Cult Heroes: Tony Adams, Arsenal
Tony Adams, Arsenal and England captain, appeared in 504 matches for Arsenal and 66 for England, and is one of the most successful players ever to play for Arsenal FC. He is quite rightly remembered as one of the club's heroes.
Nicknamed “Mr. Arsenal,” Adams made his debut as a 17-year-old in 1983 against Sunderland. His start was ignominious, to say the least—Adams put his shorts on the wrong way round and then erred to give Sunderland the equaliser.
However, as time would tell, “Mr. Arsenal” was nothing if not determined, and he recovered from the setback to become a regular for Arsenal through the 1985-86 season.
Silverware came early for Adams, as Arsenal won the League Cup in 1987, but it was the following season where things really started coming together for him, as he was named Arsenal captain, at the age of 21—a position he would hold for the rest of his career.
Adams also made his debut for England against Spain in '87 and played in the Euro 88 championships, where he struggled, especially against the Dutch, where Van Basten gave the young Adams a torrid time.
But again, Adams bounced back, and the following season was a memorable one for him, as he helped lead Arsenal to a stirring finish in the league, as they won the title with a last gasp win at Anfield, which helped secure the club's first league title in 18 years.
Two years later, Adams once again reached the summit of English football, as his club once again triumphed in the '90-91 season. However, this was a season of personal trauma for Adams, as he was arrested for drunk driving and had to miss eight weeks of the season, which he spent in prison.
Then in the 1992-93 season, Adams achieved a first in English football, being the first captain to lift the League and FA Cup double in a season, as well following Euro 92, he was named joint England captain with David Platt.
The following season, Arsenal triumphed once more, this time in Europe, as Adams got his hands on yet more silverware, winning the European Cup Winners Cup with a 1-0 victory over Parma.
Despite reaching the final the following year, Arsenal were being overshadowed in the league. However, the defence of Winterburn, Adams, Bould, and Dixon was now famous in English football as being one of the strongest in the league, with the defence becoming well-renowned for their tight defensive line—something immortalised in the Full Monty film.
Next of note for Adams came the Euro 96 championships, a tournament in which England performed valiantly, playing wonderful football as they reached the semifinals before losing to Germany.
For Adams the tournament was one of personal joy. He was England captain throughout the tournament and was part of the team which beat Holland 4-1, personal revenge for Euro 88.
However, once again controversy stalked Adams, and soon after the tournament, he admitted in public that he was an alcoholic. Adams had a long history of alcohol abuse, and he had been involved in a number of incidents while drinking.
After revealing his problem, Adams went into rehabilitation, and he became one of the most high-profile recovering alcoholics in the country and founded his Sporting Chance clinic in 2000 as a way of aiding sportsmen and women with similar problems.
On the playing field, things were about to get much better for Adams too, with the appointment of Arsene Wenger. The Frenchman would go on to have a massive impact on the rest of Adams' career.
Wenger's new training methods, allied with Adams' new healthier lifestyle, undoubtedly helped extend his career by some years, and many feel brought out the best in him as a player.
In Wenger's first full season, Arsenal won the Double, with Adams an integral part. Adams perhaps best encapsulated that season by scoring the final goal in Arsenal's 4-1 victory over Everton, a victory that sealed the double.
Adams then went to the World Cup finals with England, his first appearance at that tournament, and though England lost to Argentina in the second round, Adams performed admirably throughout.
The following year was disappointing for Arsenal, as they lost out closely to Manchester United in the league, and it was not until the 2001-2002 season that Adams would get his hands on more silverware.
Meanwhile for England, Adams would go on to play at Euro 2000 before retiring from international football following a disastrous defeat against Germany at Wembley.
The 2001-2002 season, though, was a momentous one. Though Adams struggled with injuries throughout, he still contributed greatly to the team's double-winning season, and in the FA Cup final he put in a master class performance as Arsenal beat Chelsea 2-0. Adams that season became the first captain in English league football history to win the league title in three different decades.
Following that triumph, sensing that he would be blighted further by injury struggles, Adams decided to retire from professional football, a fitting end to his career—bowing out as a winner.
In retirement, Adams has worked with his charity Sporting Chance and also worked as a pundit. He is currently Portsmouth manager, following an earlier stint with Wycombe Wanderers, and he has often talked about becoming Arsenal manager one day.
For Arsenal fans, there has arguably been no other player in the club's history who has encapsulated the spirit and quality of the club more than Tony Adams, a colossus of a defender who is considered by many as one of the finest to have played for England and Arsenal.
Sir Alex Ferguson often attempted to sign him, and at his testimonial stated, “I would love to have had him in my side, and I don't think it's any secret that there were inquiries made at one time from Old Trafford.” Pat Rice, Arsenal assistant manager, stated, “what a leader, what a player, what a man.”
As Arsenal captain, he was a figurehead for his fellow players, and was immensely popular both with team mates and fans. Certainly the phrase “cult hero” is all too fitting for a player of Adams' popularity and standing amongst the Arsenal fans.