How NOT to be a Football Millionaire

By: Keith Gillespie

After the match, I might call Phil to talk it over. I don’t know any footballer who can switch off after a game. If I’m lucky, I reach my house at 1.30am and then it takes me a couple of hours to shut down, although I know I’ll be woken by my baby son, Nico, when the sun comes up.

Before I put my head down, I remember to reach into my gearbag for the package I take with me everywhere and pour a glass of water from the tap. I pop a couple of green and gold Prozac tablets into my mouth and wash them down. This is my daily dose of medication, a regular routine when you suffer from depression. It’s a recent development, and a secret to all but a few people. Two and a half years of stress since the bankruptcy wore down the tough exterior, the shield of denial that I brought everywhere. I’ll be seeing a psychologist until they decide I don’t need these pills anymore.

I can always trust the body to look after itself, but will never be sure of the mind. The grind of driving alone for hours leaves it vulnerable to all sorts of thoughts. To shut them out, I mostly switch the car radio to Talksport, catching up on the news from the world I once inhabited. Craig Short, an old colleague of mine, said I was one of the most knowledgeable footballers he’d ever met. Most people would expect that statement to be followed by a punchline.

But I’ve always loved quiz shows. Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, The Weakest Link, The Chase, Eggheads, whatever it may be. My idea of a good afternoon in the pub is sipping a pint and testing myself on the touch-screen brain teasers. My competitive instinct always drew me towards them. That’s why I still love the buzz of the Thursday night table quiz down the local with my brother-in-law and the gang. We take it seriously, and it bugs me when I can’t think of a fact that I should know.

When it came to my own affairs, however, I always pleaded ignorance to relevant questions for as long as possible. I preferred the distraction offered by useless information, the crucial distinction between intelligence and common sense.

I can recite all sorts of facts off the top of my head. I know that the origin of the phrase ‘Bob’s Your Uncle’ dated back to 1887, when the British Prime Minister, Robert Gascoyne-Cecil (Lord Salisbury), was accused of nepotism for appointing his nephew to the position of Irish Chief Secretary, but I don’t know how a Premier League footballer, who considers himself to be a smart guy, managed to turn £8 million into nothing.

I wish I could adequately explain how he chose the wrong friends, failed in two marriages, and wound up in a Mental Health Assessment Centre, looking for solutions from a strange man in a white jacket.

So, back to the original question. Where did it go wrong?

Let me try and explain.


Having A Ball

FOOTBALL was my childhood. I grew up in a country ravaged by the violence of the Troubles and yet, long before my profession gave me a protective shell, I was unaffected by it. Some people don’t believe that could be possible in Northern Ireland, but it was my reality.

My Dad, Harry Gillespie, worked as a prison officer in the Maze, the notorious home for paramilitary prisoners, during the height of the violence. A year before he got the job there were hunger strikes; a year after there was a prison break where one of the other officers died. But he never took the stress from work home with him; it must be in our genes. Sitting down and revealing our deepest thoughts to our loved ones is the last thing the Gillespie men are likely to do. Instead, we just try and block it out and move on to the next day. I think my Dad wanted his kids to have as normal a childhood as possible and I appreciate why he did that. I’ve no doubt that he encountered some terrifying people, but we barely talked about the pictures that were on the evening news every night.

It helped that Bangor, a wealthy Protestant town, largely escaped the unrest. There were a few incidents in the early ’70s, long before we moved there, but while other parts of Northern Ireland constantly suffered, I led an idyllic existence by comparison. At least that’s how I remember it anyway. We were 13 miles from Belfast and one day a bomb went off with such force that we felt the reverberations in our kitchen. Truthfully, I couldn’t tell you when that happened. I could look it up and pretend I remembered every second, and suggest that it had a huge impact on me. But that wouldn’t be honest. I occupied my own, happy world, aware of bad things without really paying too much attention. Sure, security checks were a way of life, and I knew I had to be careful on my trips to Belfast. Yet, I was born into that environment, so this was normal. I never knew any different.

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