Danny “Gabbs” Gabbidon sat down with Paul Gronow to reminisce over a sterling professional career spanning almost 20 years, including two spells at the Bluebirds. A firm fan favourite, everything is on the table; from his favourite managers to that unexpected time in the dugout at Cardiff City. Pour yourself a cuppa and enjoy an in-depth chat with a club legend.
Danny, take us back to the start of your career at Cardiff City. You arrived on loan at the start of the 00-01 season. Did you think you would sign for the Bluebirds permanently just one month later?
Yes, I arrived initially on a one month loan. I wasn’t really sure at first if I wanted to sign because I had a long-term contract at West Bromwich Albion, but Gary Megson arrived and made it quite clear that I wasn’t in his plans so when Cardiff came calling I jumped at the chance to go and play regular football.
I met Sam Hammam and he spoke to me about the vision he had for Cardiff City moving forward. Once I heard that, I was more than happy to drop down a couple of divisions, play regular football and try to help the club to get to where they wanted to be, which was the Premier League.
Good old Sam Hammam, he was certainly adept at selling the vision wasn’t he? As you arrived right at the start of his reign and just as he was rebranding Cardiff City as a Celtic club, what was it like signing for him and was he as eccentric as we all thought?
It was exciting times and he was a very ambitious chairman. He wanted nothing else but promotion and he showed that with the money spent at the time and by bringing in the players he did. Alongside that, if achieving that goal meant sacking managers to improve the team’s results, then he wouldn’t shy away from that.
He was certainly a great character and all of the players really got along well with him. He absolutely loved a laugh and a joke with the players and staff, but was deadly serious about the Cardiff City project and what he was trying to do.
I remember one occasion involving Alan Cork and Sam Hammam. He had just hired Cork to replace Bobby Gould and on his very first day in the job, he walked into his office to find a sheep waiting there for him! Sam had somehow managed to source a sheep from somewhere to greet Alan as he walked through the door!
The fact that Sam wanted a Welsh core of players representing the club was also something that really impressed me. I know he gets some bad press from a lot of the media now, but there are a lot of things he did that Cardiff City fans should be thankful for.
That’s interesting. It’s fair to say that he still divides opinion to this day.
What games and memories stand out from your time at the Bluebirds? The play-off final and Leeds United FA Cup game are two stand-out memories for many Bluebirds. What about you?
The play-off final against QPR was certainly a special one, not least because it was played at the Millennium Stadium but also because it felt like we had the whole of Wales behind us. Couple that with the fact that I had missed about two or three months of that season due to injury and also missed the semi-final win over Stoke. It was an even more special moment for me to come back for the end of the season and contribute when it really mattered.
If I had to choose an alternative match I’d have to say that the semi-final win over Bristol City before that final. That gave me so much joy! I also loved scoring the winner at home against Wycombe in our first game of the season in League Two.
Beating Bristol City is always a good day. What about your first forays into the Wales first team. Did you foresee that happening when you signed for Cardiff City?
I’d played for Wales at under-18 and under-21 level, but I suppose part of me never thought it would be possible to progress to play for the senior side when I was playing in League Two for Cardiff City. There were so many great players already playing in the Wales side, but it was definitely something I wanted to achieve.
I knew as time passed at Cardiff that my game had been progressing and you do hear a few rumours here and there, so I knew that if I kept working hard and playing well I may get my chance. Robert Earnshaw had just broken into the squad and that gave me added motivation to emulate what he did.
It gave me a lot of confidence to see that the manager was picking players based on their form and not the level they were currently playing at. However, it was still a surreal moment when the call came!
Moving forwards in time, let’s talk about the time when financial uncertainly arrived at Cardiff City. How do you remember things changing at Ninian Park?
It was certainly strange because it came unexpectedly and completely without any warning. I had only signed a new contract a few months before and Sam Hammam had spoken about making me the cornerstone of the club, so financial problems was the last thing I thought was on the horizon. Looking back, maybe it was my fault! I’m joking of course, but it was definitely a shock and was a worrying time for all concerned if I’m honest.
I remember the manager Lennie Lawrence calling a meeting to inform us of the developing situation and to warn us that we probably weren’t going to be paid that month! It was at this point in the season that players started leaving the club. It got to the point whereby you’d come into training in the morning wondering who would be gone today, all of us wondering who was going to be the next to leave!
On top of that, after such a poor first half to the season, we were in quite a poor position in the league so the players decided that we had to just try and forget about the off-field issues and concentrate on getting positive results on the pitch. That definitely helped and galvanised the players to finish the league strongly, which we did, ensuring another season of Championship football at least.
Given that you’d only recently signed a big new contract, how did you feel when the club let you know it was time to be sold?
Well let’s put it this way, it certainly wasn’t the way I envisaged leaving the club! I was at a point in my career where I was sure I was ready for the next step-up. I was beginning to establish myself in the Wales team playing against top international players and I was itching to see how I could cope playing at Premier League level.
Signing the new contract was a big decision for me. I was 25 years old and realised that I wouldn’t be playing football forever. Although I didn’t want to waste any more time, we were equally so close to fulfilling that dream Sam had sold me when I first signed.
In the end I decided to give it another season at least at Cardiff City, but then, all of a sudden, that choice was made for me and staying no longer became an option.
Tell us about your return to Cardiff City, how did that come about and did you think you’d be in the dugout with Scott Young just a short while later?
If you said to me that I’d go back to Cardiff and end up managing the team before I played a game, I would have laughed in your face, but that’s what happened! What can I say; football’s a crazy old game….
I remember being in an airport waiting to catch a flight home and my agent called me to tell me about Cardiff City’s interest. I was surprised, but intrigued especially given how close the club was to my heart.
I was definitely prepared to consider the offer, but then everything went quiet for a couple of weeks and I didn’t think anything would happen. It almost got to the point where I wasn’t sure if I wanted anything to happen. I distinctly got the impression that Cardiff didn’t really want me and Ole wanted me to come into the club and train first before offering me a deal. I was happy to do that, but when I saw the number of defenders they already had on the books, I was fairly sure this wasn’t going to be the right move for me.
In the end I suppose the lure of coming home and the past memories I held played a big part in persuading me to say yes. Ole had also tempted me to sign with the promise of getting me involved in the coaching side of things, which was also very attractive to me as I was doing my coaching badges at the time.
To be honest, it was a strange season for me. On one hand, it showed me how much the game had changed and that your past achievements as a player no longer held much weight in the here and now of the modern game. On the other hand, my past affiliation with the club allowed me the opportunity to be caretaker manager, which was something I never thought I’d do and something I’ll always be thankful to the club for.
Part two coming tomorrow, Sunday 22nd July 2018.