By Gary Lawrence
I thought We’d never see another Arsenal captain as influential and inspiring as Joe Mercer or Frank McLintock. But 10 years after Bertie Mee made his most calamitous decision as Arsenal manager, selling Frank McLintock to QPR. Tony Adams arrived on the scene.
I was there at Highbury in November 1983 when Don Howe gave 17 year old Tony Adams his debut against Sunderland. Little did I know then that Tony Adams would still be there 19 years later, at the 2002 FA Cup Final against Chelsea, where I saw TA’s final competitive game for The Arsenal.
We almost lost Tony Adams before he even joined us when after Steve Rowley asked him to go to Highbury and take a look round. Tony and his Dad Alex went to Highbury and met Tommy Coleman, who’d recently become assistant youth team manager. When Tony explained that Steve Rowley had sent him. Coleman said he’d never heard of Steve Rowley, who also hadn’t been at the club that long. Tony and his dad were just about to walk out the door when Steve Rowley appeared and asked them to wait while he sorted it out.
Soon Tony was led into a room where Terry Burton the youth team manager and five other boys were gathered. They were David Rocastle, Martin Hayes, Martin Keown, Michael Thomas and Gus Caesar. “That was a good day at the office” said Terry Burton.
Tony Adams is second only to David O’Leary in appearances for Arsenal. Spending his entire career at the club. He is the most decorated Arsenal player of all time, winning 10 trophies and by far the most successful captain lifting nine trophies. Adams captained Arsenal to two Doubles, four League Titles, three FA Cups, the European Cup Winners Cup and a League Cup. He captained Arsenal for 14 years. Longer than anybody’s else and nobody has captained them more times than him. He’s also the only player to captain a side to League Titles in three different decades.
I remember Tony made a couple of mistakes on his debut. But there was no doubting his confidence. Even when he made a mistake he showed his character by not letting it affect him and the crowd warmed to him immediately for his whole hearted attitude.
If ever there was a man born to be an Arsenal captain it was Tony Adams. He was captain of every team he ever played for when he was growing up. TA was a natural leader. Very vocal who wasn’t adverse to giving far more experienced international team mates his advice and instructions, even though he was much younger than them.
He developed into one of the finest centre backs this country has ever produced. As well as one of the greatest captains. George Graham realised his leadership qualities when he made him captain for the 1988-89 season. He of course led us to the Title that season, aged just 22 years old. On that famous unforgettable night at Anfield.
The other players used to joke that he was son of George as he was such a favourite of George Graham. But George knew what an asset TA was. At 6 foot 3 inches he was physically imposing. Dominant in the air. Although not the quickest, he had great timing in his tackles, he also positioned himself so well. He was a centre forward’s worst nightmare. He was brave as they come, putting his body on the line. Blocking shots and often put his head in where the boots were flying.
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Added to that he had a fantastic will to win. A man who influenced all those around him into giving that little bit extra. He was also a master of organising his defence. Famous for setting up the back four to execute the offside trap with his hand raised in the air. Was it any wonder that George Graham called Tony Adams “His Colossus” or that Arsene Wenger once said “I realised when I joined Arsenal that the back four were all university graduates in the art of defending and Tony Adams was the doctor of defence”.
Typical Adams pose fists clenched urging the side to give more
As captain he would gee the team up in the dressing room and in the tunnel. Urging them to give their all for The Arsenal. He also kept a notebook in which he’d list all the opposing strikers strengths and weaknesses.
The bigger the game the better he played. Often popping up with important goals, such as his winning header in the FA Cup Semi-Final against Spurs at Wembley in 1993.
Adams also captained England many times as well and came so close to captaining them to glory in Euro 96. Inexplicably Glenn Hoddle took the captaincy away from Tony and gave it to Alan Shearer for the 1998 World Cup. A move I’ve never understood.
Although Alan Shearer was captain, it was Tony Adams doing the captain’s job, when David Beckham stupidly got himself send off against Argentina, when England lost the Quarter-Final. Tony Adams was the only England player that talked to and lifted Beckham in the dressing room after the match. A gesture that Beckham never forgot.
Of course off the pitch Adams had his fair share of problems. He was charged with drink driving, when he drove his car into a wall, when he was four times over the limit. The authorities decided to make an example of him just before Christmas 1990 as they sentenced him to serve two months inside at Chelmsford Nick.
I was at Highbury along with 7,000 other Arsenal fans to see his emotional comeback for the reserves on his release from prison. Pumping his fists in the air in triumph, at the final whistle. Before going on to lead us to another League Title that season.
In September 1996 Adams went public admitting he was an alcoholic. But he once again showed great character in overcoming his demons. He even set up the Sporting Chance addiction clinic.
Although Tony Adams personality has changed a lot since he’s given up the booze. At times coming across as rather odd. But when he talks football, as he did in the recent Paul Merson interview on Sky. It was fascinating to hear him talking about his playing days. There was an aura about him when he spoke.
In 2011 the club honoured Tony with his own statue outside the Emirates in the same pose as when he scored against Everton in 1998. Arms raised to the North Bank. When Brian Moore uttered those immortal words “And that sums it all up”
Tony Adams meets Tony Adams!
It saddens me that some younger Arsenal fans are critical of such a legendary player and captain of Arsenal Football Club. He stayed loyal to the club for his whole career. Alex Ferguson who badly wanted to sign Tony for Manchester United once said to him “You are wearing the wrong shirt” to which TA replied “And you are wearing the wrong blazer”. If anybody deserves the tag “Mr Arsenal” it’s Tony Adams.
Once again thanks for reading. That’s my three Captain Fantastic’s for Arsenal. I’m sure you’ll agree all three were very special in their own way. Here’s a link to all the Arsenal captains superbly compiled by Andy Kelly. Arsenal’s captains from day one http://www.thearsenalhistory.com/?p=8955
Ps. Tony Adams is returning to Arsenal to help coach the under 18s. This is great news and the young Arsenal defenders will learn from the master on what it takes to become an Arsenal legend.