'Never, ever fade' - Tony Dorigo relives wonderful memories of amazing Leeds United team mate Gary Speed

One man regularly becomes the topic of conversation when Tony Dorigo talks about his former playing days; Dorigo’s partner on Leeds United’s left-hand flank.

By Lee Sobot
Saturday, 27th November 2021, 11:45 am

Gary Speed was still only 21 years old when a 25-year-old Dorigo joined the Whites after four years at Chelsea, the Australian-born England international having begun his career at Aston Villa.

Dorigo can still recall one of his first memories of Speed in training back in the summer of 1991.

Initially, he didn’t think his younger team-mate was that quick or any good at long-distance running.

Sign up to our Leeds United newsletter

SPECIAL MEMORIES: Gary Speed, back row third from right, celebrates winning the 1992 First Division title with team mate Tony Dorigo, bottom row third from left, not far from his side. Picture by Mark Bickerdike/YPN.

But Dorigo was wrong, just like whenever he questioned if there was anything that ‘Speedo’ couldn’t do.

Very soon, Dorigo realised he had the perfect partner down that side of the pitch and, moreover, a player who could fill practically any position on the park.

In their five years together at Elland Road, Dorigo and Speed formed a footballing match made in heaven, creating many special memories, topped by becoming champions of England in May 1992.

They are, says Dorigo, memories that will quite simply last forever and memories that Dorigo cherishes on the 10-year anniversary of his former team-mate’s tragic death.

“Wherever I go and wherever I speak about football, Speedo always comes up,” said Dorigo in a glowing tribute to his former team-mate, speaking to the YEP.

“He’s got an amazing amount of love from all of the clubs he played for, Sheffield United, Everton, Newcastle, Leeds – you name it, and rightly so.

“I think everyone has got great memories of him and, whichever club he has been at, he has been an absolute star and a real gentleman as well.

“I talked just a few days ago with Howard Wilkinson when we were doing an event in Scarborough – a Leeds United event.

“Three-hundred-and-fifty crazy Leeds fans were there and, of course, Speedo got brought up and rightly so.

“We were chatting away and I was saying he was unique because he was a few years younger than me and he was the only player that came to me and said ‘right, exactly what position would you like me in when or what would you like me to do?.

“I was thinking ‘this is a dream playing behind this guy, this is going to be amazing’.

“He could do everything. He kept heading the ball and I would say ‘Speedo, this guy is a bit good in the air, you go and beat him and I will go and move over there’.

"He would just say ‘no problems at all’ and, if you could think of anyone who you wanted to play with as a team-mate. It was always going to be Speedo. He was brilliant.”

Recalling his first encounters of Speed at Leeds, Dorigo pondered: “What’s interesting is that running wise, he wasn’t super fast.

“And I do remember doing long runs because I hated long runs. My best was about 30 yards, that was about it. I could do it over and over again but don’t give me eight or 10 miles to run because I hated it.

"And Speedo was one of those that, after a mile, he looked knackered yet he just kept going. He could run forever.

“It always looked hard but he was one of those that whatever you needed him to do, he would do and I just thought ‘wow, is there anything he can’t do?’.

“I thought, ‘what about his right foot?

“No, he can volley that in the top corner. Left foot? That’s pretty good. Can he dribble? He can dribble as well’.

“He can score goals, he can tackle, what can’t he do?

“I think the problem was trying to work out where to play him and where his best attributes were because he could do so many things and I think that was the beauty of Speedo.

“You could put him in a lot of places although I do remember, I think it was the League Cup final against Aston Villa and I had pulled my hamstring in the semi-final.

“I was desperately trying to get fit for the final and it looked like I was going to make it. I had a few more sprints to go and, on the morning of the match, I was in the team, I just needed to prove my fitness.

“Speedo came up to me and said ‘please, please, please be fit because I don’t want to play left-back’ and I said ‘listen mate, I am desperate to play myself so don’t worry’.

“Then, all of a sudden, I went for a sprint and the second one, bang, I pulled my hamstring again and I was devastated.

“I looked over at Speedo and I could see his little eyes had dropped and I thought ‘oh no, I am sorry’.

“It was a nightmare yet he was the one, of course, that would fill in. Wherever he was needed, he would do a job.”

Speed did that job 312 times for Leeds during eight years at Elland Road, during which time he scored 57 goals.

But Dorigo says his influence extended far beyond the football pitch and the former left-back particularly enjoyed Speed’s rapport with Whites midfield star David Batty.

“He was just a lovely lad,” said Dorigo.

“Of course he played in front of me but it was him and Batts who were the two that mucked about. It was great.

“It was like watching two young pups keeping everyone entertained, they were great.

“They were always mucking about together and always doing stuff and it was cool just to watch and be around them.

“But, on the pitch, he was spot on, just a real professional and he had a head on his shoulders that was way above his years, simple as that.

“Yet he certainly enjoyed things and having a laugh and what have you but the nice thing is that we have so many nice memories and that’s the things we will always remember.”

At the top of the lot is becoming champions of England together – a memory that will never fade – although Dorigo says there is one particular memory in terms of a photograph which could have been even better.

Dorigo explained “There’s a goal and a brilliant picture of him and Batts jumping up and grabbing each other but I am about three yards behind trying to get in on the act.

"I couldn’t quite get in there and have a cuddle. But those sorts of things are wonderful.

“You come through some really difficult games and you get those points and you move on to the next one and, when you have experienced that after such a long period of time, you go through all of the highs and the lows.

“All of those memories will never, ever fade.”

A message from the Editor:

Leeds has a fantastic story to tell - and the Yorkshire Evening Post has been rooted firmly at the heart of telling the stories of our city since 1890.

We believe in ourselves and hope you believe in us too. We need your support to help ensure we can continue to be at the heart of life in Leeds.

Subscribe to our website and enjoy unlimited access to local news and information online and on our app.

With a digital subscription, you can read more than 5 articles, see fewer ads, enjoy faster load times, and get access to exclusive newsletters and content.

Click here to subscribe.

For more details on our newspaper subscription offers click here.

Thank you Laura Collins