Celsea, Liverpool, Francis AFC ...
He enjoyed a lengthy career at the top level of English football, so how did David Speedie end up in Dublin’s United Churches League? The former Liverpool striker tells the story of an eventful life to DanielMcDonnell
Published 18/04/2011 | 05:00
David Speedie knows he is the answer to the quiz question waiting to be asked. Name the ex-Chelsea and Liverpool international footballer who went from the Premier League to Dublin's United Churches League.
Quite the journey alright, but then a man who lined out for 11 clubs in his professional career knows a thing or two about fate taking somebody in a surprising direction. Meeting an Irish woman named Margaret Thompson at Chester Races five years ago was the beginning of another fresh start.
The 51-year-old has passed through Dublin mostly unnoticed ever since, as people are either too young to remember him in his pomp, or simply don't imagine that it could be him. What are the chances?
Of course, the features have changed with age; the receding hairline has progressed into baldness, and the waistline has naturally evolved in retirement. Now and again, however, a punter of a certain vintage will twig the resemblance. They recognise a tricky front-man who made a living from scoring goals and snapping at defenders heels through the 80s and early 90s.
"People sort of look and say, 'You were a little b*****ks'," he smiles. "That's mainly what people say, which I think is a compliment. I was always running around, chasing, giving my all and it's nice to be remembered that way. I never gave anybody a minute."
Last Thursday lunchtime, sitting in a Dublin hotel, he was prepared to give a bit more time to reflect on an incident-packed adult life largely spent on the move.
He's been around these parts for over four years now, yet the wider public only really learned of it when he was snapped lining out for a new club named Francis AFC in Division 3 of the United Churches League earlier this year. A double-take moment for learned opponents, a culture shock for Speedie.
The experience has given him an insight into a completely different side of the game, a world where it costs money to play football rather than getting paid for it. "It's an eye-opener when you turn up and the first thing that Noely Browne says to you is, 'Subs!' I have to hand over a fiver straight away. It's one extreme to the other."
His association with the club came about when he met Liam Fox and Roy Fox -- the latter a former League of Ireland player -- through Margaret. An offer to help with coaching and sponsorship developed into putting on his boots when they were down a few bodies. But he doesn't intend to make any further appearances, believing that referees fancy taking him down a peg or two.
"I've stopped playing. I don't want to because it's detrimental to the team. One ref booked me and I said after the game: 'Did you book me because you wanted to tell your mates you booked David Speedie?' All I did was say: 'Stop!' after a decision he made.
"I've been sent off twice as well, so I play as little as possible, but I like being involved, it's great."
Running a small club like Francis AFC is a chore for the volunteers and, off the top of his head, he reels off a list of sponsors from the Dublin 8 area who have helped out. Tom Kennedys Pub, the Liberty Belle, the Dean Swift, Global Hairdressers. He's even gone around the area selling raffle tickets, whatever it takes to keep the show on the road.
There's an obvious question to ask an ex-footballer who appears to have settled back into less than salubrious surroundings. Where did the money go?
Speedie says he has a good pension, and is relatively comfortable, yet also confesses to losing some money in property.
Bad timing. It's a familiar theme. He peaked in football just before the big Sky money came in, and then quit his stint as a football agent ahead of an era where the fixers began to earn serious cash.
Coaching was contemplated until he decided he wasn't going to pay the FA money to do his badges. So, from 1995 until 2000, he represented players, a mixed bag of memories. The highlight was ringing his old pal, John Aldridge, at Tranmere and asking if there were any youngsters there that needed guidance.
Aldridge recommended highly-rated young goalkeeper Steve Simonsen. One meeting later, Speedie had a promising client, and 12 months down the line he was fixing up a switch to Everton.
It couldn't go through until he found Aldridge a replacement, and a Dutch contact put forward a chap named John Achterberg, who went on to establish a long career at Prenton Park. It was a profitable period, and he lists off other transfers he secured in a purple patch.
But personal reasons ended his involvement in that side of the game.
A messy divorce was the cause. "I packed in the agency because the ex-wife was trying to use it to get more money off me. I gave her the licence and said, 'You do it then'. It was the biggest mistake I ever made. The whole thing ballooned after that."
He spent a period of time doing nothing, before trying his hand in a different sphere. By now, he was living in Doncaster, near where he grew up in Yorkshire, where his son sought work through a recruitment company. The boss twigged the surname, established the identity, and asked if his dad would be interested in coming on board.
"I fell into it (the recruitment agency) by accident," he says. "But within six months our number of clients had increased. I was able to open doors. We went from a turnover of £250,000 a year to £3m."
Subsequently, he set up his own company, an interest that ended only recently. A dispute with a partner was the root cause, albeit arising from bizarre circumstances. Speedie broke his arm going for 'the knockout' in a charity boxing match with ex-Spurs man and former Coventry team-mate Steve Sedgeley two years ago.
He was in a cast for four months after surgery which involved bone graft from the hip being used to reconstruct the injured area. The majority of that time was spent in Ireland, so his eye was off the ball workwise. His work partner opted to wind down the company and go off on his own instead of buying out Speedie's stake. No room for sentiment.
Then again, Speedie is no stranger to conflict. On the pitch, his abrasive style upset opponents and his forthright personality ensured there were plenty of scraps with people in his own corner. He made a good career of it, though. The longest stretch was at Chelsea, but he is perhaps better known for a brief period at Liverpool, where he was Kenny Dalglish's last signing in his first stint in charge.
Speedie was going on 31, and his capture at the beginning of 1991 raised eyebrows. History has judged the move a failure, when, in reality, circumstances conspired to derail his dream. He hit the ground running, with a goal on his debut at Old Trafford and a further two in his next game at home to Everton. "They were calling me God," he laughs. Alas, within a couple of weeks, Dalglish walked away, and when Graeme Souness was eventually brought in as the replacement, Speedie knew he was finished. They never got on, with the enmity going back to Speedie's Scottish debut, against England at Hampden Park, when his supposed colleague gave him plenty of grief.
"I was sick when he came in," he sighs. " Graeme was a great footballer, but I thought he was big-headed and I let him know. He didn't really conduct himself the way he should have done. He wasn't the best man-manager.
"He'd done brilliant at Rangers and thought he could do the same at Liverpool, but he changed the training and got on everybody's backs. The whole Liverpool way changed."
At the end of that season, he had moved on to Blackburn and was reunited with Dalglish after Souness froze him out of the picture completely.
"I had three years left on my contract and I didn't want to leave, but I wasn't going to stay and train with the kids. I'd told Souness what I thought of him on a pre-season tour in Germany. I called him a c***. I said, 'You're nothing but a c***. You know that? You're not a manager, you're an a**ehole.'"
Unsurprisingly, that was that. As a contrast, his memories of Dalglish are wholly positive, recalling that on his first day at Liverpool, the boss took him out for a game of golf.
"When Kenny speaks to you, he gives you advice, you listen. When Graeme Souness speaks to you, and gives you advice, you don't listen. Kenny knows how to treat people."
Speedie opened the papers recently to see pictures of Dalglish taking new signing, Andy Carroll, to a Boyzone concert and wasn't entirely surprised. Well, maybe a bit surprised by the choice of band, but the thinking behind it resonated.
"It wouldn't surprise me if it turned out that Carroll wasn't that badly injured after he joined. Kenny was probably just easing him in. That's what they should have done to Torres at Chelsea. When I went to Chelsea, it took me six months to settle in London, cos all those Cockneys think they're bloody it."
Ironically, he's watched plenty of Souness on the TV during his Irish trips. "I turn over," he jokes. Speedie is gradually working his way onto the airwaves now, a positive off-shoot of the revelation that he was togging out in the UCL.
A chance meeting between his girlfriend and Ronnie Whelan had actually set him on the way to establishing contacts; despite the brevity of his time in Liverpool, Speedie made plenty of friends there and praises the Anfield hierarchy for the manner in which they keep former players in the loop.
The only sour point of his Irish stay being highlighted was a story last weekend which linked him with gangland figure Fat Freddie Thompson, whose brother is married to a sister of Speedie's girlfriend.
"I don't even know the guy," he says. "It was scandalous."
He has been stopped by the cops, though, an issue arising from his English registration plate. Until he moves over full-time -- which is dependent on selling his house in Doncaster -- he won't pay the duty here, and that's caused problems more than once.
It's a minor quibble and, all things considered, he has taken to the Irish way of life. Media opportunities with Setanta and RTE are a bonus, supplementing the guest speaking and other bits and bobs he does across the water.
"It never even crossed my mind to put myself forward for media work in Ireland," he admits.
"I didn't think they'd be interested over here because I've been out of the limelight for so long."
It's one mistake he is happy to admit to. After an eventful journey, the well-travelled pro has belatedly found a place he wants to call home.