How NOT to be a Football Millionaire

By: Keith Gillespie

Dad handled the queries. “We’ve done all we can to help him,” he’d say, “but from 16 to 18, it’s up to him to make a go of it.”

I think I was too young to know what pressure was. But I was wary of getting carried away. I knew what people were saying. All the reports were positive, and I was supposed to be the next big thing, tipped for stardom as though it was a formality.

You often hear footballers giving interviews and talking about proving people wrong. This was the opposite.

When I packed my bags to head for England, the mission was to prove everyone right.


Fergie Fledgling

ON July 9, 1991, the Gillespie family gathered at the airport to wave goodbye to a 16-year-old boy who was daunted by the prospect of leaving home.

There were tears, because it was an emotional time. A week earlier Mum’s mother, Gladys, had passed away. She lived around the corner with Grandad Robert and it hit us hard. Mum was only beginning to come to terms with that and now her son was packing his bags for good. It was the sacrifice that came with my new life. There was no other option.

I’d made the same flight plenty of times before but, as I turned around to wave goodbye before going through the departure gates, I knew this was different.

The minute I landed at Manchester Airport, I raced to one of the payphones to ring home and they were barely in the door. It’s a bloody short journey after all.

My next stop was my new lodgings in Salford, a digs run by a welcoming maternal lady named Brenda Gosling. She’d been looking after apprentices from the club for quite a few years, including a young Lee Sharpe. Her location was ideal, less than two minutes walk from the Cliff. Perfect for an occasional late sleeper.

Brenda cooked all the meals, and made life easy for her tenants. The house was split into two. She lived on one side, and I shared the other with four others. There was Adrian Doherty and fellow St Andrews graduate Colin Telford from Northern Ireland, a Scottish lad, Colin McKee, and a vain Welsh boy called Robbie Savage. We weren’t strangers. The cast of characters in my everyday life were familiar considering I’d been over and back since I was 13. But seeing each other 24/7 was a big change.

Robbie had plenty of quirks. He was my room-mate, which meant waking up to the sound of a hairdryer. His mop was shorter then, but he devoted a huge amount of time to it. I’d be hopping out of bed at ten past nine to report for training at a quarter past, and Robbie might have been up for an hour at that point, preening himself. And I was still usually ready before him.

I reported for duty on my first proper day as a professional footballer with a group of other fresh-faced apprentices. There were the Manchester lads like Gary Neville, Paul Scholes, Nicky Butt and Ben Thornley, and outsiders like John O’Kane from Nottingham, Chris Casper from Burnley, and a kid who went by the name of David Beckham. It was an exceptional group, although I don’t think we’d copped it just yet.

Circumstances kept our feet on the ground. I was earning £46 a week, and Manchester United paid Brenda for my upkeep on top of that. The locals had a bit more cash because the rent money went to their parents, and they still had their mates from home about. So, the outsiders palled around together initially. We didn’t have the money to go out and party and, besides, we were too young to really be able to do it properly anyway. Instead, we led quite a tame existence in our first year. We didn’t see a lot of Manchester, bar the odd trip for a game of snooker or the cinema, but the five quid taxi fare from Salford to the centre of the city was an obstacle. I was saving my cash for the afternoons in the bookies. We’ll come to that in a while.

I became good friends with Robbie. He was from Wrexham, which was only around an hour and 20 minutes away, and as soon as he passed his driving test, he used to commute regularly. I went down and stayed with his folks some weekends, just to break up the usual routine of sitting in. Becks lived with John O’Kane in a digs on Lower Broughton Road which was a bit further away. They were talented players with a different work ethic. John was a laid back type, probably too much so, whereas Becks was a real worker. He’d always spend time after training practising free-kicks and his ball striking. Off the pitch, he put the graft in as well. John used to call him the pretty boy and reckoned I had it easy waiting around for Robbie in the morning. Long before the Spice Girl days, Becks was the first of the group to have a girlfriend. He bought an old Ford Estate off Ryan Giggs and I’m sure that helped. The lads with a car were always a step ahead with the ladies.

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