If there ever was a death that shook the football world, then the untimely death of Welsh player and manager Gary Speed was it. Speed ultimately took his own life, and it was something that no one saw coming. It wasn’t until a letter that was addressed to his wife, Louise, that the reason he decided to take his own life came to light.
Gary Speed Childhood
Having a rather disturbed childhood, the note was written when Speed was at Leeds United when he was just 17 years old.
In the letter, he stated that he was depressed and wanted to go to sleep and never wake up. Born in Mancot, Flintshire in Wales to parents Roger and Carol, Gary Speed was an exceptional sportsman who excelled in soccer and cricket. He supported Everton Football Club as a child in his early days when he left school, he was a trainee at Leeds United.
Football Experience/Playing Career
Gary Speed was an extremely versatile player who could play in a host of different positions. He had a powerful header; superb tactical awareness and his true value was his ability to not only create goals but score them too. He was often captain during his playing days as teammates saw him as an inspirational figure who wanted to get the best out of everyone and demanded the best.
A professional both on the pitch and off it, Speed developed his training skills and looked after his body extremely well. He had a reputation as a supportive, friendly person and loved everyone around him. This led to the “nice guy” persona that made him a popular figure in the dressing room and the media.
Early Playing Days At Leeds United
Having impressed Howard Wilkinson who was the first-team manager at the time during a youth match for Leeds, Speed signed his professional contract in 1988. Making his first-team debut at just 19, he never looked back. During his early years at Leeds, Speedo would play in nine out of the ten outfield positions, this was despite him being heavily dominant on his left side.
He played a key part in Leeds United winning the Football League First Division in 1992 as he continued to excel. Out of 42 games, Speed played 41 and it was his versatility that was most impressive.
Speed was a part of a midfield that was the envy of the division with the likes of David Batty, Gordon Strachan and Gary McAllister, which led to Eddie Gray, who was a former Leeds boss to state that it was one of, if not the best midfield line-ups of the modern era. That is some compliment.
Despite the star power around him, Speed continued to thrive. When Leeds qualified for the UEFA Champions League in 1992, in the first-round tie against German outfit VFB Stuttgart, Speed took matters into his own hands in the second leg.
After being defeated 3-0 in the first-leg, he single-handedly pushed Leeds to a 4-1 win, including a superb volley on his left foot. Speed would describe it post-career; it was the best goal he had ever scored.
That season, Gary Speed was selected in the PFA Team of the Year. From 1988 through to 1996, Gary Speed played 312 games for Leeds United, scoring 57 goals in the process before his dream move materialized. During this time, he was a pivotal member of the Wales National Team. He was a part of the Wales squad for 14 years between 1990 and 2004, winning 85 caps and scoring seven goals.
Childhood Dream Comes True
As a boyhood Everton fan, Speed got his dream move in 1996, signing with the Toffees in a £3.5 million deal. In his first year at Goodison Park, Speed scored the only hat-trick of his career in a 7-1 thrashing of Southampton. He finished the season as the club’s joint top-scorer alongside Duncan Ferguson.
To put his talents into perspective, Speed won Everton’s Player of the Year award in his debut season as his career went from strength to strength. He was named captain the following year; however that is when it all went downhill. Problems with new manager Howard Kendall, Speed would be sold that year to Newcastle for £5.5 million.
The Welsh midfielder would spend six years at Newcastle United between 1998 and 2004, making 213 appearances and scoring 29 goals. At the end of the 2004 season, he moved again to Bolton Wanderers on a two-year deal. It came as a real shock to Newcastle United manager Bobby Robson as Speed had not planned to leave. The directors wanted to sign Nicky Butt and had to make way.
Now nicknamed Captain Marvel, he would make 121 appearances for Bolton Wanderers between 2004 and 2008, scoring 14 goals. In January 2008, Speed was loaned out to Sheffield United. He would spend two years with the Blades, making 37 appearances. He took his first steps in becoming a manager after a back injury halted his playing career.
Gary Speed Managerial Experience
Gary Speed retired playing at the age of 41 and was kept on by Sheffield United as a coach.
Speed would then manage his national team, Wales, in 2011 with his first match against the Republic of Ireland. Wales lost 3-0. For a Euro 2012 qualifier, Speed named then Arsenal midfielder Aaron Ramsey as the captain, making him the youngest ever for the nation.
His time with Wales was up and down. Having been at the country’s lowest ever ranking at 117th in August 2011, Speed made remarkable strides with the team, and by October, Wales had moved up to 45th in the FIFA rankings and was awarded the “Best Movers’. His final match was a friendly win against Norway.
Main Image: The Chronicle
Tribute Image: Gordon Hatton
Manager Image: Jon Candy