Another World Cup, another disastrous showing by England. But what’s that got to do with an autobiography of Keith Gillespie, the now retired Northern Ireland footballer? A great deal, I think. Although it is obviously about Gillespie’s life and career I feel his book also offers a massive indictment on much of what is wrong with English football.
In the first chapter of the book Gillespie states that he has, at a conservative estimate, blown over seven million pounds earned during his playing career. To put this into context, Gillespie is a player who never appeared in the World Cup finals, never won a Premiership Championship winners medal and never won a FA Cup winners medal. He also never fulfilled the potential he showed at his early years at Manchester United, but even so, for many years clubs were prepared to pay him outrageous amounts of money to play for them. Gillespie, like many young footballers, had no responsibilities but too much of free time on his hands and money to burn; is there any wonder that he used some of it to help pass the time? Unfortunately Gillespie chose to spend his money on gambling; not much at first, just a few quid on the odd horse race but soon he was addicted, wagering ever increasing sums on every horse race, searching for the thrill of picking a winner. This gambling addiction, together with a few bad investments, has meant that, instead of enjoying an extremely comfortable retirement, Gillespie is now practically penniless and facing a very uncertain future. Whilst I am not saying that this happens to every young footballer – Gillespie is an extreme case – surely getting paid vast amounts of money must have an adverse effect on many; what is the motivation to succeed if you already have a few million pounds in your bank account, a big house and a shiny car?
This is a fascinating book, rather different from the usual football autobiography. Gillespie doesn’t hold anything back, coming clean about his own problems and shortcomings but he also doesn’t hold back on his criticisms of individuals who have blighted his career – Nigel Worthington and Kevin Blackwell receiving particularly damning appraisals.
Gillespie tells a story that every supporter should read and every young footballer should learn from.