Speed exhibited no sign of problems when he appeared as a guest on the BBC’s Football Focus aday before his death. Speed was in a “gaggle of Garys” with fellow former Leeds United player Gary McAllister. Both men won the last ever First Division title with Leeds in 1992. It was the only time either would win the championship. Leeds slowly fell from grace and both Garys moved on to many other clubs. Speed started his professional football career at Leeds in 1988, aged 18. But as he said in Football Focus “If I wasn’t playing somewhere I’d had to move and go play somewhere else.” Speed would spend eight years at the club before bowing out with a League Cup final defeat in 1996. Speed supported Everton as a boy, so they were a natural club to follow Leeds. Everton boss Joe Royle paid £3.5 million and Speed repaid the debt by scoring 11 goals from midfield to be the club joint leading scorer. But lack of goals was Everton’s problem that year and they finished 15th. Royle resigned at the start of the following season bringing club hero Howard Kendall back. Though Kendall made Speed his caption, the pair did not get on and he played his last game for the club he loved in January 1998. Famously he told a journalist “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.”
Speed was a Welshman by quirk. His brothers and sisters were all born in England but his parents had Gary at Mancot, Flintshire, five miles from Chester. Speed played for Flintshire Schoolboys and cemented his Welshness with games for the youth and under 21 teams. He made his national debut in 1990 in a friendly against Costa Roca in front of just 5,000 fans at Ninian Park, Cardiff. Speed was a 76th minute substitute in a 1-0 win. He went on to take the outfield record of 85 caps scoring 7 goals. Wales never played in the finals of a major tournament in that time.
It was that poor record (just the one famous World Cup appearance in 1958) Speed set about addressing when he was made manager in December last year. After a rocky start with defeats to Ireland and England, he began to turn things round with four wins in the last five outings (narrowly losing again to England at Wembley). With Speed promoting promising young players, expectations were high when the 2014 world cup fixture list was announced last Wednesday. “This is such a well-balanced group that we knew everyone would be looking for an early advantage,” Speed said on the day. “As always, there had to be some give and take, but I am very glad that we did not have to use the June qualifying dates”.
Four days later Speed was inexplicably dead sending the football world into mourning. Even the ultra cynical Guardian “Fiver” was shocked. His death was up there with any ‘stop all the clocks’ news they had ever heard, Glendenning and Ronay said. “On Saturday, we watched the Wales manager joshing along with his old mucker Gary McAllister on the Football Focus sofa,” the Fiver said. “24 hours later we were among hundreds of thousands of football fans numbed with total disbelief by the astonishing revelation that he was dead”. Gary Speed was as the Fiver said, a great man gone at a preposterously young age, leaving behind a wife, Louise, and two sons, Tommy and Ed.