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Gary Speed

Left/Central Midfielder


Gary Speed FACTS
Born Harwarden, 8 September 1969
Height 5'-11" (180 cm)
Joined Everton from Leeds United in June 1996 for 3,500,000
Debut v Newcastle United (h), 17 August 1996
Nicknames Speedo, Captain Marvel... Judas!
Last Game v Chelsea (h), 18 January 1998
Left Everton to Newcastle United in February 1998 for 5,900,000
Honours Full Welsh International, League Championship (1992), Everton Player of the Year 1996-97
Awarded MBE in 2010
Deceased 27 November 2011
PREVIOUS CAREER
Seasons Club Apps (Lg + Cup) Gls
1985-1996 Leeds United 248 + 64 39 + 18

STRENGTHS WEAKNESSES
  • A great goalscorer
  • Good ball control
  • Excellent footballing mind
  • Can be anonymous
  • Uninspirational as captain
  • Ultimately turned his back on Everton
BIOSKETCH
 

Gary Speed the Player

Gary Speed was a product of the Leeds United youth system and became a key player their strong midfield. He made his League debut  in 1989, against Oldham.  Leeds United won the Second Division the next season, and Gary earned his first Welsh cap against Costa Rica in May 1990.

Speed played a vital part in making Leeds United a solid proposition in the First Division, climaxing with the last First Division Championship in 1991-92.  In 1993-94, Gary was Leeds's second joint-top scorer with 12 goals – very good for a midfield player.  

Gary Speed's return to his roots in the North-West represented a dream come true as he signed for Everton, the club he had supported as a boy.  He said: "This was always my club. I used to come across from North Wales to watch them play from around the age of 12.  My dream was to play for the club and it's never really faded.''

"Maybe I stayed at Leeds one or two seasons too long. Maybe I need a move to get my career going again but that's all behind me now.''  Speed enjoyed a dream start to his Goodison career, scoring on his debut at Goodison against Newcastle United, when all the media attention had been on the debut of 15M Alan Shearer with Newcastle.

At the age of 27, he signed a five-year contract with Everton and had a very good first season with the club.  He scored his first-ever hat-trick in the 7-1 thrashing of Southampton, going on to become joint top-scorer (with Duncan Ferguson) and the Player of the Year, after a worryingly slow start.

Just an hour before the 1997-98 season started, Howard Kendall surprisingly made Speed captain of the Everton team in place of Dave Watson, matching his captaincy of the Welsh National side.  Interestingly, he usually played as a sweeper for Wales – a position he had never been used in at Everton.

In the autumn of 1997, as Everton sank relentlessly to the bottom of the Premiership table, Speed became increasingly restless.  Rumours abounded of links to the North-East, specifically Newcastle.  Howard Kendall later let it be known that Speed's agent had contacted Newcastle as early as the previous season (1996-97), when Speed was ironically growing his reputation as the fans' unanimous selection for Player of the Year.

The root cause of Speed's problem with Everton remains a real mystery – he hinted at some dark secret which he could not reveal for fear of hurting the club, presumably more so than the unsavoury turn of events that culminated with the Everton team captain finally asking for a transfer.

In the build-up to this bombshell, Speed's agent – a certain Hayden Evans – had done a lot of damaging and malicious talking, accusing the club of spreading rumours about Speed turning down a non-existent contract, and making some silly fuss about a few bits of "hate mail" that Evans himself had probably generated through his inappropriate comments.  The final straw came before the West Ham game at the end of January 1998, when Speed refused to travel with the team, apparently after learning from a journalist that he would supposedly be dropped and stripped of the captaincy.

Many Evertonians rationalised Speed's decision as simply a case of monetary greed on his part and the part of his agent, and condemned him out of hand but a confidentiality agreement prevented the fans from hearing the true story.  Kendall apparently did not want to lose Speed, and offered him a substantial new contract, despite the fact that his current one had over 3 years to run. Back in 1996, Speed was also offered more money to stay with Leeds, but he chose to come to Everton.

Needless to say, these facts were insufficient to prevent Speed from becoming Public Enemy No 1 for many of the Goodison faithful.  He returned with Newcastle United on 28 February 1998 to receive a severe roasting for committing the ultimate crime in the eyes of the passionately loyal Everton fans: turning his back on the club he says he always loved.  However, it phased him not one iota, and he went on to establish himself as a true professional, and a key part of the Newcastle team.

Gary Speed the "Shithouse"?

Before Nick Barmby defected to Liverpool, the player some Everton fans most loved to hate was 'Judas' Speed who, as team captain, failed to turn up for an away game at West Ham, before he left in ignominy to join Newcastle United.  Enough justification for eternal opprobrium?  Apparently so...

Many Evertonians think these crimes were unforgivable, and will never even consider that there could have been some extenuating circumstances which made any future at Gary Speed's beloved Goodison Park untenable.  Instead of feeling for the torment Speed may have suffered as an avowed True Blue Evertonian, a substantial and intransigent cadre of vociferous Everton fans continued to vilify him mercilessly for years afterwards. 

Well, the most overworked cliché says that "football is all about opinions" so one should not expect to ever read the real "facts" – if such things even exist in a case like this.  But, what if some other things were happening behind the scenes at Goodison Park to cause the acrimonious departure of team captain and Player of the Season, Gary Speed?

Speculation and rumour was rampant at the time:

  • What if Gary Speed was becoming increasingly despairing of Howard Kendall's management, with run-ins over alcohol-related issues?  
      
  • What if Gary Speed was tapped up by another Premiership club, setting the pound-signs twirling in the eyes of disgraced Chairman, Peter Johnson?
      
  • What if the West Ham incident was a carefully staged concoction which worked perfectly for Peter Johnson?  What if it involved a "message" supposedly (but not) from Howard Kendall telling Speed not to travel?  We know Kendall seemed genuine in his annoyance at Speed's absence, and Speed was equally vehement that he was told not to go...  What if the press were only given half the story by the Johnson regime, prompting the fans to fall in step with their outright condemnation of the player for failing in his duties at Everton?
      
  • What if Newcastle were quietly informed by the Johnson regime that it may be an opportune time to make a bid? 
      
  • What if Gary Speed was faced with an impossible ultimatum by the club, in effect forcing him to go quietly, and sign that infamous confidentiality clause on his way out?

Nobody likes to admit they were wrong... or worse, that their emotions were perhaps manipulated by someone like Peter Johnson.  But this might be only half the story.  What if the rest features sexual misconduct (not on Speed's part), threats of blackmail, and the involvement of the police?  But since such a story sounds like something from the centre-pages of the News of the World and would never be admitted by those involved, we can be sure the truth will never be told. 

There should be enough here to concern those who reacted so strongly against Gary Speed.  What if he was forced out of Goodison Park by the Johnson regime?  Gary Speed a Judas?  Remember there as a pretty massive (for the time) £2.4M profit involved here...  What if Johnson's dubious activities included a clever manipulation of fans who unwittingly focused on Gary Speed as the culprit, not the victim?  

Then again, this may all be just a tissue of unsubstantiated suggestion and innuendo. But Evertonians should not fool themselves: Gary Speed was an accomplished and effective attacking midfielder.  His inexplicable disillusionment and departure represented a tremendous loss to the club.  This miserable episode should not be casually attributed to some insatiable avarice on Gary's part: he was a true blue Evertonian.  Something made it impossible for him to stay at Goodison.  What that was, we may never really know.

Speed went on to play in six very successful seasons with Newcastle United before joining Bolton Wanderers in 2004. Later, on announcing his retirement from international football for Wales, despite a chance to claim the caps record, he said this:

"The caps record has never been something that has made me want to keep going.  That would be very disrespectful to everyone who has played for Wales and certainly Neville Southall.  He was a fantastic player and the best keeper in the world on his day and a much better player for Wales than I have been.  I will not disrespect him by just carrying on for the sake of winning the record number of caps beyond when I think I should have retired from international football".

In December 2006, Gary Speed became the first player to pass the landmark 500 appearances in the Premier League: 58 of those were for Everton, the club Gary had supported since he was a lad.

In 2009 he became manager of Sheffield United. He went on to become Wales manager in December 2010 and appeared to be bringing a fresh burst of life to the National team, when they beat Norway 4-1 in November.  However, the entire football world was shocked and devastated by the incomprehensible news of his death, at the age of just 42, an apparent suicide. 

GARY SPEED – EVERTON CAREER STATISTICS
Season Squad
Number
League
Apps(sub)
League
Goals
Cup
Apps(sub)
Cup
Goals
TOTAL
Apps(sub)
TOTAL
Goals
1996-97 10 37 (-) 9 4 (-) 2 41 (-) 11
1997-98 10 21 (-) 6 3 (-) - 24 (-) 6
Totals: 58 (-) 15 7 (-) 2 65 (-) 17
Last update: 27 November 2011

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