Former Toon legend Gary Speed MBE has sadly passed away at the young age of 42, the FA of Wales has announced.
This is shocking news considering he was known as a phenomenally physically fit footballer, he was regarded as a model professional who lived his life the right way.
My father is a Leeds fan, so I knew about Speed from a young age and was a big fan long before he joined the Toon. He used to rave about Speed and would say: “SPEED, YOU’VE READ THE BOOK, YOU’VE SEEN THE FILM, NOW SEE THE MAN.” I’d like to add to that; “REMEMBER THE LEGEND.”
Speed was a very well balanced left footed central midfielder who would pitch in with the odd goal, knew how to pass and did not mind a tackle. He had a fantastic engine and was very reliable. You would rarely look at a Speed performance and think he had played below par. He did not get enough credit for his reliability, but that kind of player is worth their weight in gold as they are the foundations needed to build a good team.
An Everton fan as a boy, it was Leeds United who gave him his chance and he made his debut aged 19. He would go on to make 312 appearances for Leeds, scoring 57 times, playing a key role in their old Division 1 league title win in 1992 before the Premiership was formed.
He got his dream move to Everton in 1996, making 65 appearances and scoring 17 times. He joined the Toon 1n 1998 for £5.5m and would bring us to two FA Cup finals and Champions League football before leaving in 2004 after Sir Bobby told him he was no longer a regular 1st teamer. He made 284 appearances for us, scoring 40 goals. Both Sir Bobby and Gary Speed would go on to say they regretted the decision which saw him leave.
Gary went on to play for Bolton, where he became the 1st player in history to reach 500 Premiership appearances at the age of 37 – a representation of how well he looked after himself. In fact the only other player I can remember looking after himself as well as Speed would be Gianfranco Zola… He also held the record of most Premier League appearances with 535 until February 2009 when Portsmouth goalkeeper David James overtook him.
In August 2007 he would score for Bolton against Reading, making him the 1st player to score in every Premier League season to that date. The only other player to match and extend that was fellow Welsh legend Ryan Giggs.
Gary went on to play for Sheffield United before moving onto management with them. Only a few games into his managerial career he found the attraction of the Wales vacancy too good to ignore, having represented them a record 85 times as an outfield player. He has recently pulled out some fantastic results for his Country and on November 12 recorded a third win a row and fifth in seven matches in his last game in charge – a 4-1 friendly victory over Norway. There was a growing belief he was the man to finally lead Wales to a World Cup Finals for the 1st time since 1958.
He was made a Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (MBE) in the 2010 Queen’s Birthday Honours List due to his contribution to football and charities. Sir Bobby called him his Marathon Man and in 2010 Speed ran the London marathon in aid of the Sir Bobby Robson foundation and the John Hartson foundation. There were many other selfless acts in aid of the needy throughout his career. He leaves behind two children and his wife, whom I’m sure we all feel extremely sorry for. On behalf of the Toon Army, I’d like to pass our condolences onto the Speed family.
There is speculation surrounding his untimely death, which seems to be linked to nervous exhaustion and a tragic outcome. However, I find it inappropriate to speculate on the specifics as it is really not important. We should remember the man as a footballing legend, a model professional and a gentleman. MG MAN has suggested the club allow the fans to pay our respect by placing tributes in and around the stadium for the great man. Hopefully this will be sanctioned for the home tie against Chelsea. I would also expect black armbands throughout the Football League and a minute’s silence.
He may not have been the flashiest of players, but he was extremely effective and influential whilst wearing our colours and his attitude towards the game and his fellow human beings made Gary Speed one of my all time favourites. His ilk are a rarity in today’s world of fast cars, nightclubs and expecting everything handed to you on a plate for minimum effort. The youngsters with attitudes like Nile Ranger etc should look at this man and feel ashamed of themselves.
Gary Speed RIP 8 September 1969 – 27 November 2011.