In September 2009, I was a mascot at Elland Road. An historic, daunting stadium which despite the 0-2 defeat proved to be a special day out.
That was partially a distinctive day out because of my encounter with then County manager Gary Ablett.
He was a towering but gentle figure. We walked down the corridor as Gary held my hand whilst having a brief conversation. He emitted such a warm, friendly presence and seemed like a caring and attentive human-being. This is echoed by many of his compatriots in the footballing world.
I only conversed with him for a few minutes so I can’t really delve deep into his personality. However, my meeting with him has given me a positive lasting impression to this day highlighting what sort of a great presence and personality he had. If somebody can have the sort of impact that he had on me that day after such a brief encounter, It speaks volumes of the man.
He seemed like the type of person who would have been a joy to work for. I have no idea about his tactical abilities but, it is important to respect your peers as human beings and he certainly seemed like someone you’d feel comfortable and impassioned to play for.
On 1 January 2012, Gary sadly lost his life to non-Hodgkins lymphoma at the age of just 46.
During Gary’s time at County, he gave Carl Baker the news that his brother had died from non-Hodgkins lymphoma. As a consequence of Carl’s bereavement, the battle against the disease was a cause that County had tackled during Gary’s time at the club. It was a cause that had been fought by the County faithful and was a cause that was close to Gary before he was diagnosed.
Not many people can claim to be a legend on both sides of Stanley Park. He is the only person to have won the FA Cup with both Liverpool and Everton.
One of my most distinct memories from the day I was mascot at Elland road however is my recollection of the stillness of the players I met working for Gary.
Normally in a dressing room you would imagine camaraderie and blaring music but, when I went in to get some autographs, the room was silent – Apart from David Poole and Nicholas Bignall who were cracking jokes with one another.
Indeed, this highlights the challenge that Gary had as a manager whilst at County. With the club in a desperate state in administration, the club was on its knees and this was evidently emitting a certain negative vibe onto the players too.
Gary had an incredibly youthful side and a minimal budget meaning the challenge to keep the Hatters in League one was nearly impossible. Generating a positive atmosphere amongst that group would prove to be an overwhelming challenge.
He brought in a therapist to try and solve the mental issues in the young player’s minds. When speaking to his players, he would be told how they wouldn’t remember driving home with their mental state so fixated on the depressing state that the club was in.
He did try and fix County’s issues by making a quadruple signing from MK Dons. They would however all fall-out with one another whilst house-sharing.
Indeed, it was a weak Stockport side at best who were not prepared for League One football. Fundamentally, it was pretty much a youth team having to compete against the likes of Norwich, Southampton and Leeds. They needed to be imbedded around experience into a club rather than all thrown in at the deep end. But, this was the situation that Gary had to deal with.
I recall in the first game after Gary’s death, the Cheadle End chanting ‘Gary Ablett’s Blue ‘n White Army’ for 20 minutes at the start of the game highlighting the respect that Gary generated amongst the fanbase despite the struggles on the pitch.
I hope his family and friends are aware of the appreciation that both myself and evidently the County fans have for Gary as a human being. His time at County may have not been so successful from a footballing perspective but, he left a tremendous impression as a human-being on myself, his players and from what I have read from many people who were close to him in the footballing stratosphere.
Written by Adam Sundle
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