The footballing world was shocked and saddened at the news of Gary Speed’s untimely passing. Remembered with fondness for a long career and an undeniable passion for the game, fans up and down the country are mourning his passing. With 85 caps Speed is Wales’ most capped outfield player, and holds the record for third highest number of premier league appearances with 535 – behind only David James and his compatriot, Ryan Giggs.
Speed’s long career began at Leeds United, where he won the first division title in 1992. After a brief spell at Everton between 1996 and 1998 in which he was made captain, he moved to Newcastle United, winning two FA cup runners up medals and playing Champion’s League football. His 500th premier league appearance came during his time at Bolton Wanderers – a 4-0 victory over West Ham in December 2006.
Succumbing to back injury early in the 2008-9 season after playing for Sheffield United for less than half a season, Speed took up a coaching role at Bramhall Lane. The next season he replaced Kevin Blackwell as manager.
Despite a relatively unsuccessful tenure, the Welsh FA approached Speed with a view to appointing him as their new manager – a role the patriotic Welshman was only too happy to accept. In his first game Wales were beaten by the Republic of Ireland 3-0 in the inaugural Nation’s Cup, and also lost their first competitive match to England 2-0. However, Wales’ results soon picked up and he recorded three more wins during European Championship qualifying. Despite their lowest ever FIFA ranking – 117th – Wales were certainly improving; Gareth Bale claimed that under Speed they would play World Cup football in 2014.
Why Gary Speed chose to end his life so suddenly might forever remain a mystery. What is in no doubt is the love he showed his clubs and his country – a love clearly reciprocated up and down the British Isles. Speed was a man who may have played for Everton, but wasn’t hated by Kopites – a man who wore the white of Leeds and was deeply respected by Manchester United supporters. He was a rarity. Let us remember one of modern football’s truly great players.
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