Almost seven years after Gary Speed's tragic detah, journalist and friend John Richardson talks to Jamie Bowman about the emotional journey in creating a new book, and legacy, about the Welsh football legend's life...

November 27, 2011 was one of those rare days when the footballing world came to a shuddering halt.

The news that Gary Speed had been found hanged in the garage of his home, aged just 42, came as a huge shock to family, friends and fans. As a long-standing legend of the game and manager of Wales, he appeared to have everything to live for.

Now, as he would have approached his 50th birthday, those closest to the footballer have come together to speak honestly and emotionally about the man they knew and loved.

“I’ve been in journalism for too many years to mention and this has been the toughest job I’ve ever had,” says sports writer John Richardson, a close friend of Gary’s who has helped the footballer’s widow, Louise Speed, write Gary Speed: Unspoken, a new book which tells the story of the Flintshire-born sportsman’s life and tragic death.

“I’d been helping Gary write his autobiography, but about a year before he died he asked to put it on hold because, and this is typical Gary, he said he didn’t feel like he’d achieved enough.

“I remember thinking ‘crikey, there’s a lot of books that have come out about people who’ve done a lot less than you’, but that was the sort of guy he was”.

Those achievements included a long stint at the top of English football, with his 535 Premier League appearances for Leeds, Everton, Newcastle and Bolton, a record until it was surpassed by David James and his Welsh teammate Ryan Giggs.

Add to this 85 caps for Wales between 1990 and 2004 and a management career that saw him lay the foundations for a remarkable Welsh renaissance, and you have one of the more extraordinary lifetimes in the game.

“Gary’s death hit me like it did everybody else,” says John, who got close to the midfielder when he began covering the national side. “I knew Louise well because they had become friends with my wife and I - they joined us on a boat on the River Dee to help celebrate our wedding.

“Two or three years ago I began to think it would be nice to write something that could be a legacy to him but I didn’t want it sanitised. A load of people talking about what a great lad he was wouldn’t have sufficed and I wanted to go a bit deeper than that.

“I spoke to Louise and told her I would only do it with her permission and she said go ahead and do it but she didn’t want to be involved. I kept in touch and a few months down the line she had second thoughts and slowly but surely a better book began to emerge.”

Louise had met Gary when the pair were just 13-year-olds at Hawarden High School and getting her to speak for the first time about how she cut her husband down when she returned home to find his body was not easy for John.

“As a journalist I was excited but at the same time I had mixed feelings about going to her home and turning the dictaphone on,” he remembers. “Gradually she relaxed and in the end she gave me over 10,000 words which has made the book.

“She talked very honestly about life before and after Gary’s death and one of the best bits of the book was when she started digging out the old photographs and found some letters.”

The contents of these letters which were written by the 17-year-old Gary when he first signed for Leeds United have been well publicised in the run up to the book’s release but they still make for shocking reading when the teenager writes about his depression and of wanting to ‘just go to sleep and hope I never wake up’.

“At the time she never thought much of it,” says John. “When you’re 17 you’re not really in the real world anyway but in hindsight it makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up.

“We started to piece things together and it became obvious that Gary had hidden things about how he felt all his life.”

A couple of days after the tragedy, John remembers speaking to former Welsh captain Kevin Ratcliffe, a mutual friend who had played golf with Gary just a few days before his death. Both men could not understand why their mate had done what he did.

“Everybody I’ve spoken to in the book feels a little bit of guilt about how they didn’t notice it,” says John, sadly. “The only person who came close to noticing was Neville Southall, but not many other people came close.

“Louise said he had moods but don’t we all? The only thing she used to find strange was how he would take himself off into his room with his guitar for hours on end.

“But you just don’t know do you? Everything can seem fine on the surface...”

John describes the process of writing the book as a cathartic one for Louise, who has decided not to receive any proceeds from the book and instead chosen to make a donation to the Heads Together campaign.

“I think she’s been a bit stunned by all the publicity and obviously it reopens memories,” says John. “She’s getting on with life but it’s been hard for her because she is a quiet girl.”

As well as delving into Gary’s death, John hopes the book will remind people about what a fine player the Mancot-born footballer was.

“He was well-respected and well liked and very few have done more with their careers than Speedo,” he says. “I’ve never seen a midfielder who could head the ball so well - he had that knack of arriving at the right time in the right place.

“It’s a cliche but he had a cultured left foot and could deliver the ball well, score goals and despite not being the quickest he had a quick mind.

“Howard Wilkinson (former Leeds United manager) talks about how few players can play in more than one position but Gary could and he would be happy to do it.

“He was no shrinking violet either and there’s a good story about him giving Welsh manager Bobby Gould a mouthful after Wales had just lost 4-0 to Tunisia. He rounded on Bobby and said ‘you’re running a pub team’ and absolutely slaughtered him.”

In managerial terms, John is in no doubt as to how successful Gary would have been in the cut throat world of coaching, with his short time in charge of Wales evidence enough that another long career beckoned.

“Kevin Ratcliffe says that as far as he was concerned Gary was a certainty as a future Everton manager,” he adds. “He didn’t win as much as Chris Coleman at Wales, but everyone, Chris included, realises that he laid the foundations for the Welsh team.

“Players stopped crying off from the Welsh squad and he made it more professional - Chris built on that and he is the first to admit it in the book.

“He was very proud to be Welsh even though he was born just over the border and it was one of his proudest moments when he was made captain.”

'Gary Speed Unspoken' by John Richardson, published by Sport Media, is on sale now