Gary Speed: a tragic loss for one of football’s greatest servants


The football world suffered a major setback on the 27th of November with the announcement that Wales manager Gary Speed had passed away tragically at the age of 42.

It was news that rocked football and tributes and comments flooded in through Twitter, Sky Sports News and other media outlets for a star who graced the game at the highest level for a number of years. Robbie Savage shed tears on television for his ‘hero and friend’, reporter Bryn Law broke down on Sky Sports News following recent contact with him and Craig Bellamy took leave from Liverpool’s game against Man City to mourn the passing of a great man.

When I think of Gary Speed, I reminisce of watching late runs from midfield and flying headers, I think of a man giving 100% whenever turning out for a team, I think of a man who was the first in the top flight to reach 500 games and I think of someone who was nothing but thoroughly efficient in his job without any airs or graces.

Speed started out his career as a young apprentice at Leeds United, signing a professional contract in 1988 when he was only 18-years old. Whilst trying to find his feet and establish a position within the team, Speed played no less than nine out of ten outfield positions, eventually settling as a central midfielder – industrious and hard-working. He played a key role in the club’s First Division championship winning season in 1992, a team containing the likes of Gary McAllister, Gordon Strachan and Eric Cantona. Speed left Leeds in 1996 having played over 300 games for the club and scoring 57 goals.

He signed for Everton in 1996 for £3.5 million and made an instant impact, scoring on his debut and within a couple of months netting his first and only career hat-trick in a 7-1 win over Southampton. He was made club captain by Howard Kendall in the 1996-97 season and went on to appear for the club over 60 times, racking up 17 goals; a very commendable goalscoring ratio for a midfielder.

Speed followed his spell at Goodison Park with a trip north of the border to Newcastle United. He signed on the dotted line for £5.5 million, playing first under Dutchman Ruud Gullit and then under the late, great Sir Bobby Robson, until his departure in 2004. He appeared in two FA Cup finals with the club, in the 1998 and 1999 defeats to Arsenal and Manchester United.

The Welshman continued to ply his trade at the highest level and enjoyed four years at Bolton Wanderers, signing a two-year deal for £750,000 in the summer of 2004, just months before his 35th birthday. The midfielder became the first man to reach 500 Premier League appearances in the 4-0 win over West Ham Utd in December 2006 and later became the first man to score in every Premier League season since its inception with a header against Reading at the start of the 2007-08 season.

Speed announced his retirement from the game at the age of 41 after seeing out the remainder of his playing days in the Championship with Sheffield United. He swiftly followed his playing career by venturing into management and took the job as Wales national manager in December 2010. He looked to have shaped Wales into a decent footballing team; they won three consecutive games before his passing and confidence was flowing through the side.

Football has lost one of the ‘good guys’ and Gary Speed epitomised that mantra more so than most players who shared a pitch with him in his 22-years as a professional footballer. He was modest, hard-working and rarely suffered spells of injury or suspension – a testament to his enduring fitness. He had an incredible work ethic and displayed a fantastic reading of the game. He also popped up with a goal or two as well, tallying up an impressive 134 strikes across spells at five clubs.

Gone but not forgotten, Speed’s legacy will live on for years.

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