Gillespie: When Sir Alex rings, you can't say no
Keith Gillespie revealed how he nearly rejoined Manchester United during the latest instalment of MUTV Group Chat.
Keith went on to explain why the deal fell through and which of his old team-mates spilled the beans on the Reds’ approach for the then-Newcastle United man.
During the Q&A session - which you can read below - Gillespie also spoke about developing as part of the famous Class of '92, being compared to George Best and his later struggles with gambling.
To wrap things up, the 45-year-old selected his greatest six-a-side team from his time at United…
MUTV Group Chat: Catch up with Keith GillespieVideo
“Yeah everyone’s good. It’s a pretty challenging time for everyone, so we’re all in the same position.”
Our four guests, you must know them all well. So you can spill the dirt on them?
“I don’t think I can say too much on air! You know what Maysie’s like and what he’s been up to over the years. Ben, I used to room with him, so I can’t say too much. I never played with Wes, but I played with Danny at Sheffield United. I’ve only ever really played with Wes in these Legends games we play in. We have good fun when we all meet up.”
Surely there’s something you can tell us about Ben?
“He’s probably got more to say about me!”
I wanted to get your reaction to the news last night that Premier League players have come together to launch this initiative to raise funds for the NHS. What do you make of the new scheme they’ve come up with?
“I think it was unfair what [Health Secretary] Matt Hancock was coming out with and now the players have reacted to that in the best possible way. With the NHS, these people are risking their lives for others at this time and it’s important that they get the right backing with things like this to try and raise money.”
Keith, you were part of the Class of ’92 when you came over from Northern Ireland. What were those experiences like? Do you ever look back and think about them?
“Oh absolutely. It’s probably a one-off side we had that year in terms of the players that came through. It was a fantastic side to be a part of and I think all the lads helped each other. We were in and out of first-team squads, but I don’t think we’d have progressed as quickly if it weren’t for being in that youth team as a group and getting into the first team together. You only have to look at the names that came through and the careers they went on to have.”
When you came over as a young, talented winger from Northern Ireland, were you saddled with the ‘new George Best’ mantra?
“Yeah, I think that’s just natural. I think I probably tried to emulate him off the pitch rather than on it. I think that’s natural and I think that’s something that happens to any young lad from Northern Ireland. With me being a winger like George Best there were a few more comparisons. I’m sure the likes of Sammy McIllroy and Norman Whiteside had that same thing. It’s just the way it is in terms of what a great icon George Best is around the world, but particularly in Northern Ireland.”
“Yeah, I think when I did leave they had the European rule and, at that time, being from Northern Ireland I was classified as a foreigner, and you could only play two foreigners and three ‘assimilated’ players at the time. So when I did leave - it pretty much came out of the blue - but it was because they needed to get an English striker and Andy Cole fitted the bill. As you say, I had Andrei in front of me. I left in the January and at the end of that season he left. I did get a call from Sir Alex asking would I come back and they did put in a bid six months later, but Newcastle turned that down - things could have been different. David Beckham played on the right side then he was more of a central midfielder. That’s how it happened at that time.”
I suppose that says a lot about what the manager thought about you, that he wanted to bring you back. You had a great time at Newcastle, would you have come back?
“When Sir Alex Ferguson rings you and asks you to come back, you’re not going to say no. The way I found out they came in for me was through Gary Neville. He would have seen the likes of Peter Beardsley on England trips and Peter was very close with Kevin Keegan. I wouldn’t have been one to be knocking on the manager’s door and demanding moves. That was the start of the 1995/96 season and I played in that great Newcastle side who became known as ‘the entertainers’. I had four great years up there and wouldn’t change a thing.”
I’ve read your very truthful autobiography. Do you have any regrets from your career? Or do you think ‘that was a hell of a life’?
“That’s a question I get asked quite a lot. With the autobiography I wanted to try and get the truthfulness right out there and I think you get more credibility with being like that. Like all the lads, I was very fortunate to be able to make it as a footballer because there are so many people who don’t get that opportunity. When you think how many people would have wanted to be in our shoes and playing for the clubs that we did. I’m a great believer in everything happens for a reason and you can’t chase the past. There’s no point on dwelling on any of it and having any regrets.”
“Not at all. I think a lot of the problems in the early days were about boredom. When I went to Newcastle for five or six months I lived in a hotel and at 19, you’re in a strange city, you’ve finished training by 12:30 every day. Unlike most of the lads who have families, I’m going home to a hotel room and the gambling took over even more when you’re in there every single afternoon. That’s well under control now and as you get older, I’d like to think, you get a little bit wiser. I have the odd bet here and there on a Saturday. It’s not something I do anymore and horses were the big problem and that’s not something I get involved at all with now.”
Mental health is a huge thing now but it wasn’t really mentioned during your playing days. Would it have been different for you now?
“Yeah it probably would have been. I think back then mental health was a big taboo topic, whereas it’s a little bit more open now. The same with gambling. It wasn’t seen as it is now. I was betting on football back then but now you’re not allowed to bet on any football at all as a professional player. It was a lot more lax then. In life, as time goes on, things get different. Back then it was a taboo topic, but it’s different now.”
“No, I wouldn’t be in it. I think you’d have to have big Peter [Schmeichel] in goals. Defensively, I’d have Denis [Irwin] in because he’s Mr.Reliable - and probably Gaz [Gary Neville]. They’re quite dependable. In midfield, probably Roy [Keane] and [Paul] Scholes. Up front, probably [Ryan] Gigg and Eric [Cantona].”
No one’s ever picked Gary Neville before…
“I’m just think about how reliable he was on a Saturday, I wasn’t really taking into account his performances in training. I should have maybe re-thought that, but it’s too late now.”
I think you have seven in there, so will we drop Gary?
“Yeah, drop Gary.”
We’re doing a keepy-up challenge with our four guests. Keith, if you had to bet on who would do the most keepy-ups, who would you go for?
“Webbs without a doubt.”
Thanks so much for joining us. We really appreciate your time.