Gary Speed 1969-2011

If you’re reading this, you’ll be familiar with the story that broke yesterday morning.

This is one of those posts I’d have preferred not have written: it’s an unfathomable tragedy that any 42 year old family man should apparently chose to end his life in such a devastating manner. I didn’t know Gary Speed, but I knew about him: he was one of the best Welsh players of his generation and looked as if he was about to oversee a long overdue revival of the fortunes of the Welsh national team.

The strange thing about Speed’s death is that it comes within two weeks of German referee Babak Rafati attempting to commit suicide before the game between Mainz and Koln in the Bundesliga; last weekend Belgian linesman Chris Schelstraete apparently tried to emulate Herr Rafati. It’s also just over two years since I wrote about German goalkeeper Robert Enke: this article – written by the Daily Telegraph’s Sarah Crompton at the end of September is almost uncannily prescient about what happened this weekend and deserves to be read by a wider audience.

No doubt in the weeks and months to come we may find out more about the inner turmoil that Gary Speed went through on Saturday evening: but at the moment it’s a sad ending to a life that was far too short. Our thoughts and sympathies are with his family and friends: he will be missed.

Gorwedd Mewn Hedd, Gary Speed.

Keith Alexander 1956-2010

Sad news: Macclesfield Town manager Keith Alexander passed away last night. Probably best known as being the first full time black manager in the Football League when he was appointed Lincoln City manager in 1993 after a relatively modest playing career, he died after returning home from Macclesfield’s 1-0 defeat at Notts County last night.

The England team will be wearing black armbands tonight in his honour.

Gil Merrick 1922-2010

The death of former Birmingham City and England goalkeeper Gil Merrick was announced yesterday; he won 23 caps for England and played in the 1954 World Cup finals tournament, his final international appearance coming in the 4-2 quarter final defeat against Uruguay. Sporting a pencil moustache and slicked back hair during his playing days, he is probably best known as the ‘keeper who played in the 6-3 and 7-1 defeats against Hungary at Wembley in 1953 and Budapest the following year although the margin of defeat wasn’t his fault: at that time the Hungarians were playing football from another world.

Merrick was an old school one club man, making almost 500 appearances for the Blues between 1938 and 1960; the club renamed the Railway Stand after him at the beginning of this season.

Reports: Four Dead Following Attack On Togo Team Bus

There still appears to be some confusion over the death toll, but it seems likely that as well as the un-named Angolan bus driver, assistant coach Abalo Amalete, press officer Stanislas Ocloo and reserve goalkeeper Kodjovi Obilale were either killed during the attack or died of their injuries afterwards.

The Front For The Liberation of the Enclave of Cambinda (FLEC) claimed responsibility for the attack, which happened on Friday afternoon.

Following the withdrawal of the Togolese team, Group B has been reduced to three teams (Burkina Faso, the Ivory Coast and Ghana), with Burkina Faso and Ivory Coast scheduled to kick of at the Chimandela Stadium in Cambinda on Monday afternoon. As well as all but one of the Group B matches, the stadium is the venue for the Malawi/Mali game in Group A (18th January) and one of the quarter finals (Winners of Group B v Runners Up Group A) – the latter game may feature hosts Angola.

It goes without saying that we’re shocked and appalled at what’s happened over the last couple of days. We intended to cover the tournament in order to take a look at some of England’s opponents (principally Algeria but also Nigeria and Ghana, both of whom we may face after the group stage) and while we will still do so, at the moment our thoughts are with the friends and families of those killed and injured in this terrorist attack on Les Eperviers (The Sparrowhawks).

UPDATE: Reserve goalkeeper Kodjovi Obilale was erroneously reported as having died by several sources on Saturday, it now appears that he was very seriously injured in the attack and was transferred to a South African hospital for emergency surgery – pictures of Obilale arriving strapped to a stretcher were shown on Sky Sports late on Saturday night.

Robert Enke 1977-2009

Sad news from Germany this evening: goalkeeper Robert Enke of Hannover 96 and Germany committed suicide by diving under a train in the town of Neustadt am Rübenberge near Hannover. He was 32 years old, had won eight caps for Germany and would have been a strong contender for one of the goalkeeping positions in the German squad for the finals: he leaves behind a wife and an adopted eight month old daughter.

Sir Bobby Robson 1933-2009

The first Saturday of August in England and it’s raining; football weather. Normally this would be time to look forward to the new season but when the news broke yesterday that Sir Bobby Robson had passed away it was time to stop and reflect on what an outstanding career he had as a player, coach and manager not only in and for England but also abroad with some of the heavyweights of European club football; he always came across as being a good bloke and one of the last ‘old school’ football personalities too, something that came across yesterday in the many tributes that were paid to him. Perhaps fittingly, his last appearance at a football match was a few days before his death when he attended a friendly between the England 1990 and Germany 1990 sides for the Sir Bobby Robson Trophy (England 1990 won 3-2);  the image of Sir Bobby consoling Paul Gascoigne will always remain in the memories of England fans that are old enough to remember the events of the dramatic evening 4th July 1990.