Leeds Utd v Newcastle: Fans to pay joint tribute to Gary Speed

Gary Speed celebrates scoring for Leeds United against Bradford City.
Gary Speed celebrates scoring for Leeds United against Bradford City.
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WHEN it comes to the two games afforded star billing in the top two divisions this weekend, it is all a question of respect. Or lack of it.

While the Premier League’s marquee fixture will see a metaphorical frost prevail at Old Trafford this lunch-time where the managerial enmity between Jose Mourinho and Arsene Wenger has failed to thaw in over a decade, the contrast to the scene at Elland Road 24 hours later can not be more pronounced.

Here the respect between rival bosses in the shape of Garry Monk and Rafael Benitez is very real and will hold whatever transpires in the Championship’s eagerly-awaited blue riband game of the weekend when Leeds United host Newcastle United at a sell-out Elland Road.

It is all rather grown up and edifying, in comparison to the antipathy between their Manchester United and Arsenal counterparts, who most would suggest should be old enough to know better.

As a young boss making his way in the game at Swansea, Monk will always remember his first meeting with Benitez with genuine fondness.

It came just a few weeks after the Leeds head coach took over the caretaker reins at the Liberty Stadium, with his sixth game in temporary charge being a second leg Europa Cup tie against Napoli at the Stadio San Paolo – then led by a comparative managerial grandee in Benitez.

Monk and his Swans side may have copped European elimination following a 3-1 reverse, but his positive memories from that Neapolitan evening hold by way of the generous amount of time that Benitez afforded him following the game.

As a young boss, you do not forget those sort of things in a hurry, even if Monk would be doing his damnedest to ensure Benitez and his Newcastle side are given a tough time of it tomorrow afternoon. The Spaniard would not have it any other way.

Monk said: “He (Benitez) was brilliant and it was one of the biggest experiences I have had. After games, you speak to managers and he was brilliant with me.

“We played Napoli in the Europa League and we had a real good chat afterwards and it was not just one of those where he just shook my hand and went and said, ‘I have got to catch the bus or plane’.

“We sat for a long time talking about his experiences and I have got a real big respect for him.

“I saw him earlier this season at the managers’ meeting and we had a good chat again. I respect him highly and his career is second to none and he is one of the top European managers and it is great to pit your wits against these guys.”

Class and respect will also be on show between both sets of supporters in the 11th minute of tomorrow’s televised game when Leeds and Newcastle supporters applaud in unison for one minute to remember a player beloved by both clubs – the late Gary Speed – in homage to the number 11 shirt that he wore in distinction, both in West Yorkshire and on Tyneside.

It represents a nice touch ahead of the fifth anniversary of Speed’s untimely passing on November 27, which affected many Whites and Magpies supporters, and saddened countless others across the football world.

Monk believes it represents a classy touch by both clubs in what promises to be a memorable occasion tomorrow, the likes of which have sadly been all too infrequent at Elland Road in recent years.

On remembering Speed, Monk added: “It is vitally important.

“I remember the day that it happened, I was playing at the time, for Swansea, and we were at home to Aston Villa.

“And obviously with the Welsh connections we had a lot of players that were in the Welsh set-up under his management at the time.

“There were a lot of staff and people that knew Gary very well. Everyone was stunned. I couldn’t really believe that it was true and I remember playing that game next to Ashley Williams, who was in that squad, and I had to really nurse him through that game because I think his mind was wandering a little bit, like it would naturally.

“It was a strange feeling that day – I remember that – and it (tomorrow) is a fitting tribute.

“He is a legend for both clubs, but I am sure the Leeds fans especially class him as one of their own.

“He came through here as a very young player and I am sure that he will get the right tribute that he deserves.”

Speed was in the black and white of Newcastle on the last occasion that these famous rivals did battle in Leeds in a 2-2 draw back in August 2003.

That was, of course, in the Premier League where both sides have traditionally locked horns and while the Magpies look nailed on to return to the big time – regardless of what happens tomorrow – Leeds are also glancing through the window at the exclusive top-flight table, hoping to dine at it again.

It is not beyond the realms of possibility that could even transpire in the Spring, although Monk is not one for getting ahead of himself.

While much talk is on Newcastle’s eight-match winning streak, with the Magpies having not seen their colours lowered on their Championship travels since an opening-day loss at Fulham, Leeds have their strong recent Elland Road run to protect, with the smart cash being on the visitors being given a real run for their money.

Monk, whose side have not been beaten in Leeds for seven matches, added: “We go out there to try and keep that run going.

“It is going to be difficult, but we know we have enough in the changing room to make sure it’s a difficult day for Newcastle.”