In my first two articles I have focused on some of the more popular attacking players to have graced the Premier League, going in-depth on their careers and how their “Legend” status has carved a place for them in the hearts of many a fan across the globe. But it is important to remember that a football team has 11 players on the pitch, and as such this time I will be looking at one of the most iconic defenders that was produced on these shores. He is a former 2 time England Captain, a one club man, and the last player to score a goal at the old Wembley Stadium before it was rebuilt. I am of course talking about former Arsenal club captain, and “Famous Four” member, Tony Adams.
A local lad born in Romford on 10th October, Adams was born into a world where England had just become World Champions, and spent his early life growing up in Dagenham, where he attended school until 1983. It was in this time that his talent shone through, and he was signed to YTS terms for Arsenal in 1980. No one would have predicted that he would stay at the club for his entire career.
Adams made his first team debut on 5th November 1983, appearing in a match against Sunderland in the old First Division, just 4 weeks shy of his 17th birthday. He made 2 more appearances that season, but by the start of the 1986 season he was a first team regular, making at least 20 appearances a season before his final professional season in 2001/02. Adams won his first major trophy in the 1986/87 season, winning the Football League Cup at Wembley. by 1988, he was part of the fabled “Famous Four” consisting of himself, Lee Dixon, Nigel Winterburn, and Steve Bould, with their use of the offside-trap system akin to mastery. Such was Adams presence on and off the pitch, that he was made Arsenal Captain on New Years Day 1988 came of little surprise to anyone. He would go on to captain the Gunners for the next 14 years until his retirement.
Tony Adams enjoyed a successful spell with Arsenal in the late 80’s and early 90’s, winning the League Cup as mentioned above, and two First Division Championships in 1988/89 and then again in 1990/91, the latter came with Arsenal losing just once all season. His reputation was further enhanced when he became the first Captain of an English side to win the League Cup and FA Cup double in the 1992/93 season, before lifting the European Cup Winners Cup the following year.
Despite all this success, Adams had his personal demons. His battle with alcoholism is well documented, and on more than one occasion threatened not only his career, but his very life as well. His addiction began in the mid 80’s as a young player, thrust into the limelight, he often got into fights in nightclubs and other public places. Arguably one of his lowest points came in 1990 when he crashed his car whilst 4 times over the legal drink-drive limit. In December of that year he was imprisoned for 4 months, but was released having served half of his sentence in February 1991. Adams rehabilitation was helped greatly by his relationship with Arsene Wenger when he arrived at the club in 1996, with Wenger implementing a strict dietary practice and a curfew for the players, he also stuck by Adams when he confessed his drinking problem, and could arguably be responsible for extending his playing career by a good number of years.
As a no-nonsense defender, Adams was not afraid to throw himself in harm’s way for the good of the team, an absolute rock in his central partnership with Steve Bould, he could read a game and be several steps ahead of you. Often times an opposing player wouldn’t know they had lost a one on one tussle with him until it was too late. His command of the back four was impeccable, leading from example and implementing the game plan consistently. Somehow, with Wenger’s guidance, he was able to expand his game further and develop into a ball playing defender, looking to play it out from the back and start attacking movements when the opportunity presented itself. He took to these changes like a duck to water, rarely making mistakes, though such was his consistency that if any mistakes were made, these were shrugged off by fans and pundits alike.
Howard Richmond, an old friend of mine and former workmate, is a die-hard Arsenal fan, and was happy to share some thoughts on the Gunners legendary captain:
On what made Tony Adams a great player: He wore his heart on his sleeve and gave 100% in every game. He was, and still is, Mr Arsenal. You knew that if there was ever a time where a leader was needed on the pitch he was the guy who played football the simple way and never tried to overcomplicate the game.
I asked Howard if he felt Adams’ personal demons ever affected his performances on the pitch: At times yes, but because of the man he was, he was able to manage separating the problems he had off the field from the job he had to do on it. As an Arsenal fan reading about the struggles he was going through, you still knew that once the next game came around we would have the Tony Adams we came to know and love giving his all.
On Adams’ playing style: He made the game look easy. You talk of a typical English defender who loves a tackle the first person who came to mind was Tony Adams. Although he was surrounded by skilful players, he never adapted his game to fit in. His mentality was all about getting tackles in, making good decisions and keeping clean sheets, which to a defender is just as important as scoring goals.
Finally I asked Howard where he thought Adams’ rated in terms of iconic players the club has had: In my opinion he is top of the list. He carries Arsenal in his heart and the fans carry him in theirs. To have your own statue outside the stadium you have to be someone extra special and he is exactly that, even with all his off field problems the club stood by him and he repaid them with strong performances, and becoming a leader of a successful team. He will always be loved by the fans and will always be Mr Arsenal.
It’s impossible to argue against the adoration Adams’ has from the fans, as his honours list shows just how successful a player he is. in 674 appearances for Arsenal in all competitions, a number only surpassed by David O’Leary, he won 4 top division titles, 2 being the Premier League, 3 FA Cups, 2 League Cups, the Football League Centenary Trophy and the European Cup Winners Cup. He won a multitude of personal accolades too, being included in the PFA Team of the year 4 times and even making it into the PFA Team of the century 1907-2007. He was entered into the English Football Hall of Fame in 2004. Adams also has the distinct honour of being the only player in English football history to captain a title-winning team in three different decades.
It’s easy to see that Adams was no ordinary player, his 66 England caps earned between 1987 – 2000 attest to that. Adams’ played at Euro 88, but didn’t play at a World Cup finals until 1998, with his final England tournament appearance coming at the unsuccessful Euro 2000 tournament. Adams was made permanent England captain twice during his international career, and retired shortly after Sven Goran Eriksson took over as England manager in 2001. As it stands, Adams was the first England player to make tournament appearances in 3 separate decades, a feat that has yet to be matched by others.
In August 2002, Adams retired from the professional game after almost 20 years, and was given a testimonial game against Celtic shortly before his retirement. Following his retirement, he decided to try his hand at the managerial side of the game, becoming Wycombe Wanderers manager in November 2003. Unfortunately, as good a player as Tony Adams was, his managerial record has not been as impressive, as he left Wycombe in November 2004 following a poor run of form, after initially starting brightly.
After taking coaching roles at Feyenoord and Portsmouth as part of his education, he was appointed caretaker manager of Portsmouth when Harry Redknapp departed for Tottenham in 2008, before being given the job full-time. Sadly his time as manager was a brief one, being sacked in February 2009 after just 16 games in charge having picked up just 10 points. His next move was an odd one, as he moved to Azerbaijani Premier League side Gabala FC in May of 2010, but left in November 2011, he briefly returned as Sporting Director in October 2012, before taking the job at La Liga side Granada CF from April 2017 until the end of that season, which culminated in relegation.
Adams is notable for a lot of charitable work, most notably founding the Sporting Chance Clinic for sports men and women struggling with addiction, with his testimonial match raising £500k for the clinic. After all these years, Adams remains a hugely popular figure with Arsenal fans, and as mentioned by my friend Howard, he has a statue outside the Emirates Stadium, showing his importance to the team and their history.
I’m going to hand over to Howard once more, for the last word on the Gunners legendary captain.
“When you think of Arsenal, you think of Tony Adams, and when you think of Tony Adams, you think of Arsenal.”
Whilst you’re here, why not check out some of the other articles we have here at DictateTheGame, where you can find other Players of the 90’s articles as well as a fantastic selection of other articles from our football obsessed crew.
Man City Aren’t That Great – Following a difficult week, DTG member Jamie looks at why Man City can’t be considered the “Best Premier League team of all time”
Mason’s Comeback FM18 – #3 – Mason Bradshaw has returned! And he’s looking to fight his way to the top of the football management game! A unique take on a Football Manager career.
Ruining English Football! – Part 3 – One of the most popular articles on the site! DTG member and avid Football Manager fan Dom has put the top teams in England on a 50 year transfer embargo and simulated the game 50 years into the future to see which teams emerge on top and where it all goes wrong for others.
Enjoyed the article? Have a comment to make? Let us know. You can follow us on both Facebook and Twitter on the links below: