Gary Speed is remembered as the ultimate Leeds United hero, idol and pro we all wanted to be
People talk about footballers as if they exist on a higher plane, when in reality they are just mere mortals like the rest of us. We look at them and idolize them and we wish we had their talent, or their fame, or their money. But we don’t stop to think about what life should be like for them.
Gary Speed never saw himself as anything but ordinary. For all the talent he undoubtedly had – strength, pace, vision, endurance, heart, agility – his greatest asset was his humility; his inherent belief that he was nothing special and that he should work hard to improve himself in everything. It was a character trait that not only helped him improve in football, it helped him in everyday life. It meant people relied on and respected him, but it meant they never thought to ask after him.
As a footballer you would describe Gary Speed as the ultimate professional or a manager’s dream. This would be due to his dedication, reliability, versatility and willingness to perform for the team and not for himself. Gary Speed was always there, he never missed a game, he never hid in a game, he was always in the thick of it, he was always on the scoresheet, he was always under the projectors. But he never wanted to be.
Despite all the movie star looks and lavish traps of the media-saturated lifestyle he fell into, that never changed Gary Speed. His humility tempered his natural charisma. He was still the same person who knew he had to train hard every day, had to listen to every manager and had to take care of his body. On the outside, it might seem that everything was coming easily; there was still a smile, still a playful glint in his eyes, still an effortless coldness for what he was doing. And yet below, clearly nothing came easily.
Gary Speed signed associate schoolboy forms for Leeds United at the age of 14. Revie’s old boys Eddie Gray and Billy Bremner both saw something in him, but it was Howard Wilkinson, the crucial break with the past, that made Speed such a part of a fabulous era of success. marauder. At 18, Speed made his debut in a late-season draw against Oldham, a year later he had already been instrumental in freeing Leeds United from their Second Division purgatory.
Adding youthful vigor to a failing team showing signs of fatigue, Speed’s natural effervescence provided three goals and a vital boost as Leeds rushed towards promotion. And there was no turning back for Gary Speed.
Leeds rolled along the tracks of the Premier League like a runaway train. With his accomplice David Batty, Speed embodied the carefree spirit that could only bring more success. Always smiling and still enjoying the game, Speed and Batty achieved their top status like ducks in the water. It was football on autopilot. You just had to introduce yourself, turn it on and watch it go. Football was effortless, hassle-free and natural which is how you always dreamed football should be. It was a privilege to be a witness and it was a youthful obsession with mortal beings who were not much older than me, but who inhabited a higher plane. Nothing normal could not read this joy, this rapture. Gary Speed, David Batty, this team, for this youngster, were not normal.
Speed was the Fab Four’s most attacking midfielder, starting out as a left winger and quickly becoming known for a runaway into the penalty area, always looking for the ball or a space, and normally finding both. He was named Howard Wilkinson’s MVP in the 1991/92 season, which was no small feat in a squad generously strewn with ten out of ten players that season, and his versatility made it so. caused him to look to the left-back and like a striker while Leeds upset the natural order of football to sweep the title under everyone’s noses.
Speed achieved double goals in midfield in four consecutive seasons from 1990/91 to 1993/94, in the meantime adapting his abilities to become Gary McAllister’s midfielder central partner, and adding more maturity and responsibility at his game. But fortunes had darkened at Elland Road and change was in the air.
It would be wrong to water down Gary Speed’s legacy and pretend it ended well for him at Leeds. The team and the club had lost their luster, as had Speed himself. It was time for him to move on and there was little fuss, resentment or tears when he did. The regret now is that Speed’s form was a consequence of the club’s loss, and it was just a blow in an otherwise stellar career. Leeds fans have been deprived of Speed’s peak years, but the memories are still good, and the footage portrays the happiest times watching an action hero perform to the best of his sharpened abilities.
His first goal against Bradford City was a typical, perfectly synchronized run in the box and a neat finish. His effort down the pitch in the 4-0 demolition of Sheffield United got him to approve his arrival on the scene. His long-distance effort at Southampton in the winning season was elegant but deadly. And his exquisite volley to start the game 4-1 against Stuttgart at Elland Road was epitomized in style and class. Add to these a catalog of headers defying the gravity of a Herculean force.
Nothing Gary Speed has done has been messy. It all came out of a textbook that you could pass to a budding kid and say ‘copy this and you’ll be fine’. And that’s what people do. Yes, Gary Speed was the ultimate professional. He was the hero we all admired, the footballer and the person we all wanted to be. He was still there.
And yet, his life will forever be etched in the memories of the ends. On the one hand, the fulfillment, reverence and adulation of the “Roy of the Rovers”. And at the other end the darkness, the loneliness and the macabre. In the middle is the biggest chasm. And we are all lost in the search for answers that we will never find. Because we believe these people exist on a higher level, when in reality they are like us, with the same vulnerabilities, insecurities, and questions.
It’s just what they do with their abilities that sets them apart. And Gary Speed did it all with his. It would be wrong to suggest that we shouldn’t worship footballers and put them on a pedestal because life is all about dreams and you can’t have a better person to admire than Gary Speed.
But we must not believe that everyone is invincible, even when it seems that they are, we must always ask questions and seek reassurance and talk to them. Because Gary Speed has always been there, and we thought he always would be. And now all we can do is wonder why it isn’t.