Gary Ablett united Liverpool and Everton fans, but what would he have made of the abuse aimed at Adeyemi and Kenwright?
In life, Gary Ablett had a rare talent that won him honours at the highest levels of football.
In death, it was his attributes as a person, as much as a player, which allowed him the accolade of another rare talent… to bring together the supporters of Everton and Liverpool.
On Friday night, there was genuine emotion at Anfield as fans chanted his name and offered a minute’s applause in appreciation of his contribution to the history of this famous club.
A day later, Everton’s supporters burst into spontaneous applause to mark the life of a genuinely decent man who had made an equally massive contribution to this equally famous, historic club.
Goodison had scheduled a minute’s silence in Gary Ablett’s memory, but such was the enthusiasm for his achievements the applause took over, as though to reflect his always enthusiastic and positive personality.
It was a feature of the man, his ability to remain cheerful and upbeat no matter what the situation, and somehow it was fitting that both sets of fans decided to celebrate his life, rather than mourn his death.
It is a rare talent indeed, to bring together these two clubs, especially in these days when football’s moral radar seems to have gone wonky. But Gary Ablett managed that, because he was able to serve both clubs equally with pride, commitment and energy, as both player and coach.
In the final year of his too-short life, Gary Ablett endured eight radiotherapy sessions, bone marrow transplants, blood transfusions, chemotherapy, platelet transfusions and lumbar punches as he fought against a rare form of blood cancer. He did so uncomplainingly, and with a dignity few could have managed under such difficult circumstances.
It was this inherent dignity that allowed him to serve both clubs equally, and which eventually allowed both sets of fans to accept he could do so, without their tribal loyalties – and ignorances – taking over. A rare feat indeed.
I wonder then, what Gary Ablett, a man who was able to transcend the baser instincts of football, would have made of events either side of the tributes paid to him by Liverpool and Everton fans over the weekend?
On Saturday afternoon, before the FA Cup tie with Tamworth, a small group of Everton fans laid in wait for their chairman Bill Kenwright as he arrived at the ground.
They were there to protest at his continuing stewardship of their club, which of course is their right. What unfolded though, was yet another example of how football supporters seem to have lost their sense of what is morally acceptable when it comes to dealing with other human beings.
You can judge for yourself what happened, because naturally the encounter was filmed and immediately posted on YouTube, as seems to be the norm in these days when everyone apparently possesses an aching desire to be famous for 15 seconds.
Kenwright was essentially subjected to a volley of aggressive complaints, and some very serious allegations about where Everton’s money has gone. He responded by suggesting those fans who had shouted at him were betraying their club, which was probably not the wisest recourse under the circumstances.
This is not the place to discuss the rights and wrongs of Bill Kenwright’s tenure as chairman of Everton Football Club, but there are couple of fundamental principles which came out of that depressing encounter on Saturday.
First, like Gary Ablett, Kenwright has served his club with dignity and enthusiasm. He has made plenty of mistakes – as he acknowledges himself – but he done his very best under trying circumstances, and the club’s league position over the past decade will tell you he hasn’t done a bad job.
During that time, he hasn’t taken a salary from the club unlike just about every other chairman in the Premier League. He also hasn’t taken any expenses, and has carried a personal debt in funding his initial purchase from Peter Johnson.
Now, that doesn’t make him a better chairman, or a saint, but it does suggest he is a fan whose heart is in the right place, and it certainly marks him as a very different owner to Liverpool’s terrible twosome Tom Hicks and George Gillett, who piled debt on the club and took millions in fees and expenses.
I mention this, because those fans who yeled at Kenwright on Saturday are trying to demonise their chairman, and portray him as another Hicks or Gillett. They are trying to launch a campaign similar to the one Liverpool fans mounted against the disastrous American regime which brought Anfield to its knees, suggesting a similar thing is happening.
But there are no similarities at all, and in attempting to draw comparisons, those fans are doing their club a massive disservice. Kenwright essentially saved Everton when Johnson had steered it onto the rocks, and in the decade he has been there, they have gone from being virtually bankrupt and relegation certainties, to having one of the smallest debts in the Premier League, and being consistently in the top eight.
Of course, there is not enough money to spend, and of course, everyone would like more money to be spent. That is why Kenwright has the club up for sale. But he has done his best, and in the current financial climate, he hasn’t done such a bad job. It’s certainly a better job than new owners did at Portsmouth, at Birmingham, at Blackburn, at Aston Villa and at almost every other Premier League club.
The point is, Kenwright is being demonised, but does he really deserve that? Criticism, absolutely, but demonisation? Of course not, and any right-minded fan who can take a logical, independent view on the situation will realise that.
But of course, logic tends to go out of the window where football is concerned. And so does independence, with tribal instincts now so strong that free-thinking and common sense seem an impossibility.
On Friday night at Anfield, Tom Adeyemi, a kid enjoying the greatest night of his life so far, a mere boy who entered Anfield full of awe and admiration, left it with the taste of disgust and contempt in his mouth.
Adeyemi was abused, of that we are all certain. We don’t know exactly the nature of that abuse, but it was certainly enough to leave a young man who had done nothing but enjoy a brief appearance on one of football’s greatest stages, in tears.
It was shocking enough that he was subjected to that kind of abuse, even if it was from one disgusting idiot. But even more shocking really, that Liverpool fans then chose to chant at him, and boo his every touch afterwards. All because he had got upset at the abuse.
Where was the empathy for a mere kid who should have left Anfield as he arrived, daring to believe in the greatness of the place, in the romance and sheer history of a great football institution?
Tom Adeyemi was a victim of the malaise that has gripped football fans at the moment, their lack of moral sense and their lack of empathy with fellow human beings. In a way, Bill Kenwright was too.
Yet the genuine, heartfelt applause for Gary Ablett before and after those two incidents showed that supporters can appreciate there is a dignity in people giving their best under difficult circumstances.
Let me add two footnotes to the weekend’s events. A group of Liverpool fans, disgusted at what happened to Tom Adeyemi, put their names to a letter of apology sent to the young man at Oldham, condemning the abuse and the reaction of the crowd afterwards.
And a group of fans, witnessing the volley of aggressive complaints aimed at Bill Kenwright, turned on those aiming it, and offered an even louder voice, condemning their actions.
The optimist in Gary Ablett, the sense of the positive that saw him face his toughest test of all without complaint, would have appreciated both those gestures. Let us hope the wider footballing public can too.
Read David Maddock's exclusive Liverpool column every Wednesday on MirrorFootball.co.uk.