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Page last updated at 16:25 GMT, Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Keith Gillespie open about gambling past

Gillespie keen to extend playing career

On the surface, the life of a footballer seems perfect.

Pop in for training, run about for a couple of hours then head home again, with the afternoon free for whatever takes your fancy.

However for former Northern Ireland international Keith Gillespie, that free time became his own worst enemy.

The 35-year-old struggled with a gambling addiction that cost him thousands of pounds, money he earned as one of the most high-profile footballers from his homeland.

"It was well documented at the time with the gambling," Gillespie told BBC Late Kick Off.

I still feel young, still feel fit, and want to get back playing

Keith Gillespie

"Everybody says it's a mug's game, and obviously I've lost quite a lot of money over the years, but it does take that to happen to make you realise that it's not good for you.

"A lot of that back then was due to being naive, being young and a little bit of boredom.

"Most players can control it and stay away from it, but I wasn't one of those who was able to do that."

When the Larne-born wideman signed for Manchester United as an apprentice in 1991, comparisons were made with another talented compatriot in the shape of the late George Best.

Gillespie's buccaneering wing-play was reminiscent of the 'Belfast Boy', but his spell at Old Trafford was ended by a switch to Newcastle United as part of Andy Cole's £7m move to Old Trafford in January 1995.

On the field at Newcastle, the signing proved an instant success.

Keith Gillespie
Gillespie helped Newcastle into the Champions League in 1995-96

The winger combined with France international David Ginola to supply ammunition for frontmen Peter Beardsley and Les Ferdinand, with 17 appearances for the Magpies between January and the end of the 1994-95 season, and continued to establish himself as a first-choice the following season.

Yet off the park he was less able to settle.

"Living in a hotel for five months, finish training, half 12, I'm home back at the hotel, and all of a sudden I got involved in gambling," Gillespie continued.

"It's difficult for players, there's more money in the game than there ever has been, and it's important that players find something to do in the afternoons to pass the time when you are that young.

"There's only so much that clubs can do for you, you're your own person, I got involved in gambling and that's my problem.

"I wouldn't have blamed the clubs I was at, it's in your make-up and your personality, and it did pass the time but it didn't go too well."

At 35, Gillespie ended his last playing stint at Darlington in December, his ninth English club in 20 years as a professional footballer, but made just three appearances for the Quakers before his release.

"I went to train at Darlington and the manager expressed an interest in signing me, so I sort of felt I was getting close to getting match-fit," Gillespie added.

"With games getting called off I wasn't able to get up to my match fitness, but I've still got the hunger to play.

"I'm 35 now but I'm more or less the same weight as I was when I started playing football, I'm fortunate it's not an issue.

"I still feel young, still feel fit, and want to get back playing, so we'll see how it goes."

Gillespie has made 479 career appearances in English competitions and earned 86 caps for his country.

You can see BBC Late Kick Off in the North East and Cumbria every Monday night.

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see also
Quakers release winger Gillespie
23 Dec 10 |  Darlington
Darlington sign winger Gillespie
19 Nov 10 |  Darlington
Ex-Man U player declared bankrupt
01 Oct 10 |  Northern Ireland
Gillespie makes exit from Glens
25 Jun 10 |  Irish

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