As a player, he is best known for his spell between 1988 and 1996 at Leeds United where he won the English Football League First Division Championship in 1992, and also for his spell between 1998 and 2004 at Newcastle United as well as three and a half years at Bolton Wanderers during their days under Sam Allardyce's management. He captained the Wales national football team until retiring from international football in 2004. He remains the most capped outfield player for Wales and the second overall, having appeared 85 times at senior level between 1990 and 2004, playing mainly as a left-side attacking midfielder. He started off his career in 1988 and retired in 2010. Speed was appointed manager of Sheffield United in 2010, but left the club after a few months in December 2010 to manage the Wales national team, remaining in this role until his death 11 months later. Speed played professionally for Leeds United, Everton, Newcastle United, Bolton Wanderers and Sheffield United. Rarely troubled by injury or suspension, he held the record for the most appearances in the Premier League at 535, until it was surpassed by David James.
At the time of his death, only James and Ryan Giggs had played in more Premier League matches than Speed. Including his appearances in The Football League and cup competitions, he made 840 domestic appearances. He played in the Leeds United team that won the Football League First Division championship in 1991–92, the year before the FA Premier League was formed. He also played in consecutive FA Cup finals for Newcastle United, losing to Arsenal in 1998 and to Manchester United in 1999. Speed was found dead from hanging on 27 November 2011, aged 42.
Speed was born in Mancot, Wales, although his parents Roger and Carol, sister Lesley and sons Thomas and Edward were all born in Chester . He attended Hawarden High School, (which Michael Owen would later attend), and grew up in nearby Aston.
He supported Everton as a youngster, and lived on the same street as the club's former captain Kevin Ratcliffe who played kickabouts with Speed and his friends on occasion. Whilst at school he was employed as a paperboy and played for Flintshire Schoolboys, a local boys team, and for Aston Park Rangers. As a youngster Speed excelled at cricket as well as football.
Speed began his career with Leeds United as a trainee when he left school in June 1988, and was Peter Swan's boot boy, before he signed a professional contract on 13 June 1988. Leeds manager Howard Wilkinson first noticed Speed in a youth team game while the player was playing in a left back position. Under Wilkinson, he made his first team debut aged 19 in a goalless draw against Oldham Athletic in the Football League Second Division. He would go on to play in nine out of the ten outfield positions, although he was predominantly a left-sided player.
He went on to play a key role, playing 41 of a possible 42 games and scoring seven goals, as Leeds won the Football League First Division championship title in 1992, as part of a midfield that also comprised Gordon Strachan, Gary McAllister and David Batty – former Leeds manager Eddie Gray considered it to be one of the greatest midfield line-ups in the modern era. Wilkinson named Speed as the club's player of the season.
In September 1992, Speed was pivotal in Leeds' European Cup first-round tie against VfB Stuttgart. Stuttgart had won 3–0 at home and looked to be going through already. Speed helped Leeds to a 4–1 victory at Elland Road, scoring one of them with a "superb left-foot volley" which he later described as his best ever goal. Although Leeds went out of the tie on the away goals rule, they were later re-instated as Stuttgart had fielded an ineligible player.
Speed was selected in the PFA Team of the Year for the 1992–93 season.
On 4 October 1995, Speed scored the winning goal as Leeds beat second division side Notts County in the second round of the League Cup. The match had seemed to be going to extra-time but Speed's 90th-minute winning goal had stopped Leeds from needing a replay to overcome their lower league opponents.
Speed featured in the 1996 Football League Cup Final defeat by Aston Villa. Before transferring to Everton, Speed played in 312 games for Leeds United, scoring 57 goals.
A childhood Everton fan, Speed was signed by Joe Royle before the 1996–97 season, for a fee of £3.5 million. He made his debut on 17 August 1996, scoring against Newcastle. In November of that year, Speed scored a hat-trick – the only one of his career – as Everton beat Southampton 7–1 at Goodison Park. Speed finished the season with 11 goals, joint top-scorer with Duncan Ferguson. Speed was also voted Everton Player of Year for his performances during his first season at the club.
Howard Kendall succeeded Royle as the manager at the start of the 1997–98 season, and nominated Speed as club captain. However, by the turn of the year the relationship between Speed and Kendall had soured. Speed played his last game for the club on 18 January 1998, scoring in a 3–1 win over Chelsea. He did not travel for their next game, away to West Ham, and was subsequently sold to Newcastle for £5.5 million. The reasons underlying Speed's departure were never revealed. He told the Liverpool Echo: "You know why I'm leaving, but I can't explain myself publicly because it would damage the good name of Everton Football Club and I'm not prepared to do that."
Speed was signed for Newcastle United on 6 February 1998 by Kenny Dalglish, for a fee of £5.5 million. He made his debut as a starter in a 1–0 home Premier League defeat to West Ham United the next day. His first goal came in his fifth match, the sixth round proper of the 1997–98 FA Cup. At home to Barnsley, he scored the second goal of a 3–1 home win with a 27th-minute strike. His only league goal of the 1997–98 season came in a 3–1 home win over Chelsea in the penultimate league match on 2 May, with Newcastle's third in the 59th minute. He finished the season by playing the 1998 FA Cup Final, which Newcastle lost 2–0 to Arsenal on 16 May.
Speed featured in the club's FA Cup Final defeat to Manchester United on 22 May 1999. On 19 September 1999, he scored a goal in Newcastle's 8–0 Premier League victory over Sheffield Wednesday in which his teammate Alan Shearer scored a joint-record five times. He also played in the UEFA Champions League with Newcastle in the 2002–03 season, scoring the 58th-minute equaliser in a 2–1 home victory over Dynamo Kyiv in the group stage on 29 October 2002.
Speed moved to Bolton Wanderers on a two-year deal in a £750,000 switch from Newcastle United in July 2004. He became the first player to make 500 Premier League appearances when he played in Bolton's 4–0 victory over West Ham United in December 2006.
On 1 May 2007, Speed was named as the first team coach for Bolton after Sam Allardyce stepped down from his job as manager. However, in October he left the coaching job and returned to being just a player with the club. Conflicting reports of the incident claimed then manager Sammy Lee relieved him of his duties to concentrate on playing but Speed, in an interview with the Bolton News, claimed he chose to step down.
Speed scored a header for Bolton against Reading on 25 August 2007, making him, at the time, the only player to have scored in every Premiership season to date. Ryan Giggs later matched this achievement on 20 October 2007, and passed it on 8 February 2009. It had been reported in December 2007 that Speed was a target for Derby County, but it was confirmed on 24 December 2007 that he would join Sheffield United on loan on 1 January 2008, with a view to a permanent move for a fee of about £250,000.
Speed made his first team debut on the day of his transfer – being named in the starting eleven for a 0–0 away draw against Wolverhampton Wanderers on New Year's Day 2008. He played regularly for the rest of the season and deputised as captain when Chris Morgan was unavailable. Having seen his penalty parried, Speed netted the rebound to score his first goal for the Blades in a victory over Coventry in March of that year. He went on to finish the season on three goals for the Blades, scoring both goals in a 2–1 home victory over Bristol City in the penultimate game of the 2007–08 season. In an interview with BBC Wales on 10 May 2008, Speed hinted that the 2008–09 season may be his last playing before moving into coaching or management but stated that he had not yet made up his mind.
Speed started the next season as a regular fixture in the Blades midfield but succumbed to a back injury in November 2008. Despite undergoing surgery to correct the problem he failed to regain his fitness and missed the rest of the season, concentrating instead on a coaching role at the club. In June 2009, he was approached by Swansea City with regards to taking on the managerial role left vacant by Roberto Martinez.
At the end of October 2009, Speed stated that "'I'm 40, I haven't played for a year and you can take what you want from that. I'm not missing playing because I'm enjoying the other side so much", although he revealed he was still in training, in preparation for running the 2010 London Marathon in aid of the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation, the cancer charity founded by Speed's former Newcastle manager, who had died on 31 July 2009 after a long battle against the illness.
Speed finally announced his retirement from playing in his 41st year, but agreed to remain at Sheffield United for at least one more season as a coach. Despite this he was again registered as a player and was named on the bench for the first round League Cup game against Hartlepool United at the outset of the following season.
Speed played for Wales at youth level and earned three caps for the under-21 team. He played 85 times for Wales, making him the second highest capped player only behind goalkeeper Neville Southall who made 92 appearances. Speed captained Wales on 44 occasions. His first appearance for the national side had come on 20 May 1990 in a 1–0 friendly win against Costa Rica at Ninian Park as a second-half replacement for Glyn Hodges. He did not score until his 27th cap, a 3–2 away defeat in Moldova in a Euro 96 qualifier on 12 October 1994. Speed's first appearance as captain was during his 46th cap, a 3–0 away win in Malta on 3 June 1998.
Speed broke the record held by Dean Saunders for most caps by a Welsh outfield player when he won his 76th against Finland in a Euro 2004 qualifier on 10 September 2003. He captained the side to a 1–1 draw. Speed retired from international football in 2004 after the side's 3–2 defeat to Poland in a 2006 World Cup qualifier.
After his retirement from international football, he was recommended by both the former manager Mark Hughes and fellow Welsh midfielder Robbie Savage as a future Welsh national team manager.
Speed was a versatile player who could play in left midfield, central midfield, and also at left-back, but playing mainly as a left-side attacking midfielder, with a knack for directing powerful headers towards goal. He possessed great tactical awareness, and could both create and score goals. Regularly a captain, he was said by his teammates to have been an 'inspirational figure' who led by example and demanded the best from those around him.
He was well known as a 'consummate professional' both on and off the field. Hardworking, honest and self-critical, he was not blessed with exceptional talent at a young age, but instead developed his technique through many hours of hard work on the training field. He had a reputation as an extremely fit footballer who looked after his body. He had a modern approach to diet and fitness, a rare quality amongst players of his generation. His level of fitness allowed him to avoid injury and to continue playing until the age of 39; he rarely missed a game.
He also had a reputation as a friendly and supportive person, who cared for and took an interest in the lives of the people around him; his 'nice guy' persona made him a popular and well respected figure amongst his peers.
With the 2010–11 season only three games old, Sheffield United manager Kevin Blackwell was sacked with Speed being confirmed as the club's new manager on a three-year contract on 17 August 2010. On 21 October 2010, Speed was given a one-game touchline ban and a £22,000 fine by The Football Association for his unsporting behaviour at the home fixture against Watford on 2 October 2010. On 11 December 2010, Speed was linked with the vacant Wales manager job along with John Hartson, Brian Flynn, Chris Coleman and Lars Lagerbäck. Sheffield United confirmed that they had given Speed permission to talk to the Football Association of Wales over the vacant position. With just four months managerial experience, Speed was confirmed as the new Welsh national team manager on 14 December 2010 succeeding John Toshack who had stepped down in September 2010. Sheffield United released Speed from his contract after compensation was paid by the FAW. Former Welsh national manager Mark Hughes supported the move to appoint Speed, saying, "He's got a strong personality, he's good with people, (the players) will relate better to Gary than they perhaps did to the previous manager."
Speed's first game as Wales manager was 8 February 2011 in the inaugural Nations Cup, which the Republic of Ireland won 3–0. Speed's first competitive match was the Euro 2012 qualifier at home to England 26 March 2011 and Speed appointed twenty-year-old Aaron Ramsey captain, making Ramsey the youngest ever Wales captain. Wales lost to England 2–0, and in August 2011 Wales attained their lowest ever FIFA ranking of 117th. This was followed by a 2–1 home win against Montenegro, a 1–0 away loss to England, a 2–0 home win against Switzerland and a 1–0 away win against Bulgaria. Consequently, in October 2011, Wales were ranked 45th in the world by FIFA. Speed's last game as manager of Wales was on 12 November 2011, a 4–1 home win in a friendly match against Norway. On 21 December 2011, the day of the final FIFA rankings of the year, Wales were awarded the title of 'Best Movers' of the year having gained more ranking points than any other nation in 2011.
Speed married his fiancée Louise in 1996; the couple had two children, Thomas and Edward. He enjoyed quizzes, but he was better at the subjects of geography and history than football.
Speed was appointed a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in the 2010 Birthday Honours for services to football.
In March 2012, Speed's eldest son Ed was selected for the Wales Under-16 squad.
On 26 November 2011, Speed appeared as a guest on the BBC One television programme Football Focus, with presenter Dan Walker later describing Speed as being in "fine form". After the programme finished at 1 pm, Speed chatted to various other pundits at the MediaCity studios in Salford before joining former Newcastle United teammate Alan Shearer to watch their old club play against Manchester United at Old Trafford, a short walk from the studios across the Manchester Ship Canal. After the match ended, at 5 pm, Speed drove home to Huntington, Cheshire, about an hour's drive from Old Trafford.
The following morning, just before 7 am, his wife Louise found his body hanged in the garage of his home. She telephoned the ambulance service at 7:08 am and the police were also informed. They confirmed him as being dead and the police announced that they were not treating his death as suspicious. Although the facts were not fully established, it was reported that Speed had died by suicide. His death was announced to the public by the Football Association of Wales a few hours later. An inquest into Speed's death convened on 29 November 2011. The inquest was adjourned until 30 January 2012.
The coroner at the inquest reached a narrative verdict and stated that cause of death was by "self suspension", but that there was insufficient evidence to determine whether it was intentional as he may have intended to make a "dramatic gesture" and then "nodded off to sleep". The inquest heard that the pressure of management had put some strain on his marriage and that he and Louise had argued the night before his death. However, family friend Alan Shearer had told Speed that such arguments were normal within a long-term relationship, and Louise told the inquest how recent conversations between her and her husband "went on about our future together and how excited he was about our journey together". His mother, Carol Speed, described him as a "glass half-empty person", and Louise said that he was "a somewhat closed character" and that she had viewed his last television appearance after his death and thought that "his smile did not appear genuine ... it did not reach his eyes." Though he never discussed any possible mental health issues with anyone, four days before his death he did text Louise about the possibility of suicide, but he also dismissed such an action because of the importance of his wife and two children.
Speed left most of his £1,284,472 estate to his wife and the rest to his sons.
News of Speed's death was first announced by the Football Association of Wales, who extended their sympathies and condolences to Speed's family. Throughout the day similar messages were released from many people within football, as well as national figures in Wales and the rest of the United Kingdom. Close friends and former teammates such as Robbie Savage, Ryan Giggs, Simon Grayson, Alan Shearer, Craig Bellamy and John Hartson all expressed their deep sorrow at his death. Many British politicians expressed sadness at Speed's death and sent condolences to his family, including Prime Minister David Cameron and Leader of the Opposition Ed Miliband. Among the international figures to pay tribute to Speed was UEFA President Michel Platini. FIFA President Sepp Blatter described Speed as "a model professional and a fantastic ambassador for the game". Both the FIFA and Welsh flags at FIFA's headquarters were at half mast as a mark of respect.
In the match between Nottingham Forest and Leeds United, the Leeds fans sang Speed`s name on the 11th minute for 11 minutes and then for the entire game in memory of Speed, continuously chanting his name. Number 11 was the shirt Speed wore at Leeds United.
The match between Swansea City and Aston Villa at the Liberty Stadium, held only hours after Speed's death was announced, was dedicated to his memory. A minute's silence was to be held before the match. However, the fans applauded instead and sang Speed's name. Several players who played in the match were severely affected by the news. Four Welsh internationals played in the match; Ashley Williams, Neil Taylor and Joe Allen, of Swansea, all played under Speed for Wales, and Allen in particular was said to be struggling with the news. James Collins was the other Welsh international, and he had also played with Speed at international level. Collins' Villa teammates Shay Given and Jermaine Jenas had both played with Speed at Newcastle United, and both were very badly affected by the news. Given openly wept during and after the minute's applause. Both managers, Alex McLeish and Brendan Rodgers, paid tribute to Speed. Rodgers, who had spoken to Speed a lot since he had become Wales manager, said that the game had lost a legend, while Neil Taylor said that he hoped Wales could qualify for the 2014 World Cup to honour him.
Along with this match, several others saw tributes toward Speed. The only other Premier League match played that day was between Liverpool and Manchester City. Craig Bellamy of Liverpool was withdrawn from Liverpool's squad by his manager Kenny Dalglish, as he was too affected by the news to play. Bellamy played with Speed for Newcastle United and Wales, where Speed had also been his manager. Dalglish himself had signed Speed for Newcastle, and expressed his sadness at the news, saying that he thought Speed was not only a great footballer but also a great person. Another of Speed's former teammates, Hugo Viana, also paid tribute to him. Viana, a Portuguese international played alongside Speed at Newcastle from 2002 to 2004. After his team Braga had lost 3–2 to Porto, Viana displayed a shirt reading "Gary Rest in Peace". Gareth Bale, who played for Speed at Wales, also gave Speed a last tribute. After scoring Tottenham's opening goal in a 3–0 win at home to Bolton, Bale took off his left boot and held it up to reveal the stitched words "RIP Gary Speed".
At Sheffield United there were tributes for the former player, coach and manager before the Blades home fixture against Torquay United in the FA Cup. Former teammates and colleagues were invited to the match; there was a minute's applause before the match; players warmed up in specially designed shirts; players and coaches wore black armbands; the match day programme was dedicated to Speed; Blades Captain Chris Morgan and former Blade and Welsh international Rob Page laid wreaths on pitch side just before kick-off. Sheffield United striker Ched Evans, the only player to be managed by Speed at both club and international level paid tribute to Speed during the match; Evans revealed a message under his shirt after scoring his first goal which read: "Rest in peace Speedo." Evans stated after the match "I was a man on a mission. I had a message on my top for Gary Speed which I wanted to show. I'm thankful I got the goal ... The crowd started singing [Speed's name], it gave me goose pimples."
During the following week, tributes were paid to Speed from across the football season. A minute's applause was held before the Football League Cup quarter-final ties, as well as across the Football League midweek matches. Similar events were staged at every Premier League match on the weekend of 4 December, as well as Wales's rugby match against Australia at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff. Speed's wife Louise and his two children attended the Football League Championship game at Elland Road between Speed's former club Leeds and Millwall, which Leeds won 2–0, and again held a minutes applause. Speed's fellow midfielders from the 1991–92 title winning side Gary McAllister, David Batty and Gordon Strachan laid wreaths in his memory. Speed's father, Roger, also led a minute's tribute in Goodison Park, where Speed's former club Everton lost 0–1 to Stoke. Speed's father and sons were again present a week later at the Reebok Stadium, as another of his son's former teams Bolton Wanderers lost 2–1 to Aston Villa. Speed's family attended the Newcastle – Swansea game on 17 December where tributes to him continued; Welsh tenor, Gwyn Hughes Jones, delivered a rendition of "Bread of Heaven" from the centre circle before a minute's applause followed as fans in the East Stand held up cards each with the number 11 – the shirt number worn by Speed for Newcastle. Fans of both clubs also applauded during the 11th minute of the game.
On 4 January, the Football Association of Wales announced that a match in Speed's memory would be played on 29 February at Cardiff City Stadium. The friendly international, against Costa Rica, commemorated Speed's debut for Wales, where his team won against the same country 1–0, the memorial saw Costa Rica win by the same score.
On 25 September 2012, Everton visited Leeds United in the League Cup. Starting from the 11th minute of the fixture, both sets of supporters chanted Speed's name for 11 minutes.
Speed's funeral, attended by around 250 members of his family and close friends took place in the village of Hawarden on 9 December 2011. In keeping with wife Louise's wishes, minimal crowds were gathered on the main road outside St Deiniol's Church and no members of the press. Speed was later cremated in Pentre Bychan Crematorium, Wrexham.Leeds United
Football League First Division champions: 1991–92
FA Charity Shield winners: 1992
League Cup finalists: 1996
Football League Second Division champions: 1989–90
FA Cup finalists: 1998, 1999
UEFA Intertoto Cup finalists: 2001
PFA Premier League Team of the Year: 1993
Premier League 10 Seasons Awards (1992–93 to 2001–02): Most Appearances (352)