,” says Louise sitting in the lounge of her large modern detached home, struggling with her emotions as she recalls the horrific night that tore her life apart.
A hint at the deeper turmoil Gary was enduring emerged recently though from an unexpected source.
While she was helping Gary’s journalist friend John Richardson write new book Gary Speed Unspoken: The Family’s Untold Story – serialised exclusively in the Mirror this week – she stumbled on a letter he sent to her mother’s home when he was a 17-year-old at Leeds United.
It confirmed her deepest suspicions. Gary had been ill for a very long time.
She couldn’t remember seeing the letter and had never talked to Gary about it. But the weight of those words written by his teenage hand, and what they portended, were a revelation. As she now says, it spoke for itself in black and white…
I don’t really know what to say. I have been thinking about finishing at Leeds, I’ve also been thinking of other things which I won’t say. I’m so depressed. I’m just going to go to sleep now and hope I never wake up. I love you so much, I will always love you. I don’t know what else to say except you might see me sooner than you think, or otherwise. You never leave my mind, nothing else seems to matter anymore, I love you more than you can imagine.
Louise, now 48, says: “Seeing that was a lightbulb moment for me. It answers an awful lot about why he did what he did. It’s not something a normal 17-year-old would write, is it? Or not a well one. It seems to say it all really, when you consider how he ended his life.
“If he had a mental illness then he probably had it from an early age.
“Maybe Gary’s problems were a time-bomb waiting to explode.”
Re-visiting the letters reminded Louise that she was his world back then.
They met at Hawarden High School and started dating in their early teens.
The talented footballer had been taken up to Leeds United as a YTS trainee but he told Louise in his letters that he was only there to begin building their life. He wrote of them having a nice home and how he was working hard and making sacrifices so all their dreams could come true. Louise now realises all was not ideal in his head.
(Image: Getty Images Europe)
“The letter has made me realise dark thoughts were there from a young age,” she says.
“Very dark thoughts which he wasn’t able to talk about. Maybe something had happened early on which he had kept to himself.”
During the trial of paedophile football coach Barry Bennell in February, a victim pointed out Gary had been one of four boys he had coached who had killed themselves.
Although Gary’s parents said he had been interviewed by police and made no allegations, I ask Louise if this could have had anything to do with the secret he was keeping to himself?
“I don’t want to give Bennell any publicity. All I’ll say is that Gary was obviously struggling with something at the age of 17,” she says. “He was low at different times and when I asked what was wrong he’d reply he was just tired. Maybe saying he was tired was masking some things?”
When news came through of Gary’s death the shock and sadness were shared to an unusual degree by the wider world. Because here was a genuine, modest man who seemed to have it all.
And who was so loved and respected.
“Yes, there was so much love out there for him and that’s why the impact it has left is almost indescribable. It rips apart a large part of you which you can never replace because what happened was unnatural,” says Louise.
“Sometimes when I see homeless guys on the street I think, ‘What is it that keeps them going?’ They have nothing. Gary had everything.
“That’s when I realise he must have been ill because human nature is all about survival. The irony is that Gary didn’t have a lot of time for people who got depressed when they had so much going for them.”
I ask what she would say to Gary if she could somehow speak to him? She replies: “The first thing I’d say is, ‘What do you think you’ve achieved, and can you explain it to me, the boys and your parents?’ And I’m sure he wouldn’t know. I’m sure he’d say, ‘I must have been ill’.
“But maybe he didn’t realise. And if he didn’t realise he was ill then how could any of us around him have known?”
- If you are having problems, you can call the Samaritans, 24/7, on 116 123.
Gary Speed: Unspoken – The Family’s Untold Story, by John Richardson and published by Sport Media, is on sale from Thursday, September 20 priced £18.99. Louise Speed is not receiving any proceeds from the book. At her request, we are making a donation to the Heads Together campaign.
TOMORROW: THAT TERRIBLE DAY, TURNING TO THE BOTTLE AND HOW MY BOYS GOT ME THROUGH
Glittering career of football hero
The midfielder signed as a trainee at Leeds on leaving school in 1988 and made his first team debut at the age of 19. He was a key member of the title-winning side in 1992.
He married childhood sweetheart Louise in 1996, and they had two children, Thomas and Edward.
That year the midfielder made his dream move to Everton.
He signed for Newcastle United for £5.5m in 1998, where he stayed for four years before moving to Bolton.
He ended his playing career at Sheffield United, and started his managerial career there in 2010.
That same year he was awarded an MBE. He became Wales manager in December 2010 and was in the role until his tragic death.