It’s a strange feeling, we’re not related, in fact I never met the man and he had a very short stay with Everton but somehow the shocking news of his apparent suicide left me overcome with sadness and almost numb.
Speedo was always one of those players who you thought was older than they actually were, mainly due to their careers taking off so early. As I was growing up he was always in my consciousness, with the Leeds team of 1991\92 being the 1st championship winning side, I remember as I was just about 8 years old at the time.
Until he moved across the Pennines to Merseyside in 1996 I had no idea of his affinity towards Everton. I do recall the day he put pen to paper, the excitement of having a player of Gary’s calibre in our side was immense, a true Marquee signing. He could play left, right, down the middle, he could smash a 30 yarder or deftly weave into the box, the ultimate Midfielder and all for £3.5m. I realise the differences in transfer fees between the last 15 years but what would a player that possesses that skill set fetch now, the mind boggles.
Gary Speed lived the dream, playing, scoring and captaining his boyhood team. His goal to game ratio is the best of his career, averaging around a goal every 3 games, he loved playing for the Toffees and you could see it, at that time we had some wonderful footballers all hitting their peaks, the infamous demolition of Southampton demonstrating the squads depth and talent under Joe Royle.
I never really understood why Gary left Goodison Park until now. I have a great sense of guilt that I didn’t pay much attention to his career following his departure, astonished and disillusioned that a captain could abandon his team in their most desperate hour of need. For this I am eternally sorry, from what I understand now, the way Gary was treated by the then hierarchy is nothing short of abysmal. He gave his all for the Royal Blue and received nothing but a non-disclosure agreement in return.
It speaks volumes for the man that he never spoke up as he didn’t want to tarnish the image of the club he adored so much. Everton’s loss was Newcastle’s gain and every other club who were lucky enough to have him in their ranks after that. I have friends who are fans of Leeds, Newcastle and Bolton who all think very highly of Gary Speed, if I asked a Sheffield United supporter I’m sure they hold him with the same esteem.
He appeared to love life and especially the game, as I watched Football Focus again after hearing the news, there was no obvious signs that this was a man ready to make the ultimate decision. His closest colleagues are equally shocked as they are called into interviews for their memories of their friend. Maybe it begs the question how well can you ever really know someone?
Whatever the reasons for his death, he’ll always be remembered as a wonderful footballer and a wonderful man. I’ll be standing and applauding Gary Speed at Goodison Park on Sunday and I may shed a tear or two for the man who clearly touched my life more than I ever knew.
Thank you Speedo, you will be sorely missed.
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