When Jimmy Gabriel became temporary manager following Howard Kendall’s resignation in December 1993 he boasted a 100 per cent record from a previous spell as caretaker boss, after Colin Harvey’s sacking in 1990.
Granted, it was only one game – a 3-0 victory over Queens Park Rangers – but he still held the brief and unusual distinction of having Everton’s best ever managerial record. ‘If things go okay,’ he said at the time of taking over again, ‘I might be interested in the job.’ Five defeats and two draws later he decided that the Goodison hot seat was not for him.
As a 1960s wing half, however, Jimmy Gabriel excelled, winning the admiration of fans and players for his complete commitment. Alex Young once remarked,
Jimmy would run through a brick wall and just blink
– sentiments shared by virtually anyone who saw him play. Yet there was far more to Gabriel’s game than pure aggression, and as well as his physical qualities, he possessed the skill and aerial ability to control the right side of the Everton midfield for some years. Gabriel was mentally tough too: when, just three games into his Everton career, he was given a torrid time by West Bromwich Albion’s Derek Kevan, who scored five times in a thrashing at the Hawthorns, he possessed the resilience at just 19 years of age to react positively to the humiliation by working to improve his game.
SIGNED FOR £30,000 from Dundee in March 1960, his exploits had already won the teenager comparisons with fellow-countryman Dave Mackay, who had joined Spurs a year earlier. Gabriel quickly forged a strong partnership with Brian Harris, then Tony Kay, occasionally deputising as centre forward too.
A charismatic and popular member of the dressing room, he earned a reputation as a minder and mentor to the younger players – despite his own tender years. The likes of Tommy Wright and Colin Harvey benefited from this as they pushed their way into the first team. Harvey later said: ‘Whoever came in, if you were a bit young, Jimmy took you under his arm and looked after you.’ Such was the youngster’s regard for his team-mate that when he was Everton manager he made Gabriel his reserve team manager.
GABRIEL WON a Championship medal in 1963 and three years later was another stalwart as Everton lifted the FA Cup. Gabriel’s cup final display still voices fond memories among older supporters after he provided one of the most memorable moments in an unforgettable match: with just minutes remaining he played the ball against the corner flag, egging on the Sheffield Wednesday players to try and dispossess him. On eventually winning a throw-in he lifted his arms in the air as if he had just scored the winning goal.
The ruthless Harry Catterick moved quickly to break up the cup winning team, however, and Gabriel was one of the first to go: sold to Southampton at the end of the 1966/67 season to make way for Howard Kendall.
A GOODISON RETURN with Southampton four years later was less than happy for the Scot, as Everton won 8-0 – their biggest win in 41 years. ‘Southampton were a side who could do that sort of thing,’ Gabriel said years later. ‘One day we’d take on the top team in the country and beat them, the next we’d get battered.’ He spent the day as a makeshift right back with the unenviable task of marking Alan Whittle. ‘He was twice as fast as me,’ he recalled. ‘He kept knocking the ball past me and running on to it ... and big Joe Royle was in the middle smashing them in from the crosses.’ Royle ended the day with four goals and David Johnson also netted a hat-trick.
For Scotland, only Mackay’s excellence at right half restricted Gabriel to two international caps, the first coming in 1961 against Wales, the latter as substitute against Norway three years later.
Gabriel moved to Bournemouth in 1972, and later played for Swindon Town and Brentford. In 1974 he moved to the NASL where he spent five productive years with Seattle Sounders, the latter two as manager. In 1977 he won the National Conference and took Sounders to the Soccer Bowl – football’s answer to the Super Bowl – but they lost to a New York Cosmos team that included Pele and Franz Beckenbauer. Between 1980 and 1982 Gabriel managed San Jose Earthquakes, whose players included George Best and Colin Bell.
He returned to England in 1986 as coach at Bournemouth, then to Goodison as part of Colin Harvey’s backroom staff in 1990. As reserve team manager he oversaw the development of players such as Michael Ball and David Unsworth, as well as twice stepping in as caretaker manager.
Gabriel returned to Seattle in 1997, ostensibly to be reunited with family who lived there, although he continued coaching, first at the Washington Huskies, then as assistant manager at Sounders. On winning the US Second Division title in October 2005, Gabriel, now aged 65, called time on a football career that had spanned almost half a century.