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Tuesday, November 29, 2011


The football community around the UK and further afield has reacted with shock and sadness at the news of the more than untimely death of the manager of the Welsh national team, Gary Speed, at the age of 42 yesterday. It was reported on the BBC and CNN yesterday afternoon that he had taken his own life, having apparently been found hanged at his Cheshire home a few hours earlier.

Speed, who played for several clubs including Everton, Newcastle United and Bolton Wanderers, started his career with Leeds United, and won the League Championship with the club in 1991-92, the last season before the inception of the Premier League. He won 85 caps for Wales between 1990 and 2004, and ended his playing career with Sheffield United last year before briefly taking up the manager's position at the club.

He left The Blades at the end of last year to take up the Wales manager's post, vacant after the departure of Speed's predecessor John Toshack. He seemed to have stopped the downward spiral of the national team's fortunes, with the team winning 5 out of his 10 games in charge of the side, and 3 out of Wales' last 4 competitive matches at the tail-end of an ultimately unsuccessful attempt to qualify for the 2012 European Championships. Speed's last match in charge was on 8/11/11, when Wales defeated Norway 4:1 in a friendly in Cardiff.

Tributes have been pouring in from near and far for Gary Speed, who was just as highly regarded off the field as he was on it. Regarded as tenacious (and, occasionally, a little over-physical) and talented on the pitch, he was also considered to be highly articulate and intelligent off it. He was also a regular guest on various football programmes, and his last public appearance was on the sofa on Saturday's Football Focus programme, broadcast on BBC1, where he appeared alongside his former Leeds United team-mate and good friend, Gary McAllister.

The death of Gary Speed, MBE, is a sad loss for football, for those connected with the Football Association of Wales (FAW), and, above all, for his family and friends, especially, of course, his wife and children. It would be nice to think that Speed's family circle and close friends will be allowed by the media to have the time and space to grieve in private. They deserve the sympathy, respect and understanding of one and all.

There was another sad story to report over the weekend, one which was no less tragic than the passing of Gary Speed, but one which was only briefly reported on both CNN and BBC News channels late on Saturday night. It was of news which emanated from the West African country of Togo, a land which has had more than its fair share of sporting tragedies to mourn over the past few years and where another one took place on Saturday morning.

A bus carrying 32 players and staff of local Première Division club Étoile Filante, based in the capital
Lomé, was bringing the team to play Sémassi Sokodé when a tyre apparently burst, after which the bus lost control, somersaulted and plunged into a ravine at the small village of Gléi, just to the south of the central city of Atakpamé, at around 11:00 local time on Saturday morning. The bus was reported to have burst into flames upon impact at the bottom of the ravine. Six of those travelling in the bus were killed, and all were reportedly sitting at the back of the bus when it burst into flames. 

Initial media reports of the accident were, to say the least, confusing. It was widely stated that six players were initially reported to have been killed, with several more injured, then it later emerged that no players had died, but two had been seriously injured and 26 other people, 19 of whom were listed as players, required hospital treatment. Several websites also later reported that 8 people had died, and that 70 people were on the bus at the time of the accident. More than 48 hours on, it is still not totally clear as to the number of casualties, nor has the total number of people on board the bus at the time of the accident been established.

The dead include Étoile Filante's assistant trainer (and ex-Togo international) Isidore Koumah, club general-secretary Christophe Dagbovie, plus the club physiotherapist and cook. Former international goalkeeper Charles Balogou (one of the club's technical staff) and a camerawoman, named on the Actu-Afrique website as Yolande Améyo Adabra, who were travelling with the team, were also named among the dead. The two seriously-injured players were named as Nigerian attacker Joseph Okewo, and the experienced Tchagbele Agouda. They and the other survivors of the crash were taken to hospital in Atakpamé.
"Most of the victims died in the fire," according to FTF (Fédération Togolaise du Football) spokesman Aimé Ekpe when interviewed by CNN on Saturday night. The Togolese president, Fauré Gnassingbe, later ordered the survivors to be flown by helicopter to the military hospital in central Lomé. Some of the injured, it was reported, were evacuated by ambulance from the scene of the accident; the ambulance was accompanied to the crash-site by a delegation headed by Togo's Sports Minister, Christophe Tchao.

One of the survivors, Les Météors' goalkeeper Mama Souleyman, told Togo national television in an interview from his hospital bed: "We do not know how we managed to get out of the accident. Most of the players got out of the bus before the officials could do so because they were all in the front row of the bus."
"The officials and technical staff were trapped..when the bus somersaulted several times and caught fire."
In a statement published on the Togolese government website yesterday afternoon, the FTF "expresses its condolences to the Étoile Filante team and the bereaved families and hopes for a speedy recovery of those injured."
British newspaper The Sun also published the above statement..and then showed that it doesn't always do its homework by displaying the emblem of Burkina Faso side Étoile Filante Ouagadougou (presumably culled via a copy-and-past exercise from Wikipedia) on its website alongside the article; an example of crass, lazy journalism. The Étoile Filante, club involved in this sad episode, meanwhile, have won their country's league championship seven times in total, but haven't won it since 1992.

The club, the name of which translates as Shooting Star in English, was founded in 1932. The Lomé side were due to play their first match of the season at Sémassi as a dispute between several clubs and the FTF had recently been solved. Shortly after news of the accident became known, the FTF decided to postpone all football action due to take place in Togo over the weekend as a mark of respect to the dead and injured, and to the families of those affected by the tragedy.

Earlier today, in a statement, Spurs player and Togo national team captain Emmanuel Adebayor expressed his condolences to the families who lost loved ones in the tragedy and his wishes for a speedy recovery to the injured, and said that he "hoped that Togolese football would be spared any more such drastic ordeals in the future."

Saturday's bus-crash was the third tragedy to affect Togolese sporting circles in recent years. In 2007, the Togolese sports minister Richard Attipoe and several Togolese fans were on a helicopter carrying 22 people which crashed on the way to Lungi International Airport, just outside the Sierra Leone capital city of Freetown after an African Cup of Nations between the two countries. There were no survivors. 

In January 2010, three people travelling in the Togo team bus which was on its way to compete in the 2010 African Cup of Nations finals were shot dead by gunmen belonging to an insurgent organisation in the Angolan enclave of Cabinda. The bus was ambushed just inside Cabinda, having just crossed the border from the Congo. The Angolan-born driver was killed instantly; the Togolese assistant manager and press-officer both succumbed to their injuries the next day. Seven other people were wounded in the attack.

One note of good news to report was that the German referee, Babak Rafati, who had attempted to take his own life in his hotel room just before a Bundesliga game nine days ago, is recovering well. He was found by his two linesmen,with his wrists slashed, in his hotel bathroom shortly before he was due to officiate in the game between 1FC Koln and Mainz 05. The game was called off less than 45 minutes before kick-off.

However, that was tempered by the news that Belgian linesman Chris Schelstraete attempted to take his own life an hour before the second-level game between AFC Tubize and FC Molenbeek-Brussels. He was found in the toilets, with his wrists slashed, by the match referee, his fellow linesman and a steward, and was reportedly dicovered clutching a photograph of his girlfriend. Apparently, Schelstraete had been having problems in his private life, which, even though there are rumours appearing on various websites, they are uncomfirmed and so shall not be appearing here, and that goes for Babak Rafati as well. One wishes both Rafati and Schelstraete a full recovery and every assistance with their personal problems.

Indeed, it has been a sad weekend for football, with the, as said at the beginning of the piece, more than untimely demise of Gary Speed, the attempted suicide of Schelstraete and, by no means least - perhaps, in its own way, at the forefront of the weekend's misery - the multiple deaths as the result of the accident involving the Étoile Filante team-bus on Saturday morning.

It is too late for Gary Speed - who knows what may have drove him to take his own life? - but the world of football should rally round and try and offer support not only to his next of kin, but also to Barak Rafati and Chris Schelstraete and others like them and not try to pretend that depression, stress and mental illness do not exist within the confines of the game. They do, and very much so. Last, and definitely by no means least, sympathy and support should be offered to those bereaved and injured by the carnage in which the Étoile Filante team found itself. In the long run, they may just need that little bit of extra help.

Needless to say, condolences, sympathy and best wishes are offered to those affected by the weekend's tragic events, and it would also be hoped that the mainstream media, wherever they are, keep a respectful distance and leave those in need in peace.

AUTHOR'S NOTE: With regard to the tragedy in in Gléi, Togo, several websites etc. have published/released erroneous information over the past 48 hours or so, only some of which was of their own making; much of the incorrect information came from various sources. Apologies if any of the information contained in the above article is proved incorrect; every effort has been made to use authoritative sources in order to provide the facts. published the following, taken from, which includes a list of (most of) the dead and injured (in French):

Link to Afriscoop article:

Link to Sports Illustrated article:

Link to CNN article:

Link to The Sun article (and, no, they still haven't changed the badge; it's still that of the Burkinabe Étoile Filante which appears on the page below):

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