Team always came first for dedicated Speed

EVEN after a reservoir of ink spilled in tribute this week, no one has captured the football career of the late Welsh manager as succinctly as a Limerick man 14 years ago.

“Gary Speed is involved again.”

Leeds United fans and devotees of charming 90s Irish punk-pop will have memorised the build-up.

“… the Deane Machine to McAllister and McAllister’s just seen that Gordon Strachan slipped his marker and he’s free now in space he’s got ‘em pouring forward spraying the ball all over the place.

“Now Gary Speed is involved again, he steadies the ball…” Just as they’ll know that Speed goes on to find Strachan, who exchanges passes with a strangely advanced Fairclough before beating the keeper to the ball and making it two-nil on his way to a hat-trick.

Which is only right since Strachan, by the Hitchers — one of football and music’s greatest collisions — is, unsurprisingly, about Strachan.

That was the thing about Gary Speed. Until this week, the story was rarely about him. He never made it so, notably when he left Goodison under a cloud.

“I can’t explain myself publicly because it would damage the good name of Everton FC and I’m not prepared to do that.”

But he was always involved in the narrative. Of every game he played, and at each club he joined. A team player before the phrase was spoiled by consultants. He didn’t just become part of the fabric of a club, he helped knit it. We know that because fans of Leeds, Everton and Newcastle claim him as one of their own. And Bolton and Sheffield United were delighted to get a small piece of him.

He supplied energy, drive and aerial power to aid McAllister’s vision, Strachan’s guile and Batty’s grit in that fine Leeds midfield. It fits right that his team should be the last winner of the old First Division, the last champions of a more modest age.


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