Not everyone from Manchester United’s famous class of 92 could have been expected to make it in the big time and win trophies for fun. The likes of the Neville brothers, David Beckham, Paul Scholes and Nicky Butt may have clocked up hundreds of appearances for United but there were players who did not make the grade. A name that springs to mind is Keith Gillespie, and his career did not take off quite as he would have hoped for.
Having signed for United in the summer of 1991 he was a member of the FA Youth Cup winning side of 1992, with the players mentioned above also featuring in that squad. Gillespie made his debut for the first team in the Premiership’s debut season of 92-93 but over the following two seasons his appearances were rare mainly due to the competition he had for the right-wing position. Andrei Kanchelskis was already established in the team and playing well enough to ensure Gillespie would struggle to break in to the side. Eventually, via a loan spell at Wigan, Gillespie moved to Newcastle in 1995. Gillespie’s only goal for United happened to come in a 2-0 victory against what would turn out to be his future employers.
His time at Newcastle was a more successful one for him personally. He played in 143 games for the Magpies and scored 15 goals during his stay in the north-east. Whilst he played a valuable role in helping Newcastle finish 2nd in the Premier League in two consecutive seasons, his final season, 97-98, ended with a tinge of disappointment. The club made it to the FA Cup final and unfortunately for Gillespie he was not in the squad in what turned out to be a defeat against Arsenal. That summer he was sold to Blackburn in a £2.3m deal.
Blackburn clearly noticed that the Gillespie of Newcastle proved to be a good player because it could have been mentally damaging for a young player to leave United and under-perform at his next club. However, he took his experiences with the Tyneside club on board and enjoyed a five year stay with Rovers which included another loan spell at Wigan. The highlight of Gillespie’s career at Blackburn will have been his chance to start in the league cup final, a game which Blackburn beat Tottenham in 2-1. Although that could have paved the way for more success at Blackburn it did not turn out to be like that for him or the club. The following season was to be his last and in the summer of 2003 the former Manchester United player moved to Leicester on a free transfer. He played 48 times for the club in two seasons before moving on once again. This time he went down the ladder and joined Championship club Sheffield United in 2005.
Gillespie, a one time Northern Ireland international, played a role in helping his new team get promotion to the Premiership. During his stay there was a colourful incident when he came on as a substitute in a game against Reading and was sent off after just 12 seconds. This was recorded as the fastest sending off handed to a sub in English football. Amazingly, the day after this incident Gillespie handed in a transfer request after four years at the club. But, in a turn of events, a transfer never happened and Gillespie signed a new two-year contract. Even with the contract extension, the player found himself loaned out Charlton due to his failure to recover from an injury at the start of the 08-09 season.
He returned to the Blades but his contract was terminated by mutual consent- something that seemed in the best interest of both parties. He went to Bradford where manager Stuart McCall insisted that Gillespie was only there to train with the club. Due to the fact that it looked as if Gillespie’s career was stalling he was keen to actually play for the team and ended up signing for the club but played just three games and was not offered a long-term deal. He currently plays for the club from Belfast called Glentoran.
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