Ex-Man Utd winger Keith Gillespie joins FC Mindwell as he opens up about his mental health

Paul Gilmour speaks to former Manchester United winger Keith Gillespie about FC Mindwell and why mental health is so important…

Last Updated: 06/08/20 8:34am

Former Premier League star Keith Gillespie (left) has joined FC Mindwell

Former Premier League star Keith Gillespie (left) has joined FC Mindwell

For Keith Gillespie the battle did not begin when he left home for Manchester as a teenager, nor was it anything to do with pressures associated with the inevitable comparisons to George Best.

Instead, it was the ruthless world of gambling that hit the Northern Irish winger hardest, in his pocket and in his mind, when he joined Newcastle United as a 19-year-old.

As he was losing thousands of pounds, support programmes were non-existent and opening up was perceived as a sign of weakness but football was the one constant in providing relief.

It is one reason, along with the sudden death of former team-mate Gary Speed, Gillespie is joining FC Mindwell – a unique club that exists solely to help those suffering with mental health issues.

“I retired seven or eight years ago so didn’t expect to making a comeback at 45!” Gillespie tells Sky Sports News.

“I’ve suffered some mental health issues myself and it’s something we need to talk about more and more. We all have emotions and we all have problems.”

Gillespie was part of Newcastle's "Entertainers" team from the mid 1990s

Gillespie was part of Newcastle’s “Entertainers” team from the mid 1990s

Gillespie, a part of Manchester United’s famous ‘Class of 92’, won 86 caps for his country and in his incredibly honest autobiography described events on ‘Black Friday’ when he lost £47,000 in one day.

“I’ve got an addictive personality. It just took over,” is how Gillespie describes his off pitch activities in the north-east.

“It was tough. You finish training at 12 or half 12 everyday. I had gone to a new city where I didn’t know anybody, the other players had wives and kids and I was going back to an empty hotel room.

“For me filling the afternoons was in the bookies. That’s when it really spiralled out of control.”

It naturally took a toll on Gillespie’s mental health, as did his retirement from the professional game, but the set up at FC Mindwell encourages team-mates to be open with each other in a welcoming environment.

FC Mindwell is aimed at helping men speak about their mental health

FC Mindwell is aimed at helping men speak about their mental health

The team WhatsApp group is alive with energetic chat and their partnership with Links Counselling Service offers members, players and their families opportunities to deal with their problems.

“They feel like they’ve got a purpose now, going to training and pulling on the boots on a Saturday,” Gillespie explains.

“Training and playing football was always a release away from the other things.”

One of his current team-mates Ciaran Feehan, a former youth player at Tottenham who suffers from anxiety, has overcome major obstacles life has thrown at him.

“I attempted suicide,” Feehan candidly reveals. “I was made bankrupt, I lost houses and my drinking led to depression.

“The boys asked me to come down to FC Mindwell. You can reach out, you can talk to them about anything. It’s a big help for me.”

A number of players are already benefiting from their involvement with the team

A number of players are already benefiting from their involvement with the team

Even the thought of speaking to media and dignitaries at the club launch was a major hurdle to overcome for Feehan but his support network is helping to fight any demons.

“Men naturally don’t open up,” says co-founder Brian Adair.

“They don’t share how they’re feeling but football and sport has a habit of getting people together.

“If you dovetail football and awareness of mental health you get results. We are delighted how the club has progressed.”

Having signed ex-Liverpool and England goalkeeper Chris Kirkland as an ambassador they hope to launch a women’s team in the future.

Their journey will begin in the amateur leagues of Northern Ireland, the third division of the Mid-Ulster League.

Like any club they hope to have success on the pitch but using football as a powerful force for good is the ultimate goal.

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