Gillespie fails to fulfil promise

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The Independent Football

Like Frank Sinclair and Paul Dickov, Keith Gillespie is hardly a stranger to controversy, although it surfaced in gambling rather than sex or drinking scandals.

Gillespie, born in Bangor, was part of the outstanding Manchester United side which won the FA Youth Cup in 1992, and that he has not scaled the heights reached by David Beckham, Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs is not a reflection on his ability. When he sold him to Newcastle United in January 1995 as part of Andy Cole's move to Old Trafford, Sir Alex Ferguson wondered privately if Kevin Keegan had not received the better end of the deal.

Although he dazzled fitfully, most notably in a fabulous performance when Barcelona were swept aside at St James' in September 1997, gambling was to be Gillespie's undoing on Tyneside. As a trainee he had long been used to putting bets on for Ferguson and other members of the Manchester United staff and in three days, telephone betting in Newcastle, Gillespie ran up losses of £62,000.

A shy, polite if easily-led man, he fell out with the wrong people at Newcastle. In another team-bonding exercise, this one in Dublin, he became involved in an argument with Alan Shearer which finished with the then England captain knocking him to the pavement outside a bar. "Gillespie was sparked out in the gutter, there was blood everywhere," David Batty recalled. In December 1998, having largely failed to fulfill his promise, Gillespie was sold to Blackburn.

A reunion with Brian Kidd should have given Gillespie the chance to rediscover the touch which had made him potentially one of the best wingers in the country, but Kidd's time was slipping away. He identified Gillespie as "pure quality, one of a dying breed of wingers and his best years are ahead of him". The bold words should have been proved correct, but Graeme Souness demanded more rigid and disciplined methods and somehow Gillespie, always injury-prone, never quite fitted in.

Within six months of Souness' arrival, the Ulsterman was informed he was no longer required at Ewood Park and although Sunderland and Sheffield Wednesday expressed an interest, it took until last summer for him to leave. He even played in a League Cup final.

However, his feelings towards Souness were still icy when he arrived at Leicester. "He would walk past me in the corridor and say nothing. He says that it was because there was a lot on his mind, but it doesn't take much to say good morning. I was always the scapegoat."