Gary Ablett: Footballer who won the FA Cup with both Liverpool and Everton

 

Gary Ablett was a polished and imperturbable utility defender who helped Liverpool to win two League titles and the FA Cup between 1988 and 1990, then became the only man to lift the trophy with both the Reds and their Merseyside rivals, Everton. Gaunt and gangly of appearance, the personable Liverpudlian was wirily resilient, an excellent timer of challenges both aerial and on the ground, a safe and sensible passer of the ball with his favoured left foot, and an intelligent breaker-up of attacks through shrewd positional play and decisive interception. He preferred to operate in the centre of the rearguard, but was equally effective at full-back, his versatility proving a boon to his managers. Though marginally short of true international class – he played once each for England's B side and the under-21s – Ablett never looked out of his depth at the top club level, holding his own for several seasons in the last Liverpool side to claim the domestic game's principal prize.

On leaving school in 1982 Ablett enlisted at Anfield as an apprentice, turning professional in November 1983. There was to be no immediate senior breakthrough, but he impressed so mightily on loan with Third Division Derby County in 1985 that the Rams made a six-figure offer which manager Joe Fagan rejected firmly.

Ablett did well on a second loan stint, at second-tier Hull City, in the autumn of 1986 before finally making his first-team entrance for Liverpool that December when an injury to centre-half Alan Hansen gave him his chance in a goalless draw at Charlton. Thereafter Ablett returned to the reserves until the spring, when he scored his only goal for Liverpool on his first Anfield start, against Nottingham Forest.

It was during the second half of 1987-88 that Kenny Dalglish, then in his first spell at Liverpool's helm, gave the young Merseysider a protracted run in the team, which had received brilliant impetus through the arrival of John Barnes and Peter Beardsley. Ablett emerged as a dependable performer in both full-back slots during the second half of a campaign which the Reds finished as runaway champions, only to be thwarted in the FA Cup final by the underdogs, Wimbledon.

During 1988-89 he became a regular member of the side which underwent the trauma of the Hillsborough disaster during an FA Cup semi-final against Forest. In purely footballing terms, which took second place at the time, Ablett flourished, making up for his previous Wembley disappointment by taking part in the 3-2 final triumph over Everton. However, there was bitter disappointment in store as Arsenal pipped Liverpool to the League crown through a dramatic last-minute victory at Anfield on the season's concluding day.

Now Ablett appeared to be on the threshold of his prime, but the development of youngsters Steve Staunton and David Burrows, together with the acquisition of Glenn Hysen, cost him his place for much of 1989-90, though he did make sufficient appearances to qualify for his second title medal. With the competition for places increasing, the new manager Graeme Souness accepted a £750,000 offer from Everton and in January 1992 Ablett embarked on the second phase of his career, on the opposite side of Stanley Park.

He excelled as a Blue, proving inspirational as relegation was narrowly avoided in 1994, then coolly dependable as Joe Royle's men stunned the favourites Manchester United by beating them 1-0 in the 1995 FA Cup final. Soon Ablett was eased out by young rivals, though, and after a loan to Sheffield United he was sold to second-flight Birmingham City for £400,000 in July 1996. He excelled for three and a half seasons at St Andrew's before finishing his English playing days in the Blackpool side which was demoted to the basement division in 2000.

However, Ablett loved the game far too much to leave it, and in 2002 he returned to Everton as a youth coach. Four years later he re-crossed Stanley Park to Anfield, taking charge of Liverpool reserves, whom he guided to their national title in 2008. Keen to manage, he took over at cash-strapped Stockport County in 2009, but was unable to prevent their relegation to League Two and he left after one term. He was on the verge of joining Ipswich Town as a coach in 2010 when he was diagnosed with the non-Hodgkin lymphoma which was to claim his life.

Gary Ian Ablett, footballer and coach: born Liverpool 19 November 1965; played for Liverpool 1983-92, Derby County on loan 1985, Hull City on loan 1986, Everton 1992-96, Sheffield United on loan 1996, Birmingham City 1996-99, Wycombe Wanderers on loan 1999, Blackpool 2000, Long Island Rough Riders, US 2001; managed Stockport County 2009-10; married (two sons, one daughter); died 1 January 2012.

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