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Keith Gillespie talks gambling addiction and Newcastle's title challenge with Johnny Phillips

Johnny Phillips - Johnny Phillips Posted 5th December 2013 view comments

Newcastle United go to Old Trafford on Saturday one point ahead of Manchester United in the Premier League. They are rivals no more, but there was a time when the two clubs slugged it out at the top.

It was a time when fans across the country sat up and watched one of the greatest title races of all time unfold in a very public manner - and one man had a role in both camps during that era.

Gillespie: tried to hide his gambling addiction

Gillespie: tried to hide his gambling addiction

For Keith Gillespie, the story began back in 1992 when he won the FA Youth Cup with a bunch of kids that became known as the Fergie Fledglings.

"Once we started playing well in the youth team together we started getting a little bit of media coverage," Gillespie recalled.

"The first team would be talking about us, we even played the first team one time at The Cliff [United's old training ground] and beat them 4-2.

I should have got another hobby like golf but once the gambling got hold of me that was it.

Keith Gillespie
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"Myself, as a United fan, here I was playing against players that I used to have posters of on my bedroom wall. It was amazing for us to be around players like Steve Bruce, Gary Pallister, Mark Hughes and Eric Cantona. They were starting to conquer the Premier League then but we upstaged them that one time."

Deal

Gillespie soon graduated to the first team, but one afternoon in January 1995 he was preparing for an FA Cup match in Sheffield when Alex Ferguson called him aside and said that Newcastle manager Kevin Keegan wanted to sign him as part of a £7million deal involving Andy Cole moving the other way.

It was a transfer that made front page headlines at the time, but wouldn't have happened had Gillespie not agreed. He remembers being rushed to a hotel after the game in Sheffield for a midnight meeting.

"Alex Ferguson, just after 12 o'clock, rang my mum and explained the situation and told her he'd look after me, so he represented me as my agent that night.

"He was true to his word and got me the best possible deal. It was great to be sitting there with two legends of the game and hearing them discuss my transfer."

The following season, Newcastle mounted a major title challenge, going clear at the top, playing some fantastic football before eventually being reeled in by Ferguson's team.

Gillepsie was in the form of his life, but he was also harbouring a dark secret.

Problem

On Sunday, 29 October, 1995 he played in a 1-1 draw against Spurs at White Hart Lane. His performance drew praise from his manager and no-one would have guessed what had happened in the previous 48 hours. He had lost £62,000 on the horses.

"People who don't gamble won't necessarily understand but people who have will know how easy it is to get into and once you're in that cycle it's very difficult to get out.

"The time I had on my hands was difficult. I should have got another hobby like golf but once the gambling got hold of me that was it.

"When I signed for Newcastle, just before my 20th birthday, the first five months I was living in a hotel. We used to train in the mornings and then you're finished by 12.30pm and the afternoons are your own then.

"I'm going back to a hotel room in a city where I don't know anybody, and that's how the gambling started and got out of control from there."

Now 38, Gillespie recounted the events of that time in a very matter-of-fact manner when we caught up in London this week.

His financial affairs never really recovered after that. His gambling habit went on to cost him more than that famous transfer deal all those years ago.

Totting up his losses he came to the figure of £7,215,875.

Bankrupt

In 2010, after a string of botched business deals including funding a film syndicate in the hope of gaining tax advantages, he was declared bankrupt.

The spiral of events also led to depression and Gillespie has been remarkably candid in revealing all this in his new book How Not To Be A Football Millionaire.

"I knew the bankruptcy was coming so when it all came out it was a weight off my mind," he added. "I was glad it was all out there.

"A lot of players have got involved in the film syndicate thing which was what eventually made me bankrupt. I'm three years on from that so it's just a case of rebuilding and I'm in a better place than I was. I still feel young, I'm just looking forward to the future.

"I've certainly had more ups and downs than most. It was difficult to talk about some of the problems I've had but I wanted to get it off my chest and get it out there. You don't envisage it until you see it. It's nice to see the book sitting there."

How Not To Be A Football Millionaire is more than just a tale of woe, there are many great memories and he comes clean about one or two stories that did the rounds during his time with Newcastle; the bust-up with Alan Shearer that ended with a hospital visit, the bed-hopping scrapes with fans - they're all in there.

Gillespie has had lots to deal with in a colourful career. Plenty of his troubles were of his own making but some, such as the awful La Manga prison episode while at Leicester City, have been unfairly put upon him.

Reflecting on it all, he is pragmatic enough to acknowledge that there is no point living his life now harbouring regrets, although the outcome of that 1995/96 title challenge does still bring with it a tinge of disappointment.

"Those years at Newcastle were my best years as a footballer, playing in a very attack-minded side. Nobody really gave us a chance at the start of that season and it was just a shame we couldn't quite get there.

"If we had won it I think Newcastle would have really kicked on and become a regular top-four side after that."

You can see our full interview with Keith Gillespie on Gillette Soccer Saturday this weekend.

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