Bryn Law on his friendship with Gary Speed and the legacies for Leeds United and Wales 10 years on

The life and tragic death of Leeds United and Wales hero Gary Speed left lasting legacies not only for his family and his country but the world beyond football.

By Graham Smyth
Saturday, 27th November 2021, 4:45 am

It is 10 years since Speed was found dead at his home in Huntington, Cheshire.

Bryn Law’s job was to tell the story the next day, live from Elland Road on behalf of Sky Sports, despite the emotion he was feeling, emotion that spilled over live on air.

When cutting his teeth as a reporter covering Leeds, the broadcaster had struck up a relationship with Speed, thanks in part to the Leeds player’s friendliness.

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Leeds United fans paid tribute to Gary Speed at Elland Road. Pic: Getty

Speed was happy to give Law his phone number, the ‘holy grail’ as Law described it in his quest to build a contacts book, and always answered the call, even when things were not going well.

The pair always had plenty to talk about – they were the same age and both from North Wales. Law had been a match-going Wales fan.

“I sought him out because we shared this Welsh football aspect,” Law told the YEP.

“I got the opportunity to have a chat with Gary Speed, so I’m going to take that opportunity. When I did, he was really friendly.

“He was hugely talented but also a very nice person and that’s quite an impressive combination.

“He was someone I could consider a friend, someone whose company I really enjoyed being in and someone who was important in the footballing sense. I put that very much at the end of the list, all the other stuff was far more important than that.”

Law also got to know Speed’s father Roger, who would stop by the West Stand commentary position to chat with him and co-commentator Norman Hunter.

When Law began to cover Wales for Sky it put him back in touch with Speed and they worked and socialsed together when, after retirement, the midfielder became a pundit for national-team games.

Speed was four months into his first role as Sheffield United boss when the Wales job came up and Law was handed an opportunity to pay back a little of the footballer’s kindness.

“The Football Association of Wales weren’t actually aware he was interested in the job,” said Law.

“He wasn’t on the radar but, even though it seemed this had come too early for him, he was an obvious candidate. Gary was really, really keen, which he made clear to me.

“He set up a meeting so he could tell me and I could then relay the message to the FAW, so the wheels began to turn from that point. He got the job out of the blue; he wasn’t in the bookies’ list until about 24 hours before he was appointed.”

With Law covering the team Speed was now managing, the dynamic of their relationship had to change a little, but Speed did not.

“No matter what jobs we had, what never changed was that he was a decent bloke,” said Law.

Earning 85 caps in a period when, as Law says, Wales had good players but not a particularly good team, Speed had already established a deep connection with fans of the national team and a reputation as a man entirely committed to the cause.

What he did as a manager, in the space of just 11 months, is still enhancing that connection and his reputation.

“He came in with a whole raft of ideas on how he could improve and change things and initiated them from day one, some really bold things and bold appointments,” said Law.

“Gary had ideas on how to bring everything up to date and his new thinking was a major move forward for Welsh football because that group of young players, Gareth Bale, Chris Gunter, Aaron Ramsey, were blooded as internationals and had played a bit but they needed convincing that there was something in it for them longer term.

“Gary showed them that the Welsh experience was very similar to their club experience, working with sports scientists, being assessed and analysed and monitored. There was a new mentality and Gary was absolutely fundamental to that.

“It’s culminated in what you see now with Wales having their best-ever World Cup group finish. It might be hard to make the connection but it’s quite clearly there; he set the ball rolling and changed the path of Welsh football dramatically, in a revolutionary way.

“Now we’re two games away from our first World Cup finals since 1958. That process, he started it.”

Law believes that is one of Speed’s legacies and one that will give a measure of comfort to parents Roger and Carol 10 years after they lost him.

“The one thing I’ve always wanted to emphasise, right from that terrible first day and having to cover the story for Sky at Elland Road, was that this was nothing to do with football, it was a family tragedy, it just happened that Gary was a footballer,” Law told the YEP.

“But it is nice that Welsh football has been so successful since his time in charge. That must be some sort of comfort to his mum and dad. They know he played an integral part in that and how much joy it has given people in Wales. Gary played a part in making so many people so very happy.”

For Leeds supporters, Speed also left a huge legacy. He played 312 times for the club, winning the First and Second Division titles and many hearts along the way.

Law recalls floral tributes already in place around Billy Bremner’s statue when he arrived in the early morning darkness to report from Elland Road the day after Speed’s death was announced. More flowers, shirts and scarves arrived throughout the day.

“People would tell me they’d stopped him for an autograph outside Elland Road then bumped into him two years later and he remembered them and their son,” said Law.

“He had a huge impact and because Leeds was where it all began the bond was extra strong.”

Speed’s life in the game represented and meant something special. His death was an awful tragedy but out of it has to come meaning.

“The most important legacy, beyond the fact that his family have suffered so badly since, is the one that can start the conversation about in particular men’s mental health, but mental health,” said Law.

“That’s the one I think on an anniversary like this weekend people should focus on. How did this happen, not necessarily why, but how?

“I bumped into Gary’s dad Roger the week after at Goodison and it was an awful moment, very, very emotional and one I will never forget.

“He has always been one of the nicest, happiest people and his courage was incredible. From that point onwards, I’ve had two other fathers in my social circle who have suffered the same thing, losing sons to suicide.

“That’s three conversations I’ve had now which says to me the most important thing that can come out of this is to find a way to make this not happen so much any more. We’re still trying to work that one out I think.”

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