Tag Archives: Gary Speed

Gary Speed, the Leeds United Legend Who Ticked All the Boxes – by Rob Atkinson

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Gary Speed of Leeds United

Gary Speed, the Leeds United and Wales star who seemed to everyone who’d witnessed his talent on and off the pitch to have the football world at his feet, left us seven years ago today. Because of the manner of his leaving, and the universal esteem in which he was held, this is a difficult piece to write, even all these years later.

People have described hearing the shocking news of Gary’s death as a “JFK moment”; you’d always remember where you were and what you were doing when the awful reality fell on your unbelieving ears. As a Leeds United fan, I can remember feeling a cold splash of shock at the back of my neck, a sensation I’ve only had on a mercifully few occasions in my life. Even though Gary had left Elland Road for his boyhood love Everton 15 years before, it was a shattering blow, as it would have been for all of those who supported him in the colours of Everton, Newcastle, Bolton and Sheffield United, as well as the fervent ranks of Wales fans. It was so sudden, so unexpected and inexplicable, that a player and manager who seemed to have it all should have died at only 42 years old, and apparently by his own hand.

It’s no exaggeration to say that Gary Speed was loved and admired by just about everyone, fans of his clubs and country, and rival fans alike. Within the game he was revered by his colleagues, team mates, opponents and media operatives, for his likeability and professionalism; he was known as a man without the kind of faults and flaws you so frequently find in young men who have succeeded in their professions at a young age, and who have gone on to become rich and famous. Gary had all that, but he also had a disarming and genial personality that endeared him to those he met in the course of his career. Many were the tears shed, in private and in public too, over the days and weeks following his untimely demise. Nobody who saw it will forget the sight of Shay Given weeping openly after the minutes silence that preceded the Swansea v Aston Villa match only hours after Gary’s death had been announced. Respected reporter Bryn Law, a close friend of Speed, broke down emotionally during a TV interview in which he described his shock and sense of loss. To say that the whole game reeled with the impact of such tragic and unexpected news would not be to overstate the case. Gary’s memory was honoured when Leeds United played Millwall and his fellow midfielders from the 1991–92 title winning side Gary McAllister, David Batty and Gordon Strachan laid wreaths in the centre circle before kick off.

Bewilderment featured high on the list of reactions among those who knew him well, or who had even just known him as a famous footballer. The question of “Why?” has never been completely answered, the inquest stopping short of reaching a verdict of suicide, whilst acknowledging that Gary’s death had been caused by “self suspension”. Several years after Speed’s death, one of the coaches who had been involved with him as a boy footballer, Barry Bennell, was convicted as a serial child sex offender. Speed had been interviewed by police during earlier investigations into Bennell’s behaviour, and had said that he was never harmed by him; the inquest into Speed’s death found no links to Bennell. In February 2018, however, after Bennell’s conviction, an anonymous victim of the coach told Al Jazeera that he had witnessed Speed being abused. It seems unlikely that there will ever be a definitive explanation for the death of a man who had only the previous day conducted himself normally during a BBC Football Focus interview. All we are really left with, even seven years later, is shock, bafflement and a profound sense of loss.

Pg-11s-gary-speed-gettyMy memories of Gary Speed date from around the time of his Leeds United debut in 1989. He swiftly established himself as far more than just another promising midfielder, with his range of passing, awareness, powerful shot and prodigious ability in the air marked him out as a very special player. He served Leeds United well in a period of success second only to the Don Revie era, and he carried the respect and affection of the Leeds fans with him when he departed for Everton in 1996.

If I had to pick out one particular golden memory of Gary Speed, it would probably be the one so many other United fans mention when asked; the final goal of Leeds United’s 4-0 demolition of promotion rivals Sheffield United at Elland Road towards the climax of both clubs’ successful campaigns. It was a crunch game, with Leeds on the front foot from the start and, with the Whites having established a three goal cushion, Speed was released down the left by an astute Chris Kamara pass. I can still see him in my mind’s eye, outstripping the Blades defence and bearing down on Simon Tracey‘s goal at the Kop end of the ground. “Go on, Gary lad, get one yourself,” were the commentator’s memorable words as Speed unleashed a fine left foot shot just inside the far post to wrap up a comprehensive victory. It’s the stuff of which legends are made, and Gary Speed fits the definition of the word “legend” in every conceivable sense.

Seven years on, all of his fans remember him with affection tinged by the regret of a life well spent but over far too soon. Leeds play Reading tonight, and there will almost certainly be tributes paid to one of the club’s greatest servants – one of those rare players you felt could even have challenged for a place in Don Revie’s Super Leeds outfit.

RIP, Gary Andrew Speed, MBE (8 September 1969 – 27 November 2011) – still loved, still missed. 

Speed LUFC

Gary Speed’s complete Leeds United record

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A Merry Leeds Utd Christmas And a Double Birthday Bonus – by Rob Atkinson

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Merry Christmas from The Best English Club Team Ever

First things first; a very Merry Christmas and/or Holiday Greetings to all readers of Life, Leeds United, the Universe & Everything. I hope that you’re having a great day, whether you celebrate Christmas or not. Many of us will already be focusing on tomorrow’s live TV date at Nigel Clough’s Burton Albion, the victims of an outstanding home performance from United earlier this season, when we recorded a 5-0 win, Pierre-Michel Lasogga scoring a rather lovely brace.

On Christmas Day it’s always worth sparing a thought or two for those unfortunates who share their birthday with a world-wide splurge of significant consumerism and therefore rather disappear into the background when it comes to celebrating their own special personal anniversary. Still, they’ve never known any different – and they’ve only got their parents to blame for being bored, cold, or just plain randy the March before. We have two of these Christmas Birthday sideshows in Leeds United‘s recent history, two midfielders who, each in his own way, made telling contributions to our last two Championship titles, one of the second division and the other of the entire Football League itself.

Chris Kamara

Chris Kamara

First then, a Happy Birthday to Chris Kamara, who is better known these days for his Lionel Richie tribute act as he banters his way through various Sky TV football shows, not least Soccer Saturday where he crops up every two minutes to utter the immortal words “Unbelievable, Jeff!” Unbelievable it certainly is that Kammy is actually 60 today, and you have to say he’s taken damned good care of himself. He still looks fit enough to play, and the memories are vivid of the days in which he used to strike fear into opposition hearts wearing the white shirt of Leeds United. Kammy it was who, famously, bent an outside of the foot pass into the run of the late great Gary Speed for the youngster to get the fourth against Sheffield United as we stamped our authority on the promotion race of 1990. Kamara’s contribution that season was a highly positive influence in midfield, breaking up play, finding a fellow United man with accurate passes and cropping up with the odd goal. As with all of those heroes who ended the Eighties Exile, Kammy is a true Leeds Legend.

Gary McAllister

Gary McAllister

Today’s other birthday celebrant is Gary McAllister. Gary first came to my notice as I stood on the Kop watching Leeds play Leicester City in a vital promotion game in that 1989/90 season. We were 1-0 up through Mel Sterland‘s powerful cross shot, when McAllister decided to do his best to ruin things. First he blasted home a terrific equaliser that left Elland Road stunned – then he threatened to inflict further damage, hitting a shot of equal brilliance which – fortunately – thudded against the woodwork, leaving us weak with relief. Leeds won eventually through Gordon Strachan‘s legendary strike near the end (Have you ever seen a better goal?  Or one better timed??) – but Gary McAllister had single-handedly come close to shattering our hopes and destroying our season. As I gazed balefully at his departing back, I hoped it would be a while before we saw him again.

History tells us, of course, that Gary Mac went on to become one of the greatest Leeds United midfielders of all, in one of the game’s truly great midfield quartets, the legendary Fantastic Four of Strachan, Macca, Batty and Speed. It’s also worth remembering that he turned down a move to Clough’s Notts Forest in favour of joining Wilko’s Leeds revolution. The memories are many of Gary’s superbly-struck goals and fine performances in a Leeds shirt. He went on to serve Liverpool with equal distinction, as well as starring for Scotland, before returning to Elland Road for an initially-promising stint as manager. Sadly, labouring under the merciless regime of Bates, Gary’s spell in charge of Leeds was not to be a success – but his place in the United Hall of Fame is assured.

Gary is 53 today and is now involved in media work connected to football after several unsuccessful attempts to return to football management. Surely, he still has much to offer – although I’d have willingly seen him far from Elland Road on that day we played Leicester City with so much at stake, Gary has proved himself to be one of the game’s nice guys. Always a professional down to his toes, he had to overcome personal tragedy with the loss of his wife Denise to cancer in 2006. In an age when there are so many in the game who are impossible to admire, it’s sad that a man like McAllister is not more involved.

Happy Birthday and Merry Christmas to our two midfield legends – and Seasonal Greetings to everybody.  Cheers!

Four Years On, the Late, Great Gary Speed is Still So Much Missed – by Rob Atkinson

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The three left behind pay tribute to the one who went before

So, here we are then. It’s been four years today since the awful day that Speedo died. Forty-eight months down the line, and where has the time gone? It seems like five minutes since, driving to my parents house after running a few errands, the bleak words came out of the car radio and fell like a hail of rocks into my unwilling mind. Gary Speed – that smiling boy, that shock of dark hair, the towering presence in attack and all over the park in the white shirt of Leeds United, our home-grown and beloved Speedo – was dead, and apparently by his own hand. It’s no exaggeration to say that this was a “JFK moment”, one where you’d forever remember where you were and what you were doing when the shocking blow fell. What about you? What were you doing when you heard that Gary Speed was dead?

We remember him in many different ways. He was an exuberant quarter of that magnificent United midfield of a quarter-century ago. It was the best around, the engine room of the early nineties United team that swaggered back into the First Division after an eight year absence, had a little look around, decided that “there were nowt to fear” – and won the League in 1992, by four clear points. Decent at the back, productive up front, that team was powered by the four guys in the middle of the park; energetic leader Gordon Strachan, robust and implacable David Batty, elegant and creative Gary MacAllister – and, of course, the late, great Gary Speed.

What can we possibly say of Speedo that will give us the remotest chance of doing his memory justice? Bursting from his own half to score that fourth, decisive, hammer-blow goal against Sheffield Utd when we were battling each other for promotion and the second division title in 1990 – “Go on, Gary lad, get one yourself, son.  And he has!” Leaping salmon-like in that favoured inside-left channel (as we old’uns used to call it) – meeting accurate long diagonal passes to head dangerously goalwards for the likes of Chappy, Shutt, Varadi, Wallace – even Cantona… Blasting home from thirty yards against Southampton at the Dell, volleying in at the South Stand against Stuttgart and Man U, powering home a header at Crystal Palace, arm raised in salute, broadly grinning as he celebrated another goal for Leeds United – and always, always doing his bit for that fabulous midfield foursome.

Ridiculously good-looking was the boy Gary, a real pin-up type with the artfully-tousled hair, the chiselled bone structure and the hundred megawatt smile – and yet the kind of down-to-earth lad you didn’t mind your girlfriend fancying, or perhaps your daughter bringing home. In fact, it gave you that warm glow of affirmation – she fancies our Speedo. None of that Giggsy rubbish. You didn’t just not mind – you were flattered, by proxy. Greater love hath no fan.

If you had told me in 1992, when we saw that great midfield play and win, going on to collect that historic last-ever Football League Championship trophy, that a mere 19 years later we’d see three of them gather again to lay a wreath for the fourth – I’d never have believed something so awful could happen. It would have seemed like a sick, horrible, unfunny joke. Back then, it was still five years before we would lose Billy Bremner, twelve before we would say goodbye to another iconic Welsh hero, Gentle Giant and fifties legend John Charles.

Three years earlier we had shed tears in isolation as Don Revie succumbed to motor neurone disease, and most of football stood by indifferently save for his glory, glory boys and a select few others. It seemed, back in 1992, that losing the Don would be enough of sorrow and grieving for a long time. The Super Leeds side were all still alive and kicking, and we had this new team of Champions to salute. They were happy days; we were all that much younger and more innocent then. It’s a good job that you can’t see what’s coming at you, just around the corner.

Gary Speed holds a place still in the hearts of football fans everywhere, but especially perhaps in his adopted West Yorkshire home. That much is evidenced by the depth and sincerity of the tributes that have been paid to him by Leeds United, the club and even more so the fans, since that tragic day four years ago. In the very next game after Gary’s death, the travelling army of Leeds fans at Nottingham Forest chanted his name from the 11th minute, for 11 minutes, for our former number 11. It was a chant broken only briefly by ear-shattering celebrations as the modern Leeds team scored the opening goal. They went on to win 4-0 with a dominant performance. It was that kind of evening; they dared do no less.

But Gary had other fans, in other clubs – he was a boyhood Evertonian and had a spell at Goodison Park from 1996. That didn’t work out too happily in the end, but he served his childhood favourites well. The reasons underlying Speed’s departure from the Toffees were never revealed. He told the Liverpool Echo: “You know why I’m leaving, but I can’t explain myself publicly because it would damage the good name of Everton Football Club and I’m not prepared to do that.” On he moved to Newcastle and found a new legion of adoring fans, appearing in two successive FA Cup Finals for the Toon. He served Bolton Wanderers with distinction as player and coach and finished up as a player and then coach at Sheffield United – almost full circle from that match-clinching goal he’d scored against the Blades in 1990.

Then of course he went on to manage Wales and, proud Welshman and distinguished international footballer that he was, he was making a fantastic success of that job, putting pride and passion back into the Red Dragon. His last game in charge was a 4-1 friendly success over a classy Norway team on 12th November 2011 – and that sadly was Gary’s final curtain. But a few weeks after his death, on 21 December 2011, the day of the final FIFA rankings of the year, Wales were awarded the title of ‘Best Movers’, having gained more ranking points than any other nation in 2011. A fitting tribute to the impact a talented young coach was having in his tragically brief spell in charge of his country’s national squad. Since then, of course, Wales have qualified for Euro ’16, their first major tournament in well over half a century. They did it by building on the solid foundations laid by Gary Speed.

Four years ago today since the tragic death of Gary Speed. Four years without one of the first of my Leeds United heroes to be younger than I was when he starred in the Whites first team. He was a novelty – I’d always looked up to men older than me in the white shirt, and worshipped them as a boy does a man. But Gary was “nobbut a lad” to me, someone I looked up to whilst realising I was beginning to get old myself. He’s a lad to me still, four years after we lost him.

We’ll never know what was in Gary Speed’s mind on that awful day in 2011. It remains shrouded in mystery, and all we can tell ourselves now is, it was so needless, so unnecessary. Someone who had helped as many people as Speedo did in the course of a long and distinguished career, must surely have known that, at need, there would have been help for him. People would have been queuing up to help him, surely. If the days of unbelieving sorrow immediately after his death showed anything – they showed that here was a man loved by his peers and by his fans in a way that very few have been, before or since. I wonder if he really knew that? We can only hope he did.

Gary Speed MBE (8 September 1969 – 27 November 2011) You remain very much still in our hearts, minds and memories, Speedo. RIP

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“Suicidal” Former Leeds Star Clarke Carlisle May Offer Hope and Help to Others – by Rob Atkinson

Former Leeds star Clarke Carlisle - back from the brink

Former Leeds star Carlisle – back from the brink

Carlisle of TV's  Countdown

Carlisle of TV’s Countdown

The revelation – or confirmation, rather – that former footballer, PFA Chairman, media pundit and TV Countdown star Clarke Carlisle was actually attempting suicide when he was hit by a lorry on the A64 just before Christmas, comes as a salutary reminder of some uncomfortable factors in any life. It’s confirmation, were any needed, of how potentially close we all are to disaster, of the flimsy veil that separates even apparently blessed people, with seemingly blessed lives, from profound despair, abandonment of hope, loss of any self-esteem and ultimate oblivion.

Carlisle LUFC

Carlisle of Leeds

Carlisle, a one-season wearer of Leeds United’s famous white shirt, is the latest in too long a line of footballing personalities who have sought escape from an existence they could no longer bear. You can conjure the names out of years and lives gone by: Gary Speed, also formerly of Leeds; Justin Fashanu, of Norwich and Nottingham Forest; Hughie Gallacher of Newcastle United and Chelsea; Dave Clement of QPR and Bolton. The difference with Clarke Carlisle is that he survived the attempt to take his own life, and has now chosen to go public with the story of the illness that so nearly finished him off.

An assured and articulate speaker, Carlisle may now have a role to play in explaining the mindset of the star – or the person in the street – moved to such drastic action. He might even, perhaps, be instrumental in helping prevent those, both inside the game and out, who are even now contemplating a drastically final end to their woes. Others, of course, have been to the brink of eternity – and have pulled back. But Carlisle is a prominent figure, an erudite man with a mastery of language that can get his message across. He is someone who epitomises how even a life stuffed with achievement and advantage can suddenly go pear-shaped. Surely he, better than most, could tell how the dream can turn into a nightmare, and thus illuminate the whole question of what prompts this descent into despair. There is an opportunity here, maybe, to learn and even to identify potential victims and actually help.

One of the main threads in the national anguish following the tragic death of Gary Speed was this baffled and hopeless question of “Why? Why??” In other cases, it was slightly easier to deduce a cause – but there is no real insight into the workings of a mind suddenly closed to every solution except one, not when it’s been annihilated forever by that awful, final step. Justin Fashanu was a probable victim of homophobic prejudice in society in general (and football in particular). Dave Clement suffered from depression, as did Hughie Gallacher, who never adjusted to the curtain falling on his career and then the untimely death of his wife. Clement took his life with weedkiller, Gallacher stepped in front of a train. There is no one common factor to link all of these sad ends; just details emerging later of the pressures and stresses the people concerned could no longer handle. But the victims of suicide themselves, of course, are sadly beyond being able to help us help others in danger of a like fate.

What is beyond doubt, after all this time, is that there will be many people out there for whom some form of self-immolation is a likely outcome – unless they can somehow be identified and helped. Various danger signs can be tentatively identified: the dicey period when a short career in the public eye comes to an end; the presence of some transgression of the law for a well-known person such as a footballer, with the possibility then of public disgrace. But these do not form an exhaustive list, and the candidates for suicide are not limited to those lately in the public gaze. The suicide rate in wider society has spiked over the past few years, especially among the poor and sick; those marginalised by what is a bleaker and more chilly, unsympathetic landscape both politically and economically.

It is Carlisle’s very celebrity, however, combined with his gift for communication, that might well now make him the ideal candidate to spearhead a crusade against the blight of self-inflicted death. If he can possibly recover from the profoundly low point which saw him hurl himself into the path of a lorry that December night, surely Clarke would have a lot to contribute in this cause – and therefore a new purpose and path for himself. As a prominent person who has sought to terminate his own existence, and yet has survived, he’s almost uniquely placed, certainly in the world of football, to cast some light on these long, dark shadows; to reach out to those who may feel there is no help for them, and who see their options dwindling down to that one, awfully final choice.

Carlisle of the PFA

Carlisle of the PFA

Such an initiative, starting within the game of professional football and probably under the auspices of the Professional Footballers’ Association, could be built on the survival of Carlisle – awareness having previously been raised, in the fairly recent past, by the tragic example of Gary Speed. Carlisle, as a former leading light in the PFA, could just be an almost divine gift where such a cause is concerned. Great oaks from little acorns grow, and any effect a PFA-led campaign might have on those within the game at risk of such an awful circumstance, could then have a multiplied impact in society at large. In the nature of these things, the message is far more effective if it originates from a high-profile and highly popular environment, football being an obvious example. In times when football’s – and football stars’ – stock is low due to the perceived greed and aloofness in the game, this could be a chance to redeem the whole thing; to give something very real and solid to the rest of us. It’s not fanciful to suggest that, properly harnessed and channelled, a crisis like that suffered by Clarke Carlisle could ultimately save many hundreds, thousands, of lives.

Clarke Carlisle has walked through his own private hell, as Speed, Fashanu, Clement, Gallacher and others must have done before him. For Carlisle, it seems to have been the winding-down of his professional life, with the loss of his playing career and then his media employment, against a background of a drink problem that had afflicted him before and has lately resulted in a charge of drink-driving. But he survived his planned exit from life, and will now presumably face up to his issues. He has already spoken frankly about the fact that he attempted to take his life; that’s a step on the way to speaking a lot more, working towards dealing with his own demons and helping others be identified before it’s too late, so that they, too, can deal with theirs. Carlisle has the opportunity now to do something very positive that would arise directly out of his lowest ebb – and to this end, surely the game of football, the PFA and the wider authorities in this country should do everything they can to encourage and help him to help those who might otherwise end up as more statistics in the tragic roll-call of suicide.

As a Leeds fan, I sympathise with an ex-player’s hard times; I’m grateful for his narrow escape and I’m hopeful for his full recovery. But, just as a human being, I hope that some good can come out of this, so that perhaps it’s less likely in the future that there will be another Gary Speed lost to us, or another Hughie Gallacher, major stars and international footballers who yet found themselves unable to carry on. A journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step; let someone step in now and help Clarke Carlisle be instrumental in starting that journey towards a time when people gripped by despair can look up with some hope that there is much more available to them than just that final, self-inflicted end.

It may well be too early yet for Clarke Carlisle to be thinking along these lines; he will almost certainly have more immediate priorities, pressing problems to deal with. But the willingness to speak out publicly augurs well – and it must be true that the one thing Clarke will need right now and for the future is some hope for that future; something to cling on to, something to get up in the morning for. Some good to do. He’s well-placed and uniquely equipped to do it. Good luck to him.

New Leeds Deal for Alex Mowatt a Sign of the Times for Resurgent United – by Rob Atkinson

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Young prospect Alex Mowatt: new long-term deal at Leeds United

The news that young Alex Mowatt has signed a contract extension with Leeds United, only eight months or so after turning professional, is another massively positive sign that this is a club that is going places.  Mowatt, 18, has seized his chance this season and has turned in a series of fine displays, nailing down for himself a regular first team spot well ahead of schedule. His is a classic example of the old saw “If you’re good enough, you’re old enough”, and Leeds have acted fast to tie the youngster to a deal that now extends until 2017.

Mowatt himself is enthusiastic about his situation at Leeds: “I’m really pleased to have signed,” he said. “I’ve been at the club since I was six and this is where I want to play my football.  This season has gone really, really well so far and I just want to keep working hard, keep improving, and play my part in helping Leeds United get where we want to be.”  As it seems certain that there would be no shortage of interested parties, Premier League clubs among them, if Mowatt were to fancy a change of scene, it’s vastly encouraging for United and the club’s fans that such a hot prospect has no qualms about committing himself for the long term.

As with Sam Byram and to a lesser extent Chris Dawson before him, Alex Mowatt has emerged from the shadows of junior and development squad football at Elland Road and has immediately looked like the real deal.  In looks and playing style, he has reminded many good judges of a young Gary Speed.  Ex-United skipper Brendan Ormsby has said of him: “He reminds me of Gary Speed with the way he moves and uses his left foot.  I like the look of him. Although it’s a silly thing to say, he looks like he can play!  At 18 years old, Alex looks like he has a good future ahead of him. He will be a very good player if he carries on this way.”

Looks-wise, Mowatt reminds me more of Lyndon Simmonds, a young lad who shone brightly for a short while nearly thirty years ago, but who then faded away, moving on to Swansea and then Rochdale.  Ormsby’s judgement commands respect though, and you can see what he means in terms of the similarities of paying style, based in both cases on a fabulous left foot.  But Speed’s are big shoes to fill, and the lad will doubtless prefer to be recognised as the first Alex Mowatt, rather than the next Gary Speed. As comparisons go, though, it’s not a bad or an unflattering one, is it?

Leeds United is a bit of a good news factory at the moment.  These things are strictly relative, of course, and after some of the bad times we’ve had over the past decade or so, the mere absence of calamity and disaster (and Ken) are ample justification for dancing in the streets.  But it does rather feel as though better times are on their way back to Elland Road.  The laughter and chat, audible behind Jason Pearce‘s post-match Radio Leeds interview after the Wigan victory, spoke of a good atmosphere around the squad and a bond between the players.  These are essential ingredients for a successful squad, and it seems that manager Brian McDermott is wisely nurturing a feeling of unity and positivity in a tight-knit group of players.  He’s been there and done it all before has Brian, and it would take a rich and foolish man to bet against him doing it again.  With bright young stars like Byram, Dawson and Mowatt once again rolling off the Elland Road production-line, his task will be easier than if he were just to rely on the transfer market. But if that, too, can be exploited to United’s benefit in the January window, then the club might just really be going places – and sooner rather than later.

Two Years Ago Today, Elland Road Bids Speedo an Emotional Farewell – by Rob Atkinson

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McAllister, Strachan and Batty pay tribute to Gary Speed

Leeds United 2 (Snodgrass 2), Millwall 0  Elland Road 3rd Dec, 2011   Att. 27,161

A fairly routine win against Millwall wouldn’t normally be the stuff of reminiscence, but this was no ordinary match.  On this Saturday, we were at Elland Road to say “Goodbye” to Gary Speed, who many of us remembered as a bright new talent, nobbut a lad mind you, but promising plenty as he made his mark on United’s promotion charge in 1990.  The memories he left us with from that point on are many, and they’ve been relived over and over in the two years since his untimely death.

Enough, surely, has also been said about the circumstances surrounding the manner of Speedo’s departure – so here I’ll just remember how it was when the crowds gathered early by Billy’s statue, which was festooned with flowers, shirts, flags, toys, all manner of tributes to a great man taken far too soon.  It was a spectacle alright, a reverential throng stood there around the statue, deep in thought, each still struggling to come to terms with the enormity of what had happened.  The atmosphere was eerie and yet respectful, sad and yet full of memories and the hushed talk of happier times.

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Tributes to a late hero

The match that followed happened to be against Millwall, normally a lively encounter on and off the pitch when the Londoners bring anything like decent numbers.  That doesn’t happen often these days, security concerns having led to a reduction in the away support due to the annoyances surrounding Police restrictions on how the stadium may be approached.  But whatever the history between United and Millwall, it should be said that those fans who had travelled north conducted themselves impeccably, both during the pre-match on-field ceremony when the remaining three of that fabulous early nineties midfield quartet laid a wreath in memory of Speedo, and afterwards during a game which seemed like a meaningless appendage to the sad, real business of the day.

For the record, Leeds won the game 2-0 with second-half goals from Rob Snodgrass – one special shot and one very good header. Good as the goals were, welcome though the three points undoubtedly felt on the day, I had forgotten the details of the game itself. The images that remain in my mind are those in the images that accompany this article, scenes I’ll never forget. Some things transcend mere sport and mere tribal rivalry.

After all, the sudden shock of Speed’s death had left its mark on fans everywhere, not just at the clubs he had served with such distinction. Everywhere.  You only had to look at the bewildering array of tributes around Billy’s statue to know that,  Leeds, Newcastle, Everton and Bolton, naturally they were represented.  Sheffield United and the proud national colours of Wales, too.  But also Man United, Liverpool, Chelsea, Sheffield Wednesday, Barnsley, Huddersfield – the list of old foes grew as you walked around the flower-strewn base of our late, great skipper’s statue.

When you think about it; what a great addition that legendary figure of Billy Bremner has been to Elland Road, what a proud focus for everything that Leeds means to its fans – and significantly, what a natural place to gather when we have good news to celebrate or bad news to mourn.  Billy is always there when he’s needed, frozen in time, arms raised in triumph as when he walked off the field at the Nou Camp in Barcelona, knowing that he was in the greatest club game of all, at long last.  It’s an inspiring, iconic work of commemorative art, and it provides such an appropriate backdrop when, as two years ago today, we had a more recent hero to pay our respects to, and for whom we had gathered to say our last farewells. It’s a place that conjures up a feeling of immense togetherness and solidarity, of what it means to be Leeds, in glory and in tragedy.  It’s a sacred place, like that.

I’ll forget all about that game again, now that this piece is done.  It was just another result, albeit one we’d normally savour, with fierce rivals beaten convincingly.  But the atmosphere that day, the tangible tributes left by so many fans of so many other clubs, the dignity of the pre-match proceedings, the laudable and much-appreciated respect shown by the away fans – all of that will stay in the memory long after Snoddy’s two cracking goals have faded away.  It was a sad but a special day, and surely Speedo could not have wished for a better farewell at what was his spiritual football home, the place that made him one of the Last Champions.  It was tragic, awful, a needless waste the way Gary died.  But when it came to saying goodbye to him, on this day two years back, Leeds United – and Millwall, and all the other clubs and fans – did it right.

RIP Gary Speed – never forgotten.

Leeds United Plan Gary Speed Tribute Before Boro Game – by Rob Atkinson

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Gary Speed tribute banner

It seems almost incredible – but on the 27th of November it will have been two full years since the tragic news broke of the death, apparently by suicide, of Gary Speed.  Rarely can news of a sudden death have taken the football world so utterly by surprise.  Speed was the current manager of the Welsh national team and, by common consent, was doing a fantastic job in reviving their fortunes.  He was a hero to the fans of all the clubs he had served – Leeds United, Everton, Newcastle Utd, Bolton Wanderers and Sheffield United. He was only 42.

The eventual outcome of the inquest into Gary Speed’s death was a “narrative verdict” of death by self suspension.  A narrative verdict exists to give the coroner the option of arriving at a cause of death without attributing that cause to a named individual.  The verdict therefore stopped short of a conclusion of suicide, where obviously there would be an attribution of cause to the deceased.  To this extent, Speed’s death remains an imponderable mystery.  He had appeared on the BBC’s Football Focus programme on Saturday 26th November, less than 24 hours before he was found dead by his wife Louise.  It had been noted by Focus presenter Dan Walker that Speed had been “in fine form”.  The shock and dismay among those who had known him, and more widely among his legion of fans, is not easy to describe.  The feeling was perhaps best summed up by his close mate Bryn Law, a football reporter who appeared on Sky Sports News to talk about what had happened but, distressingly, was clearly overcome by the emotion he felt.

Two years on, the known facts behind Gary Speed’s death are still insufficient to lead to any understandable reason for why and how it happened.  Fans at his various clubs have continued to pay tribute to his memory at various intervals, or when two of his former teams have met – as with the Capital One Cup match between Newcastle and Leeds United earlier this season.  Tributes have usually taken the form of chanting Speed’s name from the 11th minute of a game, for a period of 11 minutes.  This first happened during Leeds United’s first game after Speed’s death, a 4-0 success at Nottingham Forest when Leeds actually scored during the eleven minute tribute.  The chant was resumed after the goal celebration subsided.

It is planned and requested by Leeds United Football Club that there should be a similar 11 minute chant from the 11th minute during Saturday’s visit of Middlesbrough.  The banner pictured above will also be paraded around the ground.  Gary Speed was a fine servant to the club, as he was to his other clubs and to his country.  An Everton fan as a boy, Speed achieved his greatest success at Leeds United, winning a Second Division Championship medal and then two years later the Football League Championship itself in the competition’s final year.  He went on to appear in two consecutive FA Cup Finals for Newcastle Utd.

Gary Speed MBE (8 September 1969 – 27 November 2011): proud Welshman and a Leeds United Title-winning hero.  Taken two years ago next Wednesday – taken far too soon at only 42.  RIP Speedo.

Memory Match No. 11: Nottm Forest 0, Leeds Utd 4 29.11.2011

Jonny Howson celebrates at the City Ground

Jonny Howson celebrates at the City Ground

Whatever some people may think of Leeds United fans – and who cares, after all, because we all know what fine, upstanding chaps we are – they certainly know the ideal form when it comes to paying full and emotional tribute to a hero lost long before his time.

In the universe of all things Leeds, the news of Gary Speed’s tragic and untimely death came as a JFK moment: you just know that, years later, you’ll recall exactly where you were when you heard the awful, mind-numbing announcement that such a recent Legend in White was dead, and apparently by his own hand.

The images are certainly clear and sharp over a year down the line: the sea of floral tributes around the foot of Billy Bremner’s statue; the crowds that gathered in silent, respectful tribute; the sight of that fine professional Bryn Law, struggling to contain his tears as he reported from Elland Road on the death of his friend, the female anchor in the studio clearly moved to tears herself as she witnessed his distress.  It was a tragic time of shock and grief.

In retrospect, it is clear that the next opponents for Leeds United in their undistinguished Championship campaign were on an absolute hiding to nothing.  Team and fans alike, emerging from that initial shock into a reluctant acceptance, were determined to pay the finest possible tribute to a fallen hero.  Speedo was, after all, a true legend from the most recent era of real legends, a veteran of the Leeds United renaissance of the late eighties and early nineties.  We had previously mourned our dead of that earlier generation of greats; The Don was gone and so was King Billy, neither having lived to grow old.  But the death of Speed was that much more of a shock; that much more distressing for his relative youth, for his contemporary appeal to a younger breed of Leeds support who had not witnessed Revie’s greats, and for the awful circumstances which had compelled a young man with seemingly everything going for him to take his own life.

The thousands of Leeds fans who descended upon the City Ground that November night may well have been pondering the state of mind that leads to such an awfully final act.  They were certainly determined to pay characteristically raucous tribute: this would be no solemn wake, but a vibrant celebration of all that Gary Speed meant to the Barmy Army of Leeds United’s travelling support. The match itself was necessarily a footnote to the real agenda of the evening.  Forest were pitiful in their ineptitude – a team that would later travel to Elland Road and score seven had nothing to offer in the face of United’s determination to mark the first match after Gary Speed’s death with a thumping victory.  The home team seemed out of the running from the start; it was as if they knew, in the face of the emotional momentum behind the Leeds team and fans, that they had no chance at all – and they meekly accepted their fate.

Before kick-off, there had been the now traditional minute’s applause – such a preferable option to the old-style minute’s silence with its potential to be disrupted by a few shandy-slewed idiots.  In the 11th minute, a tribute to Speed’s occupation of the number 11 white shirt, the 4000-strong Leeds United army behind one goal erupted into a chant of his name, a chant that was intended to be maintained for that poignant number of 11 minutes.  The tribute was interrupted for the best of reasons as Robert Snodgrass fired United into a 20th minute lead, a left foot shot into the bottom corner very much in the style of the man himself.  On the stroke of half time, Jonny Howson doubled the lead with an even better strike, the ball sitting up for him to belt a dipping right-footed effort past a helpless Lee Camp.  2-0 at the interval, and the home side had done little to suggest that it had any intention of detracting from the tributes of Leeds fans and players alike.

In the second half the pattern continued unchanged.  Forest remained awful, the home section of support seemed to expect nothing better and Leeds strolled to two further goals towards a comprehensive victory.  First just four minutes into the second half Luciano Becchio met a left wing cross at the near post to glance a fine header across Camp into the far corner.  Then in the 66th minute, the messiest of fourth goals.  The Forest defence conspired in its own destruction, parting like the Red Sea to lay on a clear chance for Howson to score his second, only for the over-worked and under-protected Camp to first save the effort, and then scramble after the loose ball.  His heroics were to no avail however as Adam Clayton picked up on the rebound to find a yard of space and fire into the empty net.

One thing that stands out in the writing of this article is the fact that, in the relatively short time since Forest were humbled, all four of the United scorers that night have left the club.  It’s a rather depressing thought, but they were certainly all Leeds all the way that night, and delighted to be able to help the Whites fans celebrate the life of one of their heroes with their own loud and proud tributes, and with a thumping victory to boot.  Forest’s only real contribution to the evening came late on when the frustrated and already-booked Andy Reid earned himself a second yellow with an agricultural challenge on Aidy White.  “Can we play you every week?” roared the United fans, a sentiment that would not survive the return game at Elland Road – and they would be glad too that it’s not every week they have cause to mark the passing of a United great at such a tragically young age, and in such awful circumstances.

 Gary Andrew Speed MBE (8 September 1969 – 27 November 2011) Leeds United 1988 – 1996, 2nd Division Championship Winner, First Division Championship Winner, Charity Shield Winner. 

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RIP

 Next:  Memory Match No. 12:  Real Madrid 3, Leeds United 2.  The late, great Don Revie always longed for his legendary Leeds United side to be pitched against the biggest legends of them all, and to draw CF Real Madrid in European competition.  Sadly, it never happened in The Don’s lifetime, but when a slightly less vintage era of Leeds finally appeared in the amazing Estadio Santiago Bernebeu, they were not disgraced – indeed, I rather think that Sir Don would have been proud.