How Sir Alex Ferguson tricked Newcastle into significantly increasing player’s salary

Sir Alex Ferguson is a genius. You know that already but here’s another brilliant story about the Manchester United legend.

Keith Gillespie had an eventful career. From being unable to nail down a spot under Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United, he went on to have a good Premier League career for himself with memorable spells at Newcastle United and later Blackburn Rovers.

His autobiography, How Not to be a Football Millionaire, is a brilliant read. It documents his troubles with gambling which led to the ex professional footballer declaring legally bankrupt in 2010.

Gillespie is this week’s special guest on the official UTD Podcast and he discusses a range of topics, including becoming an agent and earning £46.75-per-week as an apprentice in the Class of ’92.

It makes for an interesting listen for Gillespie’s account on the role Ferguson played in his transfer to Newcastle United.

Twenty-five years ago, in January 1995, United signed Andy Cole from the Magpies for a British record £7m, with £1m makeweight Gillespie moving in the opposite direction.

Gillespie told the official Manchester United Podcast about how Fergie helped quadruple his wages upon switching to Newcastle, after requesting approval from the Northern Ireland starlet’s mother to act as his agent during negotiations.

The former United player said: “We got to the hotel, got on the hotel phone and rang home. My mum answered and I explained the situation and the manager comes on and said, ‘look, is it OK if I do the deal and act as his agent? She said she was happy enough with that. And I remember the manager said to me, ‘when we go in here, don’t say a word’.

“We were on £230 a week and the contract was going up to £350 a week the next year, but I remember sitting at a big round table with Sir Alex, Keegan, Freddy Shepherd, the [Newcastle] chairman, Freddy Fletcher, the [Newcastle] chief executive, and myself, and I was sat with my head down; and I remember Sir Alex going, ‘well, Keith’s on £600 a week at the minute and we want you to double it to £1,200’. I sort of looked up and he said ‘£600’ and gave me this look as if to say, ‘don’t say a word here’. And Newcastle agreed to it right away.”

It was a transfer that came as a shock but at least Gillespie went on to have a good career — and I don’t think Newcastle can feel too bad about being played in this situation because they required an asset.

On earning £46.75-per-week as an apprentice at United, with the Class of ’92, he added: “We used to think it was great when you got a win boys for the A team or the B team because you got £4 for a win and £2 for a draw.

“With Sir Alex, even when we signed professional contracts — Beckham, Scholes, Nicky Butt, Gary Neville — our first year contract was £230 a week. We had all made first team debuts and were in and around the first team. But he was a great believer that you had to go to that next level before you started earning the big money. It did keep you grounded.”

He also had his say on salaries in the modern game: “It is crazy money that players earn but in the same way good luck to them. It’s not the players’ fault. There is a serious amount of money in the game and it is a short career. Your career can be over just like that if you get an injury.”

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