Speed's death requires us to rethink how we mourn

Kelner's View

Share

This is a difficult subject, so bear with me as I tread
carefully. The reaction to the terrible death of the footballer
Gary Speed has given me pause for thought about public expressions
of grief.

I was at a football match this week at the Emirates Stadium between Arsenal and Manchester City, and the supporters of both clubs were invited before the match to pay their respects to Speed, a man whose career took him to many places, but, as far as I know, had no connection with either of these two clubs.

We weren't asked for a minute's silence, so the fans didn't quite know what to do. At first it was silent, then applause began to cascade down from the stands, and then some fans started singing "There's only one Gary Speed" – they'd seen Swansea City supporters spontaneously, and rather movingly, strike up this song on Match of the Day and wanted to replicate it.

It was hard to know what to make of it all. The man standing next to me was bellowing his endorsement of the uniqueness of Gary Speed, even though I'm pretty sure he never touched his life, even in death. Does that make it wrong? Of course not. In this fractured, disparate world, we all want to be part of something, even if it is communal grieving for someone with whom we have no tangible connection.

It's a relatively modern phenomenon, probably traceable to Princess Diana's death, and I think it makes us, curiously, less – rather than more – compassionate. This form of ritualised grief effectively cauterises us to the deeper meanings of a particular death, and somehow belittles the feelings of those genuinely affected by a most personal of tragedies.

In the tears of the Newcastle goalkeeper Shay Given, for example, you saw the most human expression of anguish for a friend and former teammate, and for the wife and two children who have been left behind to pick up the shattered remnants of their family life. And in the withdrawal of Craig Bellamy, a colleague of Speed's in the Welsh international set-up, from Liverpool's match last Sunday, you could sense an authentic reckoning that, set beside this, football is an irrelevant pastime.

When someone in public life dies, particularly at such a young age like Speed, there is a danger of being overwhelmed by cliché and hollow sentimentality. Every time one of Speed's former clubs scored a goal, or won a match, we were invited to believe that this was a fitting tribute to him.

In some ways, of course, it was: Speed loved football and, it seems, football loved him. But surely the most fitting tribute would be less demonstrable, and more unfashionable. It would be to allow his wife and children the space to grieve privately, and to seek to understand what propels a young man to such frightening depths of emotion. This is a terrible, and terribly difficult, thing to fathom, and one which requires a long period of quiet reflection rather than a short burst of applause.

i@independent.co.uk

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Assistant / Credit Controller

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are an award-winning digit...

Ashdown Group: Senior VMware Platform Engineer - VMware / SAN / Tier3 DC

£45000 - £55000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior VMware Platform En...

Recruitment Genius: Purchasing Assistant

£10000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A distributor of specialist ele...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Ledger Assistant

£17000 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A distributor of specialist ele...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Labour and the Liberal Democrats would both end winter fuel allowances for pensioners with enough income to pay the 40p tax rate  

Politicians court the grey vote because pensioners, unlike the young, vote

Andrew Grice
US President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping have a drink after agreeing a deal on carbon emissions  

Beijing must face down the perils of being big and powerful – or boom may turn to bust

Peter Popham
Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

Homeless Veterans campaign

Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

Lost without a trace

But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

Confessions of a planespotter

With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

Russia's gulag museum

Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

The big fresh food con

Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

Virginia Ironside was my landlady

Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

Paris Fashion Week 2015

The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
8 best workout DVDs

8 best workout DVDs

If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

Paul Scholes column

I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable