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Whatever the outcome at Wembley this Saturday, you’d hope that this biggest of Merseyside derbies will be played with dignity, courage and class.
Should that be the case then the game will have been a fitting tribute to a man who personified all of those qualities, the late Gary Ablett.
The former defender, who tragically passed away on January 2 after a brave battle with illness, is the only man to have won the FA Cup with both Everton and Liverpool – a remarkable achievement that in all likelihood we’ll never see matched.
And with Blue and Red set to convene at the home of the English game for the first time in 23 years, it is hard not to think of one of the city’s favourite footballing sons – a man immortalised by a new biography, ‘The Game of my Life’, which will be released on Monday.
With a foreword from David Moyes, the book chronicles Gary’s journey through Anfield and Goodison, how he came to be embraced and loved on both sides of Stanley Park and how he contributed to the rich history of two great sporting institutions.
But, moreover, you’ll see the measure of the man through how he coped with the type of adversity nobody could ever envisage facing. How this devoted family man stood firm in the bleakest of times and refused to give in.
Moyes was one of the very first visitors to Gary’s bedside following his diagnosis, and in a foreword penned for the new book he pays tribute to his friend.
“He was incredibly strong and didn’t speak about himself, or what he was going through, but he was always interested in what was going on at Everton,” said the Blues boss.
“He liked to talk football – what team we were going to play, how the youth team was doing, those sorts of things. Right to the end, he was totally dignified. This was an illness where he knew there was a chance things might not work out, but the strength he showed, and the courage he had to keep fighting was fantastic.”
Liverpool manager, Kenny Dalglish, added: “The fact that he crossed over to the Blue half of Merseyside and was accepted, after what was maybe a rough start, tells you something about the person as well. Not just his football ability, but the person. It is a strong character that moves between the two clubs, especially when they are born in the city.”
No individual binds the modern history of Everton and Liverpool quite like Gary Ablett, and it seems fated he be remembered through this year’s FA Cup.
Back in January as Everon embarked on their campaign with a third round meeting with Tamworth, Gary’s family were there to witness Goodison Park salute him.
On Saturday they’ll be present again for what is sure to be a poignant and evocative occasion.
Many supporters, both Blue and Red, will have been there to witness Gary’s FA Cup successes and many, just like his family, will use the occasion to remember him.
But for all generations of Evertonians and Liverpudlians, ‘The Game of my Life’, recounts the compelling story of a wonderful servant to Merseyside football, a scouser, a winner, an FA Cup hero, a husband, father and gentleman.
Gary Ablett: The Game Of My Life, £16.99, on sale 16th April from all major bookstores and Everton Direct.
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