Gary Andrew Speed was born in Mancot, North Wales on 8th September 1969.
The talented sportsman was equally as proficient with a football at his feet as he was with a cricket ball in his hand. His football skills soon started attracting the attention of professional clubs whilst playing for Flintshire Schoolboys and his local side Aston Park Rangers and it wasn’t long before he was signed up on schoolboy terms with Leeds United.
The young left back impressed at the youth levels and would soon catch the eye of Leeds United’s first team manager Howard Wilkinson which resulted in him being rewarded with a professional contract in June 1988. Less than one year later, aged 19, Speedo was making his first team debut at Elland Road against Oldham Athletic on final home game of the 1988-89 season.
The following season saw the left midfielder establish himself in the Leeds United first team making 25 appearances and scoring three goals. His first professional goal came in the 1989-90 season and it was an important one too as it earned The Whites a valuable draw against local rivals Bradford City at Elland Road. Leeds went on to win the 2nd Division title emphatically and Speed played a key role in helping The Peacocks return to the topflight as Champions. His successful first full season in the first team also encouraged Wales manager Terry Yorath to debut the young Welshman against Costa Rica at Ninian Park.
The first season back in the top division was a successful one for the talented Leeds United side as they finished in a very credible 4th position and the young Welsh midfielder scored 10 goals in all competitions. The team kicked on the following season beating Manchester United to top spot to finish as Champions of England. Speedo only missed one league game that season and once again contributed heavily with 9 goals in all competitions.
The following season saw Speed testing himself against Europe’s elite in the newly formed Champions League. After a difficult start in Stuttgart with a 3-0 defeat, Speed spearheaded the comeback in the return leg with the opening goal in a 4-1 victory. Unfortunately for Leeds United, they came 2nd best in the Battle of Britain against Glasgow Rangers in the 2nd Round which ended the European adventure. In the league, the Champions really struggled to recreate their form from the previous season and ended up narrowly avoiding relegation from the Premier League. Once again Speedo was a key player making 52 appearances and scoring 12 goals in all competition.
The following three seasons at Elland Road saw Gary continue to hold down a regular place in Howard Wilkinson’s side and he continued to contribute valuable goals as they finished 5th twice and 13th in the Premier League. In the summer of 1996, Speedo’s time at Elland Road came to end as he joined his boyhood team, Everton in a £3.5m deal. During his eight-year spell at Elland Road, he played 312 times for Leeds United, scoring 57 goals.
The Welsh international was an instant hit on Merseyside and the talented midfielder finished the season as Everton’s Player of the Season and joint top goal scorer with 11 goals from midfield which included his first career hat-trick.
Towards the end of the 1996/97 season, Everton manager Joe Royle departed and was temporarily replaced by club captain Dave Watson. Howard Kendall arrived for his third spell at the club and made Gary Speed his captain. However, things on and off the pitch resulted in a breakdown between captain and manager and by January 98 he was on the move to St James Park in a £5.5m deal.
During his six years in the North East, Speedo made it two FA Cup Finals with the Magpies but ended up on the losing side both times to Arsenal in 1998 and Manchester United in 1999. He also returned to Champions League action in 2002 as vice-captain under the guidance of Sir Bobby Robson.
In his mid-thirties, Gary joined Bolton Wanderers in the summer of 2004 for £750,000 and whilst at the Reebok Stadium he became the first player to make 500 Premier League appearances. To this day Speedo is still 6th in the rankings for all-time Premier League appearances with 535 matches in the top flight, only Gareth Barry, Ryan Giggs, Frank Lampard, David James and James Milner have played more.
After four years at Bolton, Gary made his final move when he moved across the Pennines to join Sheffield United where he played his final two years as a professional before moving into coaching and management. The versatile Welshman had a 22 year career as a professional at the highest level and won a few medals too. He would go on to play in nine out of the ten outfield positions and was capped by his country 85 times, 44 as captain, scoring 7 goals for the Red Dragons.
He was an inspirational leader with a good footballing brain which enabled him to transition into management and demand respect in the dressing room once he’d hung up his boots. His first role in the dugout came at Bramhall Lane with Sheffield United and within just four months the FAW approached him about the vacant position of the Wales national team.
What a career, what a man, RIP Speedo!