Duncan Ferguson says it was a “real privilege” to help Gary Speed “live his dream” when the Welshman celebrated his Everton debut by scoring in front of Goodison Park’s Gwladys Street End.
A cycling endurance event named in honour of Speed, who died in 2011, will be staged this weekend [June 1-2] and raise funds for Everton in the Community’s mental health project, The People’s Place.
Speed joined Everton from Leeds United in summer 1996 and promptly endeared himself to supporters by overshadowing Newcastle United’s British-record signing debutant Alan Shearer on the campaign’s opening day.
The Blues already led Newcastle 1-0 courtesy of a David Unsworth penalty when Speed emphatically crowned a magnificent first appearance for the club he grew up supporting.
Ferguson nodded down a raking Graham Stuart pass, inviting Speed to complete a trademark penalty-area surge by slipping his finish beyond goalkeeper Shaka Hislop.
Striker Ferguson, now on manager Marco Silva’s Goodison coaching staff, insists Speed’s instant impact surprised nobody in Everton’s dressing room.
“Everyone knew Gary Speed and what a wonderful player he was from his time playing at Leeds and winning the championship” Ferguson told evertontv.
“I first met Gary before he came to Everton – when he played at Leeds and I was with Rangers.
“When Gary walked in our dressing room he immediately received loads of respect, he was a top player.
“I have really fond memories of that day against Newcastle.
“For Gary, a boyhood Evertonian, to be living his dream and scoring on his debut must have been a tremendous feeling for him.
“I remember that goal vividly: how happy he was and that big smile when he scored.
“It was a real privilege to be part of that.”
Speed emerged from Leeds’ youth set-up to grow into one of the Yorkshire club’s finest players after making his professional debut aged 19 in 1989.
He played all but one of Leeds’ 42 matches as Howard Wilkinson’s team won the league title in 1991-92 – and encountered Ferguson when Leeds and Rangers crossed swords in the second round of the following season’s European Cup.
Speed sealed his dream move to Everton after leaving Elland Road and subsequently represented Newcastle United, Bolton Wanderers and Sheffield United.
🚲 | This weekend. In memory of Gary Speed. Raising funds for our mental health facility, The People's Place.
— Everton in the Community (@EITC) May 28, 2019
The Speed Cycle, which has a £65,000 fundraising target in recognition of Speed’s 65 Everton appearances, will see 22 cyclists plot a 220-mile course between the home grounds of all the midfielder’s former clubs.
Ferguson met the group – which will journey from Newcastle’s St James’s Park to Goodison Park, via Elland Road, Bramall Lane, home of Sheffield United, and Bolton Wanderers’ University of Bolton Stadium – at Everton’s USM Finch Farm training base last week.
And he shared more memories of his ex-teammate, recalling the assured manner in which Speed shouldered his multi-million-pound move – and the former Leeds player’s equaliser in front of the Kop eight minutes from the end of a Merseyside derby in November 1996.
“That is the second goal I always remember from Gary; we were losing 1-0 and I remember how ecstatic we were when he got that glancing header,” said Ferguson.
“It was fantastic – and, again, seeing Gary’s big smile and how happy he was playing for his boyhood club, it was tremendous to be part of that.
“Gary was the ultimate professional. He was a top player and had played in massive games, so I am sure his debut at Goodison did not faze him at all.
“Supporting Everton all your life, to be out there and playing and scoring in front of the Gwladys Street must have been an incredible feeling for him.
“That was one of my favourite matches, we won and it was the opening game of the season.
“We’d had a great season the year before and were looking to kick on.
“We had a decent team and it was a good game for us.”
Gary’s parents, Roger and Carol, have made the first contribution towards the Speed Cycle’s £65,000 target, donating from the Gary Speed Foundation – a charity founded in Speed’s memory following his tragic death in 2011.
All money raised from The Speed Cycle will go towards helping Everton in the Community reach its £1million fundraising target to build The People’s Place – a purpose-built mental health facility close to Goodison Park which will support anyone in times of need.
Ferguson’s two spells at Everton sandwiched time with Newcastle where he reunited with Speed, who went out of his way to help his friend settle in the north east.
“He did – he was a good jockey, he liked to drive up and down to training,” said Ferguson.
“I did not know the area very well, so Gary would pick me up at the hotel and take me to the matches.
“He was a friendly face and a great teammate and someone you could count on.”
Ferguson added: “He was a gentleman, a total gentleman. And I remember that big smile.
“He was just a great fella, a great professional, a great football player – a great fella to be around.
“Everyone wanted to be next to him.
“He was just a great man and it was so very sad what happened to Gary.”