Yesterday saw the 7th anniversary of ex-Leeds United footballer Gary Speed’s passing. A tragic day when the player, who also served Everton, Newcastle United, Bolton and Sheffield United with distinction, was found hanged to death at his Cheshire home.
On Saturday 7th April 1990, during a 2nd Division game against West Yorkshire rivals Bradford City, I was privileged to witness Speed’s first ever goal for Leeds United, at Elland Road.
The then 20-year old Welshman making a late run into the box to steer home from close range at the South Stand end. A regulation finish for the youngster from a few yards out, following teammate Lee Chapman’s headed flick on from a throw-in.
Perched in the upper tier of the since demolished old Lowfields Road stand my brother Ian and me joined in the wild celebrations of around 30,000 Leeds United fans within the stadium.
If memory serves me correct, I accidentally knocked an adjacent fan’s specs off during those celebrations. However, in his delight at Speed putting Leeds 1-0 up he didn’t appear overly bothered his gigs were on the floor. Bafflingly responding with smile on face “Don’t worry mate, I only need them for seeing!” when I offered apologies for my clumsiness.
The sponsors logo Top Man was emblazoned on his shirt when Gary Speed stroked home that goal, and top man is how the late footballer is remembered by supporters of clubs he represented.
Although Leeds only drew that day, after the young Flintshire-born midfielder’s goal was cancelled out by a late Bradford equaliser, a month later that strike contributed toward his sides promotion back to the top tier of English football…… Which thankfully more aesthetically pleasing than the top tier of the old Lowfields Road stand!
The antiquated roofed enclosure later demolished (circa 1992) in preparation for an imposing cantilever East Stand, which has since played host to 100,000’s of Leeds United supporters over the last 26 years. The paucity of toilet facilities in the old stand meaning matchdays in the Lowfields was never bereft of a heady bouquet of urine and stale Tetley’s bitter.
This inaugural goal was just the first of over a hundred for the teams Speed elegantly graced both on and off the field. His matchday contributions warming thousands of hearts and minds on a freezing winters day in West Yorkshire, Merseyside, Tyneside, Bolton and South Yorkshire.
As a child I was lucky enough to watch the great Leeds side of Don Revie while Elland Road in situ. I feel equally as blessed to have witnessed Gary Speed, along with Gordon Strachan, Gary McAllister and David Batty form the club’s greatest midfield since Lorimer, Giles, Bremner and Edwin Gray graced Don’s side.
The successful synergy of Gary Mc, Batts, Strachs and Speedo built from a collective energy, desire, ability and the fact they complimented each others games so perfectly. Each bringing differing skills to the table, including in Gordon Strachan’s case bananas and an acerbic wit……. I’ve never seen a better Leeds United midfield in my adulthood, and I probably never will.
McAllister all poise and guile with the capability to unlock any defence with a surging run, shimmy or slide rule pass. Fellow Scot Strachan whose advocation of the energy giving qualities of the fruit, a darling of the banana marketing board. Although in the autumn of his career he gave the side similar offensive qualities to Gary Mc, not to mention lung bursting performances when his capricious sciatica allowed.
Batty, a hardened product of West Yorkshire. Uncompromising of nature and intimidating by reputation. Incidentally, that’s David not Nora from TV’s ‘Last of the Summer Wine’.
Speed most positionally versatile of the quartet. Two footed and accomplished header of the ball. A perfect foil for the other three midfielders, in a team who in the 1991/92 season went on to become champions of England.
On that spring day in 1990 when Speed scored his inaugural senior goal Gary McAllister hadn’t yet signed for Leeds. Instead, the fourth midfield spot was made up by one Vincent Jones. The man who went on to become a tough guy in numerous Hollywood movies. None of which were as gruesome as the prospect of facing a midfield containing Jones and Batty (still David).
As alluded to above, a month after Gary Speed’s first senior Leeds goal his team were promoted to the upper tier of English football. A month after that promotion party, my first child was born. His birth obviously unrelated to the Leeds United’s achievements, but I remember those few months as among the greatest times of my life.
We named my son Jonathon Strachan – To be clear that wasn’t after Gordon, my offspring’s surname was already Strachan. If I wanted to pay tribute to wee Gordon I’d have had to name my boy Jonathon Strachan Strachan, a notion which would be frankly ludicrous.
I could’ve called him Jonathon Gordon Strachan, I suppose, however my wife didn’t like the name Gordon. To be honest she wasn’t overly keen on Strachan. In fact, when we married she wanted to merge my last name with her maiden name, but I refused point blank to have a surname of Strachan-D’Deutsche!….. Anyhow, I digress.
Gary Speed – Top Man…… Thanks for the numerous memories which, like your memory, won’t ever diminish from the minds of those whose path you crossed.