A Tribute To Gary Speed - "The Footballing Prince of Wales"

Mick Bates by Mick Bates / 28 November 2011, 12:56

No words will ever be able to adequately describe how the football community feels following the tragic death of Gary Speed on Sunday 27th November 2011, the sadness felt by the passing of any person is difficult to put in to words not least when the person in question is just 42 years of age and has been in the public eye for the past 20 years and meant so much to so many different people. Everybody will have different memories of what Gary brought to the beautiful game, from the teammates, managers and staff at the five different clubs he played for and managed during his career, to the supporters of those teams who cheered him on week in week out to the wider football community who will have enjoyed the contribution Gary Speed made to the game in England and Wales, which saw him develop in to somebody hugely respected with what was seemingly a bright future ahead of him, which makes the whole situation and circumstances that more tragic.

Sometimes in life, things happen that put everything in perspective and illustrate that there are far more important things than football. No matter how much success and popular a person is and how privileged a life someone leads, nobody is immune to circumstances that can lead to such tragic consequences. As a website dedicated to the lighter side of football management, the Sack Race would like to remember Gary Speed for his massive contribution to football. A contribution which saw him receive the MBE for his services to his sport.

Born in Mancot in Flintshire, North Wales in 1969,Garymade the first of his 677 career appearances for Leeds United in 1988. He was to be later included in a midfield quartet at Leeds of Speed, David Batty, Gary McAllister and Gordon Strachan at Elland Road that would play a major role in the Yorkshire club winning the League championship in 1992.

It was also at Leeds that Speed earned his reputation as a true professional that continued throughout his long playing career. He was the all purpose midfielder, two footed, great vision, unlimited stamina, a great header of the ball who could score plenty of goals too, 103 to be exact in his 22 year playing career.

He left Leeds United to sign for Everton in 1996 for a fee of £3.5 million where he became team captain and scored 15 times in just 58 appearances. He left Goodison Park to join Newcastle United in 1998, where he would spend the next six years and endear himself to the St James's Park faithful.

It was Kenny Dalglish who signed him for the Magpies for a fee of £5.5 million and went on to play some of the best football of his career at Newcastle for whom he made 213 appearances, scoring 29 goals.

Gary moved to Bolton in 2004 but where he proved he still had the ability to play at the top level of the English game. He remained at the Reebok Stadium for four seasons, making 121 appearances, during which time he became the first player to have scored in every Premiership season since it began in 1993. It was a record that was later to be matched only by his international Welsh team mate, Ryan Giggs, he also broke the then record for the most number of Premier League appearances of 535 games.

After leaving Bolton in 2008 to join Sheffield United, Gary's playing days were coming to an end, making just 37 appearances for the Blades before he announced his retirement from playing in 2010 at the age of 41. He remained at Bramall Lane in a first team coach capacity and after gaining a reputation on the training ground, he was appointed the club's manager following the departure of Kevin Blackwell at the South Yorkshire club. However, his time in the Sheffield United hot seat was short lived after the call of his country came after Welsh manager, John Toshack stepped down and in an opportunity that was just too good to turn down, Gary became the Wales manager in December 2010.

Gary had a long and distinguished international playing record, winning 85 caps and scoring six times. He is second in the all time Welsh appearance list behind Neville Southall.

In just a short period of time as Wales manager, the national team had begun to show real signs of progress under Speed and moved up to 45th in the FIFA World rankings from a position of 117th in under 12 months! Having won four of the last five games, confidence had never been higher in Welsh international football and having introduced so many young and talented players such as Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey to the frame, hopes were high that Gary Speed could be the man to guide Wales to their first major tournament since 1958 with the 2014 World Cup qualifiers set to begin next year.

Sadly, Wales will now have to qualify without the guidance of someone who was clearly making a big impact and even though Speed will not be in the dugout, every Welsh player will have every reason to want to continue his good work and qualifying for the next World Cup would be the most fitting way to show the legacy that Speed had start as Wales boss.

RIP Gary Speed – "The Footballing Prince of Wales"

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