Northern Ireland

Keith Gillespie profile

keith gillespie
Image caption Keith Gillespie has more than 80 caps for Northern Ireland

Keith Gillespie is one of Northern Ireland's most celebrated footballers with more than 80 caps for his country.

His full-time career began with Manchester United where he rubbed shoulders with the likes of Ryan Giggs, David Beckham and Paul Scholes, and was part of the side's "golden generation" which won the Youth Cup in 1992.

Gillespie made the glamour move to Old Trafford after starring for St Andrews in Belfast.

The player was born in Larne, but grew up in north Down and not long after leaving his school desk at Bangor Grammar he was given his Manchester United debut against Bury in the FA Cup by Sir Alex Ferguson, just a few weeks before his 18th birthday.

A year later he made his Northern Ireland debut against Portugal at Windsor Park.

Gillespie's time in the United first team may have been fleeting but his searing pace attracted admiring suitors and in early 1995 he moved to another Premiership side, Newcastle United, valued at £1m in the transfer which took Andy Cole to Old Trafford.

His performances during the 1996-97 season helped Newcastle qualify for the Champions League, and the exciting wing play of Gillespie and David Ginola was essential to the team's attacking formation.

Temptations

When the Spanish giants, Barcelona, came to St James' Park, the Northern Irish player was a dynamic presence in Newcastle's victory, supplying the ammunition for a hat-trick from Colombian striker Faustino Asprilla.

Playing success at Newcastle was not without its temptations off the pitch, however, with a number of national newspapers carrying stories about Gillespie having gambling problems.

He later went on the record with the men's magazine, Loaded, saying that he had once gambled £47,000 in a day.

In a documentary, Gillespie told the BBC he had moved on from that episode in his life which he put down to "boredom".

"I would maybe have a bet over the phone and it would get more serious and before I knew it, I was losing too much money and I couldn't really get out of it trying to get it back," he said.

"I am glad I got over it at such a young age or else I could have lost a lot more."

It was not until 2002, that Gillespie picked up his first senior winner's medal, the Worthington Cup with Blackburn Rovers.

By then the title dream at Newcastle was over and Gillespie was serving under the renowned disciplinarian Graeme Souness.

Although best known for his spells with Newcastle United and Blackburn Rovers, Gillespie also had periods with Leicester City and Sheffield United, plus loans spells with Wigan Athletic and Bradford City among others.

The profile of his clubs may have diminished, but the winger was still an important part of the Northern Ireland set-up and he played in the team's Windsor Park wins against England in 2005 and Spain a year later.

In 2009, he returned home when he joined Irish League side Glentoran. The signing was viewed as a huge coup for the east Belfast club.

But it was a short lived relationship between the player and the club. It also spelled the end of his Northern Ireland career.

He left Glentoran in June this year after failing to negotiate a new deal.

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