On Sunday, a packed Elland Road gave an emotional memorial to Gary Speed with supporters of both sides paying their respects in a touching celebration of the Welsh legend’s life. Newcastle and Leeds’ supporters joined together in a minutes applause as well as various songs from the terraces showing the undeniable love in which the two fanbases had for the former Wales manager. Speed’s untimely death in 2011 shocked the footballing world leading to various tributes from around the world commemorating the gentleman that was Gary Speed.
Speed began his career at Leeds, signing a professional contract at the age of 19, Speed was recognised by the then Leeds manager Howard Wilkinson in a youth team game. This appearance was enough to convince Wilkinson to give the Welshman a chance in the first team making his debut in a Second Division game against Oldham. Speed’s versatility was a major strength for him, he would go on to play in 9 out of the 10 outfield positions as he would go on to become a major part of a Leeds team which would go onto doing great things. In 1992, Leeds won the First Division title with Speed playing 41 games and scoring seven goals as he went on to be named the player of the season by Wilkinson. In September 1992, Speed would go onto to score the greatest goal of his career in his opinion against Stuttgart in the European Cup 1st Round as he went on to get himself a place on the PFA team of the season for 1992/93. In total, Speed played 312 games scoring 57 goals for the Lilywhites.
The Welshman’s next step was to sign for his boyhood club, Everton, in which he would be voted the player of the season as well as being the club’s joint top goalscorer in his first season with the Toffees. However, his relationship with Howard Kendall quickly went downhill leading to him leaving the Blues for Kenny Dalglish’s Newcastle United side.
At Newcastle, Speed would once again show his undeniable class and talent becoming one of the finest in a team which at times looked less than impressive before becoming a major part of Sir Bobby Robson’s legendary sides in the early 2000’s. His first goal for the Magpies came in the 6th round of the FA Cup against Barnsley in a 3-1 victory for United. He would score only one more that season against Chelsea before appearing in Newcastle’s unsuccessful 1998 FA Cup Final defeat to Arsenal. He would go on to feature in the 1999 Final for Newcastle however United were once again unsuccessful as Sir Alex Ferguson’s side went on to claim a historic treble. Speed scored famous goals against Sheffield Wednesday during the famous 8-0 drubbing of the Owls and another in Newcastle’s 2002/03 Champions League run coming against Ukrainian outfit Dynamo Kiev. Speed would depart Tyneside an icon who was much loved by United fans who adored the Welsh legend.
After his stint at Newcastle, Speed signed for Sam Allardyce’s Bolton side where he would become the first player to reach 500 Premier League appearances. It was at Bolton where Speed would have his first taste in coaching being named First Team Player-Coach under Sammy Lee however this didn’t last for long. Speed’s final move would be to Sheffield United, in which he became a regular starter for two seasons racking up 6 goals in 40 appearances. It would be in Sheffield where Speed changed from a player into manager replacing Kevin Blackwell however he only remained with the Blades until December 2010 when his country came a calling.
Gary Speed took charge of Wales for the first time on the 8th February 2011 for a Nations Cup tie against Ireland in which they won 3-0. In August of that year Wales reached their lowest ever ranking on the World Ranking, 117th, after a defeat to Montenegro. However, by October they were ranked 45th due to Speed’s hard work and the excellent youthful team in which the Welsh possessed. Speed laid down the blueprint for Welsh success handing Arron Ramsey the captaincy making him Wales’ youngest of all time at the age of 20. His tireless work no doubt helped to contribute to the amazing success in which the Welsh side enjoyed in the years following.
On 27th of November 2011, the news broke that Gary Speed had passed away after taking his own life leaving behind his wife Louise and two children Tommy and Eddie. Speed will be long remembered as an exciting midfielder which lit up the English game as well as revolutionized the Welsh National Team which honoured him perfectly in the summer by getting to the Euro 2016 Semis. He was adored by all and was the perfect gentlemen and quite simply Gary Speed was role model for football.