Why the memory of Gary Speed continues to unite Leeds United and Newcastle fans

Gary Speed
Gary Speed
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WHETHER it be in the iconic white shirt of Leeds United or the similarly revered black-and-white jersey of Newcastle United, Gary Speed invariably exuded class in his playing days.

On an afternoon when the two Uniteds came together, legions of Loiners and Geordies showed their Sunday best in collectively remembering ‘Speedo’ ahead of next Sunday’s fifth anniversary of his untimely passing.

A congregation of 36,002 supporters descended upon Elland Road – the biggest pilgrimage to the famous old stadium since January 2011 – and while the final result was not one that most present would have wanted, being part of such a venerated occasion provided succour.

The tone of remembrance and thanks was set when Speed’s parents Roger and Carol walked out onto the turf before kick-off to salute both sets of supporters, who held their son in such high regard.

Players of both sides did their bit by wearing t-shirts with the message ‘Speed 11’ printed on the back, with Speed quickly remembered in song by all four sides of the ground, including the 2,700 Newcastle contingent in the far corner of the West Stand, in this the first league meeting between the two teams since the Welshman’s death.

In the 11th minute the stadium rose as one to hail Flintshire’s finest in a minute’s applause – a classy intervention on an occasion when class, fittingly, took centre stage.

It also came in the form of a sell-out crowd, which provided a sweet reminder of the big-game atmosphere and setting that swathes of supporters of both clubs were once weaned upon.

The sort of occasion that both are pining for again on a far more regular basis.

The banter was good, if a little brazen at times, but here was Tyneside and a fair part of West Yorkshire puffing their collective chests out with pride again.

A big day in the north for two of its biggest cities.

As for the class on the pitch, well this was sporadically provided by the visitors, whose spell in the second tier will in all likelihood equate to a season-long loan.

The joyous travelling contingent from the north east belted out a raucous chant of ‘We’re Newcastle and we’re going to win the league’ soon after Dwight Gayle struck an exquisite second goal in the 54th minute – and it was hard to disagree.

The airing was delivered with supreme confidence and authority.

Although the Geordies’ glass has always refreshingly been half-full as opposed to half-empty over the years. It is called devout belief.

Former Newcastle chairman Sir John Hall may have ebulliently – and infamously –stated to the watching nation that ‘you have just seen the champions’ in the shape of the Magpies after a 5-0 Premier League win over Manchester United in October 1996.

But this looks a different kettle of fish.

If Newcastle do not get promoted, and win the league as well, there should be a stewards’ enquiry.

The mood music may have gone down a few decibels for Leeds in the second half as Newcastle played the game out at a canter.

But for those of a White persuasion – whether those who attend religiously or renewed their vows – there were elements to take from certain events on the pitch.

Only the most myopic Leeds supporter would have predicted a home victory with any degree of confidence and certainty, with the realistic majority probably settling for further evidence of the club’s improvement against the division’s standard bearers.

Intermittently, at least, Leeds did provide Newcastle with the “difficult afternoon” that Garry Monk had demanded, albeit not for as prolonged a period as the Whites’ head coach would have wanted.

Rome was not built in a day and all that.

The trick for Leeds is continuing their evolution in the weeks and months ahead – to enable them, hopefully, to play in front of similarly bumper home crowds further down the line. And ultimately prosper.