Ex-Liverpool and Everton hero Ablett loses cancer fight

Former Liverpool captain Alan Hansen has paid tribute to a “great” team-mate in Gary Ablett after the defender’s death at the age of 46.

Ablett lost his 16-month battle against non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma on New Year’s Day and Hansen said the news had left him and several other members of the 1980s squad “distraught”.

“He was a lovely guy and he was quite unassuming and everyone loved him,” said the ex-Scotland international. “It is such a shock even though we knew he was ill. I texted him on 7 December to go and see him and have a cup of tea and he texted back to say he had a doctor’s appointment but wished me a merry Christmas and said he would see me in the new year.

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“Talking to two or three ex-Liverpool players, we are all distraught because we all thought he was recovering. [To die at] 46 years of age is absolutely tragic.”

Hansen, who played in the same side in which Ablett won two league titles and an FA Cup in 147 appearances, felt the defender – who was comfortable in both the centre and on the left – would have had an even better career had he not been at Anfield at a time when they were arguably the best team in the world.

“He came into the dressing room when Liverpool had one of the great teams and he was right in there because he was a top-class player as well,” he told Radio 5 Live. “If he had joined Liverpool in the late 70s or early 80s he would have been a permanent fixture. I had a couple of great centre-back partnerships at Liverpool and he was as good as anything.”

Ablett was at Anfield between 1983 and 1992, having progressed from being a Reds apprentice, before making the short move across Stanley Park to Everton. He made 156 appearances for the Toffees, becoming the only player to win the FA Cup with both Merseyside teams when they beat Manchester United in 1995. He went on to play for Birmingham, Wycombe, Blackpool and American club Long Island Rough Riders before moving into coaching.

He began in Everton’s youth set-up before becoming Liverpool Reserves manager and winning the Premier Reserve League North and the national title in 2008. Ablett left a year later and was appointed Stockport manager but left after one season and took up a coaching position at Ipswich in the summer of 2010, only to fall ill shortly afterwards. Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish paid tribute to the local-born defender. “I gave Gary his debut and remember him scoring on his first start at Anfield against Nottingham Forest,” he told liverpoolfc.tv. “He was a really good servant to the club not only as a player, but also as reserve team coach. It’s very sad for everybody.”

Everton manager David Moyes added: “It is so, so sad about Gary. He was a regular visitor to Finch Farm [training ground] over the last six months and he was a lovely man, well liked by everyone.”