Donegal FA Cup legend remembered

This Saturday March 22nd Sheffield United entertain Wolverhampton Wanderers in a League One encounter at Bramall Lane Sheffield. But this is no ordinary fixture as Sheffield United will be celebrating the exact date the football club was founded 125years ago and they will be hosting a series of events ahead of the game to launch its anniversary celebrations. Central to the festivities is paying tribute to their great players of yesteryear of which one in particular stands out for all Sheffield United supporters young and old – Kerrykeel native, Billy Gillespie.

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Billy Gillespie was born in Kerrykeel  on 6th August 1891, and went on to become the most famous Irish footballer of his generation, the highlight of which came in 1925, when he was the first Irishman to captain an English FA Cup winning team, leading his Sheffield United team to victory over Cardiff in the Wembley final. To this day it is the last major trophy the Sheffield club has won and a game in which he played a major part, his performance described as follows by the football writers of the day “Sheffield United played wonderfully well but special praise is due to Gillespie, the man who waves a wand and whose influence has played such a vital part in United’s capture of the Cup.”

The Donegal man was equally influential for his country, scoring two goals on his international debut for Ireland against England in 1913 as the Irish defeated England for the very first time. He repeated the feat the year after, notching another two against the English as the Irish destroyed the home side at Ayresome Park Middlesbrough, the boys in green running out 3-0 winners. He was to leave his mark on the local football scene when he returned home to manage Irish League side Derry City in 1932. Gillespie was required to take a red and white team strip with him as part of the deal. These colours of course would be adapted by Derry City, the candy-stripes we see them wear to this day. Image

So it’s fitting that this Saturday, Gillespie’s descendants, his grand-daughter Jane Bull and great grand-son Andy Bull will be introduced to the Bramall Lane faithful in what is sure to be a memorable afternoon. Both Jane and Andy have fond memories of their visit to Kerrykeel last September where they unveiled a plaque to the football great at Rabs Park Kerrykeel – and a return to Donegal is on the agenda for them and indeed Sheffield United representatives who were most impressed with the numbers attending the football academy in the region.

Later in the year the club will be announcing the result of polls designed to discover United’s greatest ever goal, manager and player. With the club currently in the FA Cup semi-finals, fans thoughts will invariably turn back to Billy Gillespie and that Wembley victory. It may be nearly 90 years ago but football fans never forget their history and their heroes.

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Football dignitaries gather to honour football hero

Saturday September 7th will be a red letter day at Rabs Park Kerrykeel as football dignitaries from home and abroad will gather in the Donegal village to recognise one of Irelands and Sheffield Uniteds greatest ever players, Billy Gillespie.

Born in Kerrykeel in 1891, Gillespie went on to become the first Irish player to captain a FA Cup winning side when Sheffield United beat Cardiff City in 1925. His legendary status remains around Bramell Lane to this day and two representatives from Sheffield United will be traveling over to Donegal for the unveiling this weekend. Club historian John Garrett and the Blades vice president Ian Cameron are delighted to be involved and will have footage of the former Blades captain in action which is sure to interest all this Saturday.

His Ireland career was equally impressive. He was instrumental in creating Irish footballing history when he scored two goals on his international debut against England in 1913, as Ireland defeated England for the very first time. He repeated the feat a year later, notching another goal against the English as the Irish destroyed the home side at Ayresome Park Middlesbrough, the boys in green running out 3-0 winners. He would go on to win 25 international caps and in a unique gesture, both football Irish football associations will be sending representatives this weekend. Jim McConnell, the chairman of the FAI’s Domestic Committee will represent the FAI and the vice-chairman of the IFA, Jim Wade, will represent the Northern Ireland body.

When his illustrious playing career came to a close the Donegal man returned to the North West to become the manager of Derry City. Required to take a red and white team strip with him as part of the deal, the colours would be adapted by the Brandywell club, the candy-stripes we see them wear to this day. Derry City and the club from where he started his journey to the UK, Institute FC, will be in attendance. Sean and Andrew Cassidy, both Derry City directors and Dean McNutt, the Institute FC PRO will be in attendance.

The Ulster Senior League, Donegal League, Ulster FA and as a host of local clubs, along with other sports groups in the locality will join the celebrations this Saturday. A hearty Donegal welcome to our esteemed visitors will be echoed by Seamus Neely, Donegal County Council Manager and Ian McGarvey, Mayor of Donegal.

The unveiling of the plaque itself will be performed by Jane Bull, Billy Gillespies grand-daughter, who hails from Bexley in Kent. The great man lived with Jane in his latter years and Jane along with her son Andy are excited about their first visit to her famous granddads birthplace in Kerrykeel. She is sure to get a warm welcome from the locals as tales of Billy Gillespies footballing exploits gets told around the county this coming weekend.

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Martin Coyle of the Village Inn – Pictured with David Moen (left) and Fergus McAteer (middle) from the Organising Committee.


Kerrykeel to pay tribute to a football legend

On Saturday September 7th , the day after Ireland lock horns with Sweden in a vital World Cup qualifier, the Donegal village of Kerrykeel will pay homage to one of Ireland’s greatest ever footballers, William Balintrae Gillespie. Born in Kerrykeel on 6th August 1891, Gillespie went on to become the most famous Irish footballer of his generation, the highlight of which came in 1925, when he was the first Irishman to captain an English FA Cup winning team, leading his Sheffield United team to victory over Cardiff in the Wembley final. Image

William Ballintrae became known as “Billy” and his father was Robert Gillepsie who was stationed as a sergeant at the RIC Barracks in Kerrykeel (Carrowkeel) in the early 1890’s.  Billy’s mother was Eliya Gillespie (formerly Blair) and his birth was officially registered in the Registrar’s District of Milford on 1st September 1891. Indeed the wall steads of the police barracks where Billy Gillespie was born remain to this day along with old adjoining stables.  Ironically Gillepsie’s homestead is just a stones throw from Drury Park, the football field that served the community of Kerrykeel for over 50 years until very recently.

Information compiled by Billy’s father, Robert Gillespie, in his role as sergeant in September 1893, notes that the population of Kerrykeel at the time was 146, with Fair Days on the 8th of every month.  The barracks also served as the local Post Office, Savings Bank and Money Order Office – And from these humble beginnings at a remote location in Kerrykeel, Donegal, Billy Gillespie arose to become a legend of the beautiful game.

One can only wonder what standing he would have in the modern era considering what he achieved as a player with Sheffield United and on the international arena with Ireland. Milestones such as the FA Cup victory mentioned in the opening paragraph – A victory in which he played a major part, his performance described as follows by the football writers of the day “Sheffield United played wonderfully well but special praise is due to Gillespie, the man who waves a wand and whose influence has played such a vital part in United’s capture of the Cup.”

ImageThe Blades captain was equally influential for his country, scoring two goals on his international debut against England in 1913 as the Irish defeated England for the very first time. He repeated the feat the year after, notching another two against the English as the Irish destroyed the home side at Ayresome Park Middlesbrough, the boys in green running out 3-0 winners.

He even played his part in BBC Radio history – On January 22, 1927, the BBC broadcasted a league match for the very first time – a game between Arsenal and Sheffield United. Gillespie scored United’s goal in a 1-1 draw at Highbury.

On returning home from Sheffield to manage Irish League side Derry City in 1932, Gillespie was required to take a red and white team strip with him as part of the deal. These colours of course would be adapted by Derry City, the candy-stripes we see them wear to this day. He had a successful stint in Derry, leading them to two City Cup triumphs and on four successive occasions they finished runners up in the Irish League. When Gillespie left Derry City in 1941 he relocated to Bexley in Kent, where he died a month short of his ninetieth birthday in July 1981.

It is hoped that local football enthusiasts from the North West and beyond will converge on the village on Saturday week as representatives from Sheffield United FC, the FAI, IFA, Derry City, Institute FC and Billy’s own relatives pay tribute to one of our own legends, William Ballintrae Gillespie.


Donegal and Sheffield United renew Gillespie link

Last Monday, July 22nd, the Sheffield United’s U-13 side lined-up against the Donegal Schoolboy’s team in the opening game in Group E at this year’s Foyle Cup tournament in Derry. The points were shared in an entertaining 0-0 draw. Nothing too significant about that you may be thinking – but there is an historic football connection between Donegal and Sheffield United. For it was in the village of Kerrykeel on the 6th of August 1891 that Sheffield United legend and the Blades FA Cup winning captain of 1925, Billy Gillespie was born.

The young Gillespie quickly made a name for himself in the local leagues before being snapped up by Derry Institute. It was to be the start of an outstanding career both on the club and international front. He moved across the channel where his long stint in Yorkshire started at Leeds City in 1910, before he signed on the dotted line at Bramall Lane Sheffield for the local United side. It would be a match made in heaven as he would spend 20 years with the Blades amassing over 130 goals in nearly 500 games.

After suffering heartbreak by missing the Blades’ FA Cup triumph in 1915 through injury, Gillespie made amends ten years later when captaining the Blades to victory in the final against Cardiff City. The scribes of the day were impressed; “Sheffield United played wonderfully well but special praise is due to Gillespie, the man who waves a wand and whose influence has played such a vital part in United’s capture of the Cup.”  To date, this is still Sheffield United’s last major honour.

With such a pedigree at club level, Irish caps were surely to follow, and the Kerrykeel man made his international debut in February 1913. Not any old debut either, scoring twice as Ireland achieved a first historic victory over England. Gillespie was to become a thorn in the English side as seven of his thirteen international goals came against the English. He is still Sheffield United’s most capped player with 25 international caps, his namesake Keith amassed over 80 for Northern Ireland but not all with Sheffield United.

When Gillespie’s long Sheffield career came to an end in 1932 he returned to Ireland to take charge of Irish League side Derry City. As part of the deal taking him back to Ireland, Gillespie had to take a red and white team strip with him and Derry City adopted the colours, the candystripes, which they wear to this day. He led Derry City to two City Cup triumphs and on four successive occasions they finished runners up in the Irish League.

When Gillespie left Derry City in 1941 he relocated to Bexley in Kent, where he died a month short of his ninetieth birthday in July 1981.

From speaking to the Sheffield United officials and even the young blades players, the Donegal native is still revered in the Yorkshire city and now plans are in place to honour Billy Gillespie in the village of Kerrykeel on Saturday September 7th. Billy Gillespie’s grand-daughter, Jane, and her son will travel to the village and unveil a plaque in recognition of his outstanding achievements on the football field.  Representatives from Sheffield, Derry City the FAI and IFA have also been approached to form part of the celebrations in what will surely be a weekend to remember for the village of Kerrykeel. It’s been long overdue.

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l-r – Johnny Keys (Donegal manager), Shaun Green (Sheffield United Captain), Mark McAteer (Donegal Schoolboys captain and Kerrykeel native) Nick Cox (Sheffield United manager) Fergus McAteer (Billy Gillespie committee member)


Donegal’s Forgotten FA Cup Winning Captain

Derry City are known throughout the football world as the Candystripes, but the story about how they got their colours has a distinct Donegal flavour. It’s all down to one man, Kerrykeel born and Sheffield United legend, Billy Gillespie.

Billy Gillespie was born in Kerrykeel, on 6 August 1891. The son of a policeman he made a name for himself in local junior football ranks and was quickly signed up by Derry Institute when he was just 17. It was to be the start of an outstanding career.

Northern giants Linfield made an offer for Gillespie in May 1910, but Leeds City beat the Windsor Park outfit to seal his signature. It didn’t take long for Gillespie to make an impression with the Yorkshire outfit. He opened his scoring account for Leeds in the 1-1 draw with Birmingham at Elland Road on October 1st. It was a start of a goal-scoring spree that resulted in Gillespie scoring seven times in the following eight games. After a poor run of results he lost his place in the side and after playing the first four games of the 1911/12 season, Gillespie was left out again.

Billy Gillespie

On 22 December, the Yorkshire Post broke the news that the Irishman would be leaving Elland Road for a fee in excess of £400. It was a fee the board said they could not refuse as the club was in financial difficulty. However it would be a decision they would regret as Gillespie went on to prove himself as one of the outstanding Irish players of all time, enjoying a 20-year career at Bramall Lane and scoring over 130 goals in nearly 500 games.

The Kerrykeel man made his international debut in February 1913, scoring twice as Ireland achieved a first historic victory over England (This was a period when Ireland players were drawn from both sides of the border). One year later he was a member of the first Irish team to secure the Home International Championships. Gillespie was a thorn in the English side as seven of his thirteen international goals came against the English. That international goal haul was an Irish record, which stood until 2004 when David Healy took his international total to fourteen goals. In total Gillespie would win 25 Irish caps.

At Bramall Lane, Gillespie was well on the way to becoming a Sheffield United legend. He suffered heartbreak when missing the Blades’ FA Cup triumph in 1915 as he was out with a broken leg. But ten years later Billy Gillespie captained the Blades to victory in the final against Cardiff City. The scribes of the day were impressed; “Sheffield United played wonderfully well but special praise is due to Gillespie, the man who waves a wand and whose influence has played such a vital part in United’s capture of the Cup.” To date this is still Sheffield United last major honour.

In 1932 Billy Gillespie returned to Ireland to take over as manager of Irish League side Derry City. As part of the deal taking him back to Ireland, Gillespie had to take a red and white team strip with him and Derry City adopted the colours, the candystripes we see them wear today. He led Derry City to two City Cup triumphs and on four successive occasions they finished runners up in the Irish League.
When Gillespie left Derry City in 1941 he relocated to Bexley in Kent, where he died a month short of his ninetieth birthday in July 1981.

The Donegal man is still revered in the Yorkshire city and deserves to be mentioned in the same company as Donegal and Ireland heroes, Pat Bonner and Shay Given. December 2012 will be the 100th anniversary of Billy Gillespie signing for Sheffield United; it could be the ideal opportunity to honour the Sheffield United, Ireland, and most of all, Kerrykeel legend.