Gary Andrew Speed was born 8th September 1969 in the small village of Mancot, North Wales. At the age of 18, Speed joined Leeds United as a trainee before he went on to sign his first professional contract with the West Yorkshire club. After playing a vital role in the club’s return to the top flight, Speed went on to cement his place in the first team. In Leeds’ second season in the First Division, they finished as the final England champions of the pre-Premier League era. It was in this season, that manager Howard Wilkinson named Speed as his player of the season. Speed continued to thrive at Leeds United, earning his senior international debut against Costa Rica in August 1990. Speed went on to play for Leeds until the summer of 1996, where he played 222 out of 248 possible top flight games, being named in the PFA Team of the Season in the 1993.
During the summer of 1996, Gary Speed joined Everton, the club he supported as a youngster, for a fee of £3.5 million. During his first season at his boyhood club, Speed scored the only hat trick of his career, in a 7-1 victory over Southampton at Goodison Park. He went on to record a total of 11 goals, finishing as the club’s top-scorer along with Duncan Ferguson. Speed was voted Everton’s Player of the Year for his massive contribution to surviving relegation. When Howard Kendall returned to the club as manager for his third spell, after the resignation of Joe Royle, Speed was nominated as club captain. Despite this, things turned sour between Speed and Kendall and by the turn of the year, it was clear that Speed was destined to move on. After scoring in his final appearance for the toffees, in a 3-1 victory over Chelsea, Speed was sold to Newcastle United for a fee of £5.5 million in the February of 1998. During his time with The Toffees, Speed had recorded 16 goals in 58 appearances.
It was at Newcastle United, where Speed became one of the best midfielders in the Premier League, after moving from the left-hand side, into the central role. Whether positioned as an anchor-man or more attacking, his control, distribution, shooting, stamina and courage, along with his excellence in the air, his reading of the game and his leadership qualities, the Magpies always looked a far better side with Speed in their starting eleven. On the international scene, Speed broke the record held by Dean Saunders for most caps by a Welsh outfield player when he won his 76th against Finland in a Euro 2004 qualifier.
During his time on Tyneside, Speed made his Champions League debut and was made captain of the Welsh national team by manager Mark Hughes. After spending six years in the North-East, the arrival of Nicky Butt meant that time was up for Speed, as he was deemed surplus to requirements by the club. In 213 games, he scored on 29 occasions.
In the summer of 2004, Sam Allardyce signed the experienced midfielder for £750,000. Speed was one of several signings made by Big Sam ahead of the 2004/05 season, including the likes of Les Ferdinand, El Hadji Diouf, Vincent Candela and Fernando Hierro. It would be this season, that the Wanderers finished in sixth place thereby gaining automatic qualification for the then UEFA Cup. This would be Bolton’s first venture into Europe, eventually getting knocked out in the first knock-out round against Marseille. Speed was sensational for Bolton, and in December 2006 he became the first player to make 500 appearances in the Premier League. On 1 May 2007, Speed was named as the first team coach for Bolton after Sam Allardyce stepped down from his job as manager. However, in October he left the coaching job and returned to just being a player with the club. Speed scored a header for Bolton against Reading on 25 August 2007, making him, at the time, the only player to have scored in every Premiership season to date.
On Christmas Eve 2007, it was confirmed that Speed would join this weekend’s opponents, Sheffield United, on loan for the remainder of the 2007/08 season with a view to a permanent deal for a fee of £250,000. Speed was an integral part of a history making Wanderers side and gave many fans memories to last a lifetime. Perhaps his retirement from international football just three months after joining the club allowed him to give everything he had for the Wanderers. His commitment on the pitch was second to none, quickly making him a fan favourite at the Reebok Stadium. In the three and a half years that Speed spent with the Wanderers, he scored 14 goals in 121 appearances.
Gary Speed officially joined Sheffield United on New Year’s Day 2008. Speed made his first team debut on the day of his transfer – being named in the starting eleven for a 0–0 away draw against Wolverhampton Wanderers. In an interview with BBC Wales on 10 May 2008, Speed hinted that the 2008–09 season may be his last playing before moving into coaching or management but stated that he had not yet made up his mind.
In his final playing season, Speed was a regular at the heart of the Blades’ midfield. However, due to a back injury and failing to regain fitness after surgery, he was ruled out for the remainder of the season. In May 2010, Speed announced his retirement from professional football but agreed to stay with the Yorkshire club as part of the coaching staff for a further season.
With the 2010–11 season only three games old, Sheffield United manager Kevin Blackwell was sacked with Speed being confirmed as the club’s new manager on a three-year contract on 17 August 2010. After just four months in the job, Speed was linked with the vacant Wales job. Sheffield United granted Speed permission to speak with the Welsh FA regarding the position, and on 14th December 2010 it was confirmed that Speed would take over.
Speed’s first game as Wales manager ended in a 3-0 defeat to the hands of the Republic of Ireland. Speed’s first competitive match was the Euro 2012 qualifier at home to England on 26th March 2011 and Speed appointed twenty-year-old Aaron Ramsey captain, making him the youngest ever Wales captain. Speed guided Wales from 117th in the FIFA rankings, to 47th place. After having gained more ranking points than any other nation in 2011, Wales were awarded the title of ‘Best Movers’ of the year.
On 27th November 2011, the football world was shocked to hear that Gary Speed had tragically taken his own life at his home in Cheshire. Gary Speed will always live on in the hearts of many football fans, especially of those who had the honour of watching him represent their club on a weekly basis.
A legend of the game, and one that will never be forgotten. Rest in peace, Gary Speed.