Liverpool reserve team coach Gary Ablett 300
AS GOODISON PARK – like Anfield the night before – applauded to honour the memory of Gary Ablett before Saturday’s FA Cup third round tie with Tamworth kicked off, thoughts turned to the likeable local lad’s greatest moments on the football field.
A captioned photograph in the matchday programme declared that Gary always played with a smile on his face and the pictorial evidence of this fact shines through strongest on those treasured images of Ablett’s wonderfully infectious toothy grin as wide as the Mersey as he celebrated winning the FA Cup with Everton in 1995.
That success remains the club’s last major honour to date and of course ensured that Ablett had written his own unique chapter in his home city’s football history by becoming the only player to have triumphed in the game’s oldest competition with both Everton and Liverpool.
Several of Ablett’s fellow ‘Dogs of War’ team-mates from that glorious May afternoon were present to pay their respects including Barry Horne, Joe Parkinson, Graham Stuart and Duncan Ferguson plus manager Joe Royle and the manager who first controversially signed Ablett from across Stanley Park, Howard Kendall.
Ablett, just 46, really was one of the game’s ‘nice guys’. Indeed he was one of life’s nice guys who just happened to play the game we love as his job.
He always played with great honesty, commitment and passion whether it was in the blue or red jersey or any of the other clubs he represented throughout his career.
As well as crossing the great Merseyside football divide, Ablett’s career spanned the game’s move into the Premier League era but he always maintained his modesty and down to earth nature.
Ablett never cheated the fans in his approach and was always happy to talk, whether to a member of the Press or the general public giving those who met him the impression he was always ‘one of us’ who though a combination of his own commitment and the talent he’d been blessed with, had made it to the top.
Even in those final months before his passing, while eager to highlight awareness of the non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma form of blood cancer he was battling in the hope that others might be spared suffering, he much preferred just to ‘talk football’ rather than focus on his own plight.
As well as the affable attitude he possessed, one of the main reasons Evertonians remember Ablett so fondly is because of his place in the aforementioned 1995 FA Cup-winning side.
Unlike current members of the Everton squad such as Leighton Baines, Phil Jagielka, Jack Rodwell or indeed Phil Neville in the past, Ablett was not an England international.
Yet because he played his part in bringing back silverware to Goodison Park, his legacy at the club is secured and he will always remain part of Everton folklore.
This is a crucial point which should never be lost on the current custodians of the royal blue jersey, their management team or any of the club’s hierarchy.