Any good feeling after Everton’s 2-0 victory over Bolton Wanderers on Saturday disappeared suddenly with the shocking news of the death of former Toffees captain Gary Speed. The few days that have passed since then have done nothing to soften the blow of the loss of such a popular figure at the age of 42. Complaints over Everton’s form, squad or boardroom paled into insignificance with the tragic death of a friend, husband and father.
In his brief time wearing Everton colours Speed meant a great deal to Evertonians. Not only were his performances on the field routinely top notch, starting with his debut in 1996 against Newcastle in which he scored the second goal of a 2-0 victory, the first of 11 strikes in that campaign, but his clear delight at playing for the side he supported at a boy was palpable and immensely appreciated. He was one of the first heroes for a generation of Everton supporters watching the team today. Speed’s departure in 1998 hurt because he was so admired and his reception on returning with other sides was usually mixed at best, but as time went on the anger dissipated and in its place was the respect shared by the rest of the football world.
Upon his transfer to Newcastle, Speed would only say to 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,” and Liverpool Echo journalist David Prentice wrote on Monday: “The notion of Gary Speed ever damaging Everton FC is absurd. He enhanced rather than damaged Everton,” and noted that when he saw Speed last, when Swansea City played Liverpool two weeks ago, Speed made a point of asking about his former club.
With Everton at home this weekend to Stoke City the game has rightly been overshadowed, and instead will act more as a memorial for and celebration of Speed’s life. Everton have announced a number of Speed’s Everton teammates will be in attendance, including Craig Short, Graham Stuart and David Unsworth – scorer of the first goal on Speed’s Everton debut. It is a mark of Speed’s enduring popularity than nearly 14 years after he left, everyone at Everton has been as devastated as those he touched for longer or more recently.
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