Footballer Keith Gillespie at Clitheroe’s The Grand to talk about his life

Keith Gillespie at The Grand. (s)
Keith Gillespie at The Grand. (s)

Imagine being a Premier League footballer who earned millions and ended up with nothing, writes Tony Dewhurst.

When former Blackburn Rovers winger Keith Gillespie was declared bankrupt in 2010 he calculated he had blown £7 million on gambling, flawed investments and failed business ventures.

Gillespie, who won 86 caps for Northern Ireland and who played for Rovers between 1998 and 2003, said he sat down and calculated how much he had blown, and the results were mind-blowing.

At Manchester United it was £60,00, Newcastle United £1.2 million and Blackburn, an astonishing £3.5 million.

“At Newcastle we received £50,000 each for coming second in the Premier League, which was huge money in 1996,” said Gillespie, who lived in the Ribble Valley during his spell at Ewood Park and will be talking about his life at Clitheroe’s Grand Theatre next month.

“But when I got to Blackburn, the Premiership was a global product and had inflated the wages and incentives even more.”

Gillespie said he collected a signing on fee of £850,000 after his Ewood switch from Newcastle.

He earned £1,500 per league point, so two wins on the bounce could be worth an extra £9,000.

“I got £11,000 a week in the first year at Blackburn – rising to £14,000 in my final year, but gambling emptied my pockets.

“I truly haven’t a notion how much I spent.

“There’s no way I can put a figure on it – the figures are astronomical.

“I always tended to spend what I had in my possession and my relationship towards money probably mirrored my attitude towards life when the going was good – impulsive and reckless.

“Gambling was my release from the pressure cooker atmosphere of football.”

When the money ran out, Gillespie sunk into depression, something he bravely talks about in his autobiography, “How Not to be a Football Millionaire”.

He was even forced to claim Jobseekers’ Allowance for a short while as he battled the demands of the taxman.

He does not duck a single issue, though, and his honesty is to be admired.

But football does not seem close to being out of his system.

“Nothing compares to the buzz of playing when you consider the pressures of the other side of life.

“You can never prepare for the last match because when you are out there on the field, making a pass or scoring a goal, it feels like it is going to last forever.

“You have 25 years in a dressing room and comrades, managers and friends come and go.

“There’s always the excitement, though, and when it ends, sometimes overnight, there’s nothing left.

“There is as great finality about it all and I think that’s what a lot of lads can’t handle.

“Not playing is a huge void to fill and for every retiree that goes into the management or media, there’s another who goes off the rails.

“I still have bad days, where I think it would be much easier if I had means to live more comfortably.”

He added: “I don’t have time to gamble anymore.

“I flick through the racing pages and I do the odd football accumulator, but it’s only small money.

“I have a family and every penny counts, so I have to shop around for value.

“People say to me that they’ve never read such an honest book about a footballer and that makes me proud, as does what I achieved in my career because I worked with some of the best managers and players in the world.

“I’ve battled back and life looks a lot rosier now.”

Keith Gillespie, “How Not to Be Football Millionaire”, Clitheroe Grand Theatre, January 22nd. £11-50 (Box office 01200 421599) or on line www.thegrandvenue.co.uk

Keith Gillespie. (s)