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Football League Greats: Marco Gabbiadini

25 September 2012

The Romans founded York back in 71 AD, building the walls that still stand today and the famed Clifford's Tower, but in the mid 1980s it was one their distant ancestors who was making his mark in the city.

To be accurate, Marco Gabbiadini was actually half Italian and originally hailed from Nottingham but although the young striker spent just two seasons at Bootham Crescent, he too left a lasting impression.

His brief time with York City was the beginning of an 18-year long career that encompassed 11 different clubs. He never quite scaled the game's highest heights but the trademark shock of blonde hair, the exotic name, the boxer's nose, the volcanic temper and, of course, his goals ensured Gabbiadini was a cult figure wherever he played.

Signed as an apprentice in 1982 by York manager Denis Smith, Gabbiandini made his first team debut at the age of 17. In 50 starts for the Minstermen he scored 18 times and it was not long before the England Under-18s were on the phone, persuading the youngster to represent the Three Lions rather than opting for the Azzurri.

In the summer of 1987, Smith was head-hunted by Sunderland and one of his first acquisitions was his former charge, paying £80,000 to bring him to the North East. At Roker Park, Gabbiadini was paired with veteran Eric Gates and the new signing's raw pace, muscularity and predatory instincts proved a perfect foil to Gates' more elegant and considered style. The Wearside faithful quickly dubbed the deadly duo 'The G-Force'.

In his first season, Gabbiadini scored 21 goals in 35 League appearances as Sunderland claimed the Third Division title. His manager was so impressed that he once quipped 'If I agreed to sell Marco, then I might as well sack myself' and the Mackems had a new hero.

He was equally prolific the following year despite his pugnacious nature earning him an 11-match suspension after punching Ipswich goalkeeper Ron Fearon but he still scored 18 league goals in 36 games and became the first Sunderland player to be named the North East Player of the Year.

The 1989/90 season saw Sunderland promoted back to the top-flight. The Anglo-Italian, who made a solitary appearance for England B that year, weighed in with 22 League goals but none were more important or popular on the terraces than his strike in the Play-Off Semi-Final win against Newcastle United at St James Park.

The departure of Gates to Carlisle in the summer saw Gabbiadini struggle in his first foray at the top level the following season and in 1991 he was on his way to London for the first and only time in his career, signing for Crystal Palace in a £1.8million deal.

Brought to replace Ian Wright, he proved a periphery figure at Selhurst Park and 12 months later he headed north to play for Derby, spending five years with County. A short, ill-advised stint in Greece with Panionios and a disappointing year at Stoke followed until he found himself back at York on loan in 1998.

It was not quite the fairytale return he craved as manager Alan Little was reluctant to play him, told the City board he was past his best and refused to offer him a permanent deal. At the age of 30, it seemed Gabbiadini was reluctantly coming to the end of the line. Rumours of his demise however were exaggerated.

Darlington knew a bargain when they saw one and snapped Gabbiandini up and he rewarded their faith with a formidable 48 League goals in 81 games, firing The Quakers into the Division Three Play-Off final in 2000.

Such was his enduring popularity that he was voted the club's greatest ever player by supporters in 2003 when the team moved from their Feethams home to the Darlington Arena in 2003.

A three-year spell with Northampton was the penultimate stop on his footballing journey and in 2003, the well-travelled striker arrived at his final destination when he signed for Hartlepool. His Darlington connections ensured he received a mixed reception at Victoria Park but it was his ageing knees rather than suspicious supporters that dictated the end and after a single season with 'Pool, the 35-year-old finally called it a day.

"I was lucky as a player in that I never spent any serious amount of time out of the game," he reflected after his retirement. "The longest break I had was about five weeks with a cartilage injury. I never had a true cup final moment but I was Player of the Season six times at various clubs."

Catering rather than coaching was the future after hanging up his boots and like his forefathers, Gabbiadini headed back to York to open an award-winning hotel.

Career Statistics:
York City (1985-87) - 60 Football League appearances, 14 goals
Sunderland (1987-91) - 152 Football League appearances, 74 goals
Crystal Palace (1991-92) - 15 Football League appearances, 5 goals
Derby County (1992-97) - 188 Football League appearances, 50 goals
Birmingham City (1996, loan) - 2 Football League appearances
Oxford United (1997, loan) - 5 Football League appearances, 1 goal
Panionios (1997) - 11 League appearances, 4 goals
Stoke City (1997-98) - 8 Football League appearances
York City (1998, loan) - 8 Football League appearances, 1 goal
Darlington (1998-2000) - 82 Football League appearances, 47 goals
Northampton Town (2000-03) - 120 Football League appearances, 25 goals
Hartlepool United (2003-04) - 15 Football League appearances, 5 goals

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