Scotsman Obituaries: Jimmy Gabriel, Scots footballer who went on to success in States

Jimmy Gabriel, footballer. Born: 10 October 1940 in Dundee. Died: 10 July 2021 in Phoenix, Arizona, aged 80

The young Jimmy Gabriel training with Dundee FC at Dunbar

Jimmy Gabriel was a Scottish international footballer who in a long career in the game enjoyed much success both as player and coach in Britain and the United States.

Winner of two full caps he was unfortunate not to gain more, partly because of selectorial inconsistency and partly because of competition for places from rivals of the quality of such as Dave Mackay, John Greig, Billy Bremner, Jim Baxter and others. After beginning his career with hometown team Dundee, he became an iconic figure at Everton, winning the old First Division title and FA Cup before moving on to Southampton where he was also very popular and an important member of the team. Brief spells in England followed prior to crossing the Atlantic where he carved out an excellent reputation as player and coach, particularly with Seattle Sounders over two spells dissected by coaching stints back in England before he returned to, and settled in, the States.

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Gabriel was an old fashioned right half, a defensive midfielder in today’s terms, a forceful tough tackling but skilful player, with a strong will to win. In total he played over 600 matches and scored 70 goals.

He represented Scottish Schoolboys four times and was spotted playing in 1956 in a 3-1 win against England at Dens Park by then Dundee manager Willie Thornton, who signed him afterwards. After being farmed out to a local junior side he made his first team debut aged 17 on 13th August 1958 at Fir Park against Motherwell in a 2-1 win. His consistently impressive performances were noted and in 1959 he was capped at under 23 level against Wales, attracting other clubs’ attention, leading to his £30,000 transfer to Everton in March 1960, a record fee for a Scottish teenager. Apparently it paid for floodlights at Dens Park which were known as “Gabriel’s Beacons”.

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After a period of adjustment he soon became established at Goodison where, despite the team finishing fifth in the League in Gabriel’s first season, manager Johnny Carey was replaced by Harry Catterick, who led the Toffees to League success in 1963 and an FA Cup win in 1966, beating Sheffield Wednesday 3-2. To do so the team had to overcome a 2-0 deficit to lead 3-2, culminating in a memorable cameo of timewasting by the Scot near full time as he took the ball towards the corner flag, determinedly and skilfully resisting various attempts to dispossess him, much to the acclaim of the Everton faithful, who were warmly acknowledged by a grinning Gabriel with arms aloft.

Meanwhile, between 1960 and ’64 he won another five Scotland under-23 caps, against Wales (twice), England (twice, the latter in 1964 as captain) and Belgium. His first full cap came just after his 20th birthday, against Wales in October 1960 in an old Home Nations international at Ninian Park, Cardiff, where in front of 55,000 fans the Scots lost 2-0, while his second was against Norway in a friendly at Hampden Park, as a second half substitute for Jim Baxter in a 6-1 win.

By 1967, with his Everton place in jeopardy through the arrival of Alan Ball and Howard Kendall, Gabriel, after 303 games, agreed to a £42,500 transfer to Southampton, where he spent five happy years, maintaining the club’s top tier status and hugely popular with the fans as he chalked up 224 games and 27 goals.

He wound up his English playing career with Bournemouth and Brentford before going to the States in 1974 as player/coach with Seattle Sounders in the North American Soccer League.

In 1976 he scored the first goal in the club’s new stadium, New Kingdome, against Pele’s New York Cosmos, while as head coach in 1977 he led a squad including Bobby Moore and Geoff Hurst to the Soccer Bowl, the NASL championship final. After five years with the Sounders he coached briefly at Phoenix and for two years with San Jose Earthquakes, featuring George Best.

Back in England he coached at Bournemouth and Everton, where he was assistant manager to old teammate Colin Harvey, and then in 1997 he returned to Seattle for stints with Washington Huskies and the Sounders, whom he led to the American 2nd Division title before retiring in 2005.

In 2009 his contribution was recognised with a Golden Scarf award to “Mr Original Sounder” for services to soccer in Seattle, which also involved much voluntary work at all levels. After his recent death, the Sounders owner stated online, “Jimmy Gabriel was beloved in this region and our sport would not be where it is today without his influence”. Away from football he enjoyed golf, was a talented artist and wrote poetry and short stories.

James Gabriel was born in Dundee, the only son of James and Mary. With sisters Maureen, Patricia, Anne and Sheila, he was brought up in Haldane Terrace, attending St Peter and Paul Primary School and then Lawside Academy. His father was a cleansing department supervisor who had played for Forfar Athletic among others.

In Liverpool Jimmy met Patricia Gaskell, and they wed in the city’s Holy Rosary Church in the early 1960s. They enjoyed almost 60 years of happy marriage, during which they had three daughters, Karen, Janet and Samantha.

The couple lived in Washington State but in 2016 moved to Arizona to be closer to Samantha and family, Jimmy by then having contracted Alzheimer’s, making his latter years difficult.

To assist research into this disease his brain has been donated to Boston University.

A wholehearted player and inspiring coach, the ever humble, generous and popular Jimmy Gabriel left his mark wherever he went.

He is survived by his wife, daughters, 11 grandchildren and six great grandchildren.

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