Speedie departure

David Speedie’s arrival at Liverpool was marked by a flurry of crucial goals in big games. Then Kenny Dalglish quit, Graeme Souness took over and he was very quickly on his way out.

By Paul Wilkes

This article first appeared in Issue 7 which was published in March 2018.

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Speedie’s arrival was expected to simply strengthen the squad and he couldn’t have asked for a better start to his Liverpool career, as he scored on his debut at Old Trafford, wearing the famous No.7 shirt

The Liverpool No.7 is a legendary figure, even in an era where squad numbers are often not that relevant. Kevin Keegan, Kenny Dalglish and Peter Beardsley were among the players to make it famous, while Luis Suarez is the most notable wearer of the shirt in recent years.

They are all forwards or secondary strikers, who had a similar build and stature. They were around 5 feet 8 inches tall, with a deft first touch and vision to see the most telling passes. There was an expectancy that they would score goals, but not as many as a traditional No.9, while creating opportunities for their fellow attackers in equal measure. They were capable of unlocking defences with their quick feet and low centre of gravity.

Nowadays, there’s no correlation between the number a player wears and their role on the pitch. James Milner is the current wearer of the shirt and his use at left-back last season illustrates the modern trend perfectly, although he did acquire it when predominantly playing in central midfield.

Dalglish owned the number for the majority of his 13 years at Anfield, as he made the transition towards management in his later years. It was his job to find a successor to himself which he did in Beardsley, but he wanted to provide more competition to the Geordie, Ian Rush and Ronny Rosenthal in the striker position.

David Speedie made the surprise move from Coventry City to Merseyside in January 1991. There was plenty of scepticism from supporters and the media, with Speedie turning 31 a month later. “I’d known Kenny for years through the Scotland squad and it’s not as if we were strangers. He’d tried to sign me on three previous occasions, but Coventry had refused to let me go,” said Speedie at the time.

“But by this stage they’d sacked John Sillett, the manager I worshipped, and I didn’t want to stay. I enjoyed my football wherever I was but the fact that it was Liverpool coming in for me was great.”

Speedie was born in Glenrothes but grew up in Yorkshire. As a youngster, he worked in the coal mines and played for Brodsworth Welfare Association Football Club based in Doncaster. He joined Barnsley at the age of 18 and spent two years at Oakwell before moving to Darlington for another two years. Chelsea was his next destination, where he helped the club stay in the old Second Division with some important goals including two on his debut against Oldham Athletic.

Kerry Dixon arrived at Stamford Bridge a year later and the Blues were promoted at the end of the 1983/84 season. Speedie and Dixon formed a formidable partnership, scoring almost 200 goals together in their three-year tenure. The Scotsman was the club’s player of the year in 1985 and was the first senior player since Geoff Hurst to a score a hat-trick at Wembley a year later, when Chelsea beat Manchester City in the Full Members’ Cup final.

Speedie moved on to Coventry City for the next four years, where he scored spectacular and important goals rather than regularly. He did play in midfield in the latter part of his time at Highfield Road and he left the club a legend with the fans because of his fighting spirit. On the pitch, he was a fiery personality that refused to give up and off the pitch, he was a bundle of energy that entertained his fellow teammates. However, he had a tendency to be outspoken – particularly with those in authority.

Speedie was Dalglish’s last signing as manager at Liverpool, as he left the Sky Blues in a turbulent period for the club. He instantly became a popular figure in his new dressing room. “Speedo was a massive character,” explains ex-Liverpool winger Jimmy Carter. “Always laughing and joking and playing pranks on people. I personally got on really well with him and we often roomed together when on away trips. He was sometimes really quiet and reflective, but he soon livened up on a night out.

“On the field as everyone knows he was a huge competitor. A born winner who hated losing. I have fond memories of Speedo and our time together at Anfield. I think we signed a few days apart back in January 1991 followed by Jamie Redknapp a few days later.”

“David was a great lad and I got on with him very well,” said former Liverpool defender Nicky Tanner. “We roomed together on his only pre-season tour with the club.”

Liverpool had won the league in 1989-90, even though top scorer John Aldridge had left for Real Sociedad. It was business as usual for the club, with that triumph making it their seventh title in 11 years.

They had started the 1990-91 campaign well, with victories over Manchester United, Everton and Tottenham Hotspur. It took until December before they were defeated in the league, when they lost 3-0 to Arsenal having remained unbeaten for 14 matches.

Liverpool were still top of the league at the end of the calendar year, even though they were beaten by Crystal Palace during the festive period. Beardsley had scored an impressive 11 goals by the middle of November, although the last of these against Coventry City proved to be his final league goal for the club.

The former Newcastle forward’s dramatic drop in form affected Liverpool, but they still had Rush regularly finding the net and goals from Rosenthal. There was certainly no sign of the impending crisis that would engulf the side and see them fail to win a league title since.

Speedie’s arrival was expected to simply strengthen the squad and he couldn’t have asked for a better start to his Liverpool career, as he scored on his debut at Old Trafford, wearing the famous No.7 shirt. John Barnes weaved past a couple of defenders before producing a cross into the area. Manchester United Goalkeeper Les Sealey just about managed to get a hand to the ball, but it fell invitingly for Speedie who volleyed it into the net. The forward immediately ran towards Barnes to credit him for his part in the goal.

Speedie was part of a three-man attack alongside Rush and Barnes, with Steve McMahon and Ronnie Whelan in midfield. Steve Bruce equalised for United to earn them a draw and deny Speedie the winning goal.

However, his home debut against Everton was even sweeter. “It was the most frenetic game I played in my life,” admitted Speedie some years later to the Liverpool Echo. “The only one that compares was my debut for Scotland against England at Hampden Park.”

Jan Molby opened the scoring in the Merseyside derby, although the ball took a deflection off Speedie. In the modern day it would have been credited to the Scotsman, but he wasn’t concerned with it at the time.

Neville Southall was the goalkeeper for the Blues, while Graeme Sharp, Pat Nevin and Stuart McCall also played. Speedie was in partnership with Barnes, as Rush missed out and Beardsley was a substitute along with Carter. “My first goal came from a free-kick wide on the left from Molby,” continued Speedie. “I’d already seen in training the kind of stuff that he could do, he had great accuracy with his passing, so I looked away, gave Jan the signal and ran into the centre where he picked me out.

“For the second, the ball was cleared, and it fell to David Burrows. There were two men on the post, but they stayed, Bugsy hit it and I deflected it into the net. The noise was incredible. I’d scored against the enemy and I was well happy.”

Liverpool played Everton three more times in the space of 18 days because of FA Cup replays. The middle game saw the dramatic 4-4 draw, which culminated in Dalglish’s resignation. “We were playing Luton away on the Saturday and I had gone back home to the Midlands before meeting the team coach on the way down on the Friday,” recalled Speedie.

“When I got a phone call to say Kenny had jacked it in I couldn’t believe it. It was out of the blue and it brought my Liverpool career to a stuttering halt. I never played up front for Liverpool again. I scored three more goals but all from midfield.”

Ronnie Moran took over as caretaker manager before he was replaced by Graeme Souness in the April. “I think Kenny going when he did and entirely out of the blue meant that it was an extremely difficult time for the club,” said Case. “Kenny was such an iconic figure at the club it was bound to have had an effect. I would say overnight it became a club in transition.”

Liverpool struggled under Souness and Speedie was never given an opportunity, as his dream start began to turn into a nightmare. Speedie says that he fell out with Souness when he made his debut for Scotland and the former midfielder was overly critical of him during the encounter with England. “Unfortunately, Souey and him didn’t see eye to eye from playing together with Scotland so he knew his days were numbered when Souey took over,” confirmed Tanner. 

“With the new manager coming in, all of sudden established Liverpool legends were being scrutinized and many left the club soon after moving onto different clubs,” Carter said.  “In my opinion Graeme Souness tried to change too much too quickly. I know that he felt at the time it was being done in the best interests of Liverpool Football Club, but I guess if you ask Graeme now after all these years he may just concede that he may have done things a bit different.”

In the summer, Liverpool went on pre-season tour to Germany. It was a gruelling two weeks under the new regime with endless training sessions. “He [Souness] stopped us going out for a drink,” said Speedie. “But myself, Gary Gillespie and Ray Houghton went out anyway. We had a few beers and then came back, and they were all down in the hotel nightclub! Souness was at the bar, and I said to him: ‘You know something, you are a c***.’ He didn’t say much back.

“He never gained respect as manager of Liverpool. He was brilliant as a player, I could not say enough about him as a player. But as a manager, no.”

Speedie joined Blackburn Rovers for £400,000 in August 1991, where he was ironically reunited with Dalglish two months later. He is often derided by some Liverpool supporters, as one of the many disappointing signings over the years. However, that version of events is extremely harsh given his output on the pitch: he finished with six goals in nine starts.

“I thought Speedo done well,” agreed Carter. “Whenever asked to pull on the famous red jersey of Liverpool he never let himself or the club down. He managed to get himself on the scoresheet a couple of times as well. Obviously, things changed a bit when Kenny resigned and Souness took over. It was clear that Speedo’s career lay elsewhere.”

This article first appeared in Issue 7 which was published in March 2018.

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