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Gary Ablett - loved and admired on Merseyside and beyond

Former Liverpool and Everton defender Gary Ablett has died aged 46 after a 16-month battle with cancer.

Ablett was diagnosed non-Hodgkins Lymphoma in 2010 whilst working as part of Ipswich Town’s coaching staff. Ablett, who had a short spell as Stockport County manager in 2009-10, will mostly be remembered as the only man to win the FA Cup with both Merseyside clubs.

After turning out for many sides in England, as well as the USA’s Long Island Rough Riders, Ablett’s death will be felt right across the football community, not least at Birmingham City where he made over 100 appearances.

But of course it is in Liverpool – the city of his birth, and the city in which he was most successful – where the cultured defender’s name will live on longest.

A testament to Ablett’s ability as a player is that he was able to secure a place in that mid-Eighties Liverpool team which was a fantastic side, particularly defensively.

League winners medal

Ablett learnt his trade from the likes of Alan Hansen, Mark Lawrenson, Alan Kennedy and Steve Nicol, and competed with the likes of Gary Gillespie, Barry Venison, Steve Staunton, and David Burrows for a starting-position.

During the 1987-88 season, Ablett won a League winners medal with Liverpool though received only an FA Cup runners-up medal after Lawrie Sanchez’s header earned Wimbledon a 1-0 victory in the final.

He landed the role of first choice left-back in the 1988-89 season in which Liverpool lost the League to Arsenal in dramatic style at Anfield, though triumphed in the FA Cup with a 3-2 win over rivals Everton.

Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish – who gave Ablett his debut in football in 1986 – has led the tributes that have flooded in from both sides of Merseyside.

He said: “It’s a sad, sad day for his family and everyone connected with Liverpool Football Club. “The most important thing now is to pay our respects to Gary, his wife Jacqueline, the two boys and his wee girl,” he added.

Central defensive capabilities

After another League title in 1990 in which Ablett displayed his central defensive capabilities more, he eventually moved on to Everton for £750,000 in 1992.

Team-mate Pat Nevin said: “Gary was a classy defender and a lovely, lovely guy who was liked by everyone. It says something that I enjoyed playing against him in the Merseyside derby, which is one of the most stressful games in world football.”

The news comes just weeks after former Everton captain Gary Speed passed away. Ablett can expect to receive similar marks of respect, such is his reputation in football.

The highlight of Ablett’s career at Goodison Park was undoubtedly the remarkable 1-0 FA Cup victory over Manchester United in 1995, when he became the first and only player to achieve this with both clubs.

Appearing steadily in the team, Ablett made more appearances for Everton, and further secured his reputation as an ambassador of the city’s football talents after working first as Everton under 17 coach, and then leaving to take over as Liverpool reserve coach in 2006.

Messages of condolence

A brief stint as Stockport County manager, in 2009 was severely hampered by financial constraints as the club remained in administration for the whole of his tenure, and consequently were unable to avoid relegation to League One.

Ablett’s former clubs have all posted messages of condolence on their respective websites, and the League Managers Association also released a statement.

The LMA said: “Respected throughout the game by players, coaches and managers alike, Gary will be sadly missed – our thoughts and condolences are with Gary’s wife Jacqueline and children.”

Though admittedly Liverpool is a city in which rival fans regularly socialise and discuss football, a player who unites opinion such as Ablett is rare.

To have ingratiated himself into the starting line-ups of both sides and into the hearts of both sets of fans during his successful years, Gary Ablett will long be remembered in football, but especially on Merseyside.

By Chris Smith


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