FANS are planning their own tribute to Leeds United great Gary Speed at the Npower Championship game at Nottingham Forest tonight.
Speed, who made 312 appearances for Leeds and wore the number 11 shirt with distinction for Leeds after coming through the academy ranks, was found hanged at his Cheshire home on Sunday morning.
Players will wear black armbands as a mark of respect at tonight’s game at the city Ground and also on Saturday for the home game with Millwall when a minute’s remembrance will be held.
But supporters are also planning an 11-minute chant from the 11th minute of the Forest game to pay their own tribute to a player so important to the club in their First Division championship success.
A special edition of United’s matchday programme is being produced for Saturday’s match, containing many fans’ memories of the title-winning midfielder. And during the minute’s remembrance footage of Speed’s finest moments in the Leeds shirt will be played on Elland Road’s big screen.
Tributes have poured in, meanwhile, for a player universally respected in the game.
Leeds City Council leader Coun Keith Wakefield said: “On behalf of the city of Leeds I would like to express my shock and extreme sadness at the death of Gary Speed.
“Gary was a hugely popular and respected figure in Leeds, both on a personal and professional level, having started his career at Leeds United and playing a key role in the legendary title-winning side of 1992.
“He will forever be fondly remembered by everyone in the city and our thoughts at this very sad time are with his family and friends.”
Speed’s former captain at Leeds, Gordon Strachan, said: “I changed beside him for six years at Leeds and, throughout my football career, I was proud of Gary Speed like a father figure. I kept saying to people that he wasn’t the most talented of kids when I first met him but he wanted to be better and learn things.
“When I was a young coach at Leeds, he used to ask what I was doing in the afternoon and he would say ‘I will come with you and work at this and that’. I used him as an example to other players. I’d say ‘You have more talent but this guy got the most out of what he had.’
“I am going to miss his laugh. Anyone who knows him will know he had a kind of child-like laugh and I said to Gary McAllister yesterday ‘I will forget the goals but I will never forget his laughter’. I am never going to hear that laughter again.”
Current United manager Simon Grayson started as an apprentice at Leeds on the same day as Speed and the pair did their coaching badges together. He has found it tough to take in the news of his friend’s death, but wants the team to win for “Speedo” tonight.
He said: “Sunday was a difficult day and I won’t be the first to admit that I shed a tear when I got the news. I left here and just spent a little bit of time to myself.
“But you’ve got to get your professional head on because Gary would have wanted us to do that. He’d have been doing exactly the same thing, preparing his team as thoroughly as possible for a game.
“It would be a fantastic and fitting way for us to remember Gary by managing to get three points.
“Hopefully, my team can do Gary Speed justice in terms of how he produced performances for this football club.
“It was a very difficult 24 hours; not just for myself, but for everyone who knows Gary and more notably for Louise, the children and parents and rest of his family.
“If there’s one person you’d have thought this could happen to, certainly Gary Speed’s name wouldn’t be on that list.
“My first reaction when I heard was that it must have been a quick illness or something like that. It’s just hugely sad, unbelievably sad, and everybody is still coming to terms with it.
“We came to Elland Road as 14-year-olds and signed on the morning of a game and it was the first time I’ve ever come across him. His dad was with him and my dad was with me and Gary had that Chester accent I’d never came across.
“From then on, we trained together and in the school holidays, my parents came close to his parents who followed him in the youth team, reserves and then first-team games.
“Subsequently, our paths crossed as players and then later on, as managers, we did six or seven years on coaching courses together. But it just seems just like yesterday we were 14-year-olds coming to this club.
“You can just see with the tributes, not just within the football industry but throughout the country, just what a person Gary Speed was.
“When you look back, Gary was part of a quartet in that ’92 title-winning team that will go down as one of the best quartet’s this club has produced. McAllister, Speed, Batty and Strachan – not just Leeds United fans can tell you that midfield, but those who don’t support Leeds, which speaks volumes.”
Speed first played for Leeds as a teenager before forming part of United’s perfectly balanced title-winning midfield four with Gordon Strachan, David Batty and Gary McAllister.
He left the club in 1996, joining Everton, the club he supported as a boy, and went on to play for Newcastle United, Bolton Wanderers and Sheffield United, becoming the first player to reach 500 Premier League appearances. He also won 85 caps for Wales - a record for an outfield player.
He was appointed manager of Wales in December 2010, following a short spell in charge of Sheffield United and had seen his country’s fortunes improve rapidly in recent months.
An inquest into 42-year-old Speed’s death is due to open today.