Gabbidon returns to fitness at long last

WITH ALL the hype and excitment about the return to fitness of Dean Ashton, the news that another of West Ham s injury-blighted players is back on the fitness trail has been somewhat overlooked, writes DAVE EVANS. Welsh international defender Danny Gabbid

WITH ALL the hype and excitment about the return to fitness of Dean Ashton, the news that another of West Ham's injury-blighted players is back on the fitness trail has been somewhat overlooked, writes DAVE EVANS.

Welsh international defender Danny Gabbidon returned to action in a friendly match to commemorate the opening of Cardiff City's new stadium on Saturday, and the former Bluebird played for over an hour without any problems.

Now, Gabbidon is hoping for a chance to turn out in claret and blue this Sunday, when West Ham begin their pre-season campaign with a short trip to Blue Square Conference side Grays Athletic.

The Hammer, who turns 30 in August, made a superb start to his West Ham career after Alan Pardew secured his signature in the summer of 2005.


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That first season saw Gabbidon claim the Hammer of the Year trophy as West Ham reached the FA Cup Final and secured a place in Europe.

However, his second campaign was cut short in January after a knee injury and then in December 2007, he was struck down by the abdominal injury that has ruled him out ever since.

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At long last though, Gabbidon is seeing light at the end of the tunnel.

"There were times when I felt down and wondered if I would ever play again," said the Welshman, who has made just 75 appearances in his four seasons at Upton Park.

"I started training towards the end of last season and when I heard about the Cardiff City legends game, I asked West Ham if I could play and they said yes."

After 18 months on the sidelines, it must have been a tremendous relief for the Welshman to finally get back on to a football pitch.

"I can't describe the emotion in simply pulling on my boots and playing a match again," he confessed. "It's been such a long time, but now, at last, I can see a time when I can play Premier League football again for West Ham."

Things have changed at Upton Park since Gabbidon last donned the claret and blue.

His regular defensive partner - Anton Ferdinand - has been sold to Sunderland, while the arrival of Matty Upson and the emergence of James Tomkins has pushed himself, as well as Welsh team-mate James Collins, and out-of-favour Calum Davenport, well down the pecking order.

Added to that the change of manager and Gabbidon knows it won't be easy to break back into the first team squad.

"I'm still behind the other lads in terms of fitness," he revealed.

"I don't expect to step back in and it will take time before I can realistically challenge for a place in the matchday squad.

"But that is what I am working towards."

Gabbidon returned to pre-season training on Monday, though he hasn't really been away from Chadwell Heath over the summer.

Now he will be looking to put in the hours of hard slog and impress manager Gian-franco Zola as he looks to resurrect a West Ham career which showed so much promise.

With his calm authority and unshakable coolness under pressure, he will certainly be a player who fits the bill for a manager like Zola.

Ashton's return may well grab most of the headlines, but the return of Gabbidon to the heart of the Hammers defence, may be every bit as important.

It will be like signing another international class player for absolutely nothing and that can't be bad.

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