Some people’s deaths are met with an intensifying of affection, a sharpening in the realisation of how important and special they were. Gary Speed was such a straightforward professional footballer that he could easily slip the mind when listing your favourite Newcastle midfielders but he was a cracking player and a vital component of a special era at St James’ Park.
Bought from Everton, in mysterious circumstances, by Kenny Dalglish, Speed survived the meltdown of the Gullit regime untarnished and really blossomed for Newcastle during the reign of Sir Bobby Robson. Robson first assembled a team of raw power where the aerial ability of Speed aligned to that of Shearer, Ferguson, Lee and Dabizas could prove unplayable. When that team evolved into the Dyer, Robert, Bellamy raw pace years, Speed was often at the fulcrum, holding it all together. Around this time The Prodigy released an album entitled ‘Always Outnumbered Never Outgunned’ and in the course of one match report I wrote that Gary Speed should be on the cover.
For the sake of research I have had cause to watch and re-watch Newcastle’s 2-2 draw against Inter Milan in the San Siro in the Champions League several times. It is arguably Gary Speed’s finest hour in black and white. He is utterly indomitable, his short and long range passing is immaculate, he works tirelessly and intelligently for 90 minutes and is awesome. It is my second favourite memory of him.
The first; Wifey and I somehow got ourselves invited to the opening of The Baltic Art Gallery. The place was, as you might expect, fair riddled with poseurs and snobs. We were grateful to run into some friends who were neither and within their company were Mr and Mrs Gary Speed who were utterly unassuming and charming. I was struck quite dumb, not just because I rated Speed and the only thing I could think to say would have been (in a jabbering high pitched squeak), “You know at corners when you go to run to the near post then turn away like you can’t be bothered, then go anyway but really fast and determined, then you jump higher than everybody else to head the ball in the goal. I love it when you do that. Can you actually fly?”. I was also undone by how gorgeous he was up close; he had an aura, he positively glowed. He was tall and well built obviously but he had the brightest blue eyes I have ever seen. He drank his orange juice and went home early.
Being a rich handsome professional footballer you wouldn’t be surprised if he was a bit aloof or, let’s be honest, a complete knob, but he obviously wasn’t. He seems to be universally well thought of and admired for his professionalism and humanity. What circumstances led to such a stupid death will be speculated on at length but they must not be allowed to overshadow Gary Speed the player and the man because if more players were like Gary Speed, more players would be better thought of.