Remembering Gary Speed: 10 years on

Ten years on from the Gary Speed tragedy: The Wales and Premier League legend is remembered by those who knew football’s Mr Nice Guy best

  • Ten years ago football was rocked by the death of British icon Gary Speed 
  • In a long and storied career Speed stars for several teams and managed Wales
  • Sportsmail talks to those who knew him best to reminisce football’s Mr Nice Guy
  • Gordon Strachan, Joe Royle, Sam Allardyce open offer their memories of Speed

Ten years has passed since the football world was rocked to its core, after hearing of the tragic death of Premier League icon Gary Speed.

In a long and storied career in professional football, Speed turned out for some of England’s biggest clubs including Leeds, Everton, Newcastle and Bolton before going on to take the ultimate honour of managing his country, Wales. 

On the anniversary of his passing, Sportsmail has gathered some of the biggest names in football who knew Speed best, to share their memories of football’s Mr Nice Guy.

It has been ten years since the passing of football icon and Wales legend Gary Speed

GORDON STRACHAN – Leeds team-mate

Midfield partners in 1992 First Division title side

When I first knew him at Leeds he was 17 and ordinary. Tidy, a good leap but nothing to make him a star. Then he started training harder and learning. 

I sat beside him in the dressing room for five or six years and he became like a wee son to me. My wife Lesley loved him, too. 

Strachan (left) and Speed (centre) seen together celebrating a goal during their Leeds days

He simply made himself a top player. He was like a missile travelling upwards that you just couldn’t stop.

There are geniuses and there are those who work to take themselves from ordinary to very, very good. There aren’t many who can do that but Gary did. I loved him. 

What an example he became. 

HOWARD WILKINSON – Leeds manager

Gave Speed his first-team debut aged 19

On the morning of my first game as Leeds manager I went in early to watch the kids play and the Under 18s coach Peter Gunby said to me: ‘This boy here on the left, Gary Speed, will make a player.’

You could see he was the real thing and a great example to others. He would turn up early, practise hard and go home late. 

He didn’t have a forceful personality at that age. I don’t think he ever lost all his shyness completely and his success wasn’t overnight. He was a slow starter.

Howard Wilkinson was the man who handed Speed his football debut at the age of just 19

But you could see he had the qualities to grow into a leader, a captain and a manager if that was what he wanted to be. As a player, he was so versatile. Apart from goalkeeper, he must have played for me in every position on the pitch.

Above all, he understood the notion of always doing his best for the team. That was an important factor when it comes to understanding who he was as a footballer. 

He recognised his responsibility to the team and to the group. He was a good lad. I don’t know anybody who didn’t like him.

JOE ROYLE – Everton manager

Signed Speed for £3.5m from Leeds in the summer of 1996

I remember when we were in talks to sign him. His agent told me: ‘Joe, I’ve been told (by Gary) that this has to happen, so there won’t be too much haggling.’

That summed him up.

He left us just as he was about to get to the peak of his managerial career, which was a terrible shame. I thought his next job was going to be in the Premier League. I was driving to Oldham when I heard the news on the radio and nearly went off the road. Gary was a great athlete — you could have played him centre half or left back — anywhere on the left.

He was an occasional joiner-inner in the dressing room, if anything on the shy side, and just a lovely boy.

Speed pictured with David Batty after winning the old Football League Division One trophy

GRAHAM STUART – Everton team-mate

Loved him on and off Goodison pitch

The first thing that comes to mind about Speedo is that he was such a good egg — a proper good guy. You always wanted to be in his company off the pitch because he gave you everything on it. He looked after himself, always did everything right.

Then there was his laugh. I can’t explain the sound he made when he began to giggle but it was one of those noises that made you laugh, too. It was the worst laugh you have ever heard but it was just absolutely brilliant!

Speed and Stuart, seen playing for Newcastle and Southampton, became friends at Everton

Actually, thinking about it, I shouldn’t have liked him at all. He was good looking, brilliant at football and had such a lovely family. I’d look at myself in the mirror after looking at him and think: ‘Where have I gone wrong?!’

The last time I was with him, we were in Barbados and had played in a tournament out there. We were sat together one morning, having breakfast in the sunshine and he was laughing away, just as he always was.

A few months later, we got the news. I’ll never forget it.

JOHN CARVER – Newcastle assistant manager

Formed a bond with Speed when he went to Tyneside in 1998

I worked with him at Newcastle and was honoured when he asked me to be his assistant at Sheffield United, his first managerial job. Gary was a workaholic and if I couldn’t find him, I knew he’d be in the video room.

Often I would walk in and he’d be playing his guitar. He loved the Stereophonics. We used to laugh, though, because the analyst was better than him!

We became great friends and so did our families. I will never forget one of his boys speaking at Gary’s funeral with such maturity, it was incredible. Even now, I am emotional talking about it.

John Carver first bonded with Speed on Tyneside in 1988 and later coached alongside him

SAM ALLARDYCE – Bolton manager

Signed for £750,000 from Newcastle in the summer of 2004

I signed Gary when he was almost 35 but his stats were like those of a 28-year-old. And he was a rarity in that he just never, ever got injured. 

David Moyes wanted him back at Everton, too, but we got him and he bought in to every single thing that we were doing back then. 

He was a top player. You don’t achieve what he did without being one. But it was his mentality that stood out.

Sam Allardyce signed Speed in the twilight of his career but knew he could provide the goods

These days most players look to the bench — to their coaches — when big decisions need to be made during a game. Speedo didn’t. He was one of those who just knew instinctively how to adapt. He did it and the others would follow.

We had a fund-raising game at Bolton last weekend and so many of that team came to play. We had 13,000 people in the ground. Gary would have been there for sure. 

We missed him.

JOHN HARTSON – Wales team-mate

Valued Speed as a player, captain and as a man 

I remember when Mark Hughes was manager and Gary was one of the best midfielders in the Premier League. He was certainly the best midfielder in Wales. 

Mark asked Gary to play left back simply because we didn’t have one and he knew Gary could do it with his eyes closed.

Gary was captain and well within his rights to choose which position he played. But he just said ‘yes’ because that was the kind of man he was.

He was for the team all day long and with him at left back we almost got to the finals of Euro 2004.

He was a real man, Gary. First to organise a golf day, first on the tee and then first to buy everyone a drink afterwards.

Hartson (No 9) heads to congratulate Speed (right) after one of his goals scored for Wales

He used to bring his guitar to training camps and some of the lads would go to his room to listen to him play. He wasn’t very good, mind. We just told him he was!

I remember the day I learned he had died. I was working at Swansea versus Aston Villa for the BBC.

I walked across the car park and saw Bobby Gould. I knew immediately something was wrong. He told me and I just put my head on his shoulder and didn’t lift it up again for about five minutes. He told me to go and do my work but I couldn’t.

I went back to my car and drove home. I don’t think I even told the BBC. That game should never have taken place.

Gary was my captain and an inspiration. What a player but, more importantly, what a guy.

JOE ALLEN – Wales international

Speed gave him first start in 2011

It’s hard to believe it’s been 10 years. A lot of the lads still talk about Gary, the influence he had on us as young players back when he was manager. 

He revamped a lot of things, not just on the pitch but off it as well and we’ve reaped the rewards of that.

That’s one of the big reasons why Welsh football has been in such a healthy position over the past decade. He’ll always be in our thoughts.

He was part of the beginning of our road, first of all for Euro 2016 and everything that’s come since.

Now a staple part of the Wales national team, Allen got his break under Speed as manager

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