Gary Speed’s sparkling career spanned five clubs plus international honours and latterly management with both Sheffield United and then Wales.
As a player, ‘Speedo’ netted 141 times for club or country, and it all began with an instinctive strike for Leeds in a 1-1 draw at home to Bradford City in April 1990.
The strike – Speed’s first goal in professional football – proved crucial in helping Howard Wilkinson’s Whites to promotion as champions as mere goal difference sealed the Division Two crown.
Speed had only made his Whites debut in the penultimate game of the previous season, stepping out aged 19 in a goalless draw at Oldham Athletic on May 16, 1989.
But one year later the 20-year-old winger was beginning to establish himself as a regular starter and again took his place in the side for the visit of relegation-bound Bradford on the first Saturday of April 1990.
Willkinson’s Whites approached the contest looking to bounce back from the previous weekend’s 1-0 loss at Wolves, a first defeat in six league games which had followed four wins on the spin.
Bradford, meanwhile, were looking to avoid a third successive defeat as part of a dismal run that had featured just two victories in their last 15 league games.
Bradford were on their way down as part of a season in which they would finish second bottom.
The Whites and Bantams were moving in opposite directions in the Football League but that didn’t stop the visitors causing a minor upset at Elland Road as Speed’s strike ultimately prevented a Whites defeat.
Speed took his place in the Whites XI for what was a sixth appearance of the season, lining up alongside Mervyn Day, Mel Sterland, Vinnie Jones, Chris Fairclough, Jim Beglin, Peter Haddock, David Batty, Gordon Strachan, John Hendrie and Lee Chapman as Bobby Davison and Chris Kamara filled the bench.
Speed’s first start of the season had arrived in the 4-2 victory at Oxford United on March 10. Prior to that contest, the young Welsh star had been on the bench.
But Speed went on to start 11 of the remaining 12 league games and took another big step forward by netting his first of 57 goals for Leeds against the Bantams.
A crowd of 32,316 descended on Elland Road as Leeds looked to complete the double over Bradford who the Whites had beaten 1-0 at Valley Parade at the end of October.
Speed had replaced Andy Williams as an 86th minute substitute in the reverse fixture for what was his fifth outing of the season from the bench.
Six months later, the winger was in from the start against the Bantams and Leeds went close to going ahead with a fierce strike from Strachan that was well saved by Bantams ‘keeper Paul Tomlinson.
A Strachan cross was then headed back across goal by Chapman to Hendrie whose shot across goal was also saved.
United continued to create chances and Sterland saw a low drive crash back off the post, Leeds unable to convert two attempts to put away the rebound.
But Speed proved the man to finally fire Leeds ahead as he latched on to a long throw that had been flicked through the area, the winger poking home a low instinctive finish from the middle of the box.
The strike looked set to prove the winning goal and Speed was mobbed by his delighted team mates.
But Bradford had other ideas and grabbed an equaliser after being awarded a penalty which Brian Tinnion converted to seal a 1-1 draw.
Strachan was booked and Jones had words to say to the referee as the Bantams denied the Whites what would have been a 22nd victory of the season.
But the draw proved crucial come the end of the season, Leeds making their point and Speed making his for an early highlight in a truly memorable career.
Here’s to you Gary.
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Thank you Laura Collins