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George Graham’s players: Tony Adams

By Tony Attwood

This is part of a series of articles on the managerial work of George Graham.

Graham did not sign Tony Adams for Graham only took over the club in 1986, and Adams signed for Arsenal as a schoolboy in 1980.

Tony Adams made his first start for the first XI on 5 November 1983 against Sunderland when he was just past his 17th birthday.  By 1985/6 he was a regular in the side and so George Graham had the gift of the growing ability of his central defender.  Under George Graham Tony Adams won his first trophy  – the league cup in 1987 beating Liverpool.

George Graham is of course remembered for putting a back four together which aside from Tony Adams included three George Graham signings.

  • Lee Dixon, signed January 1988
  • Nigel Winterburn, singed in the summer of 1987
  • Steve Bould, signed June 1988

Tony Adams became club captain in January 1988 at the age of 21, and he remained at Arsenal for 14 years after that, leaving only upon his retirement.

Beyond any doubt Tony Adams was a brilliant player, but he was helped enormously by having a regular, stable back line to work with, and a manager who believed in the discipline of the back four, which Adams could organise on the pitch.

All the honours flowed his way – two championships, the cup double, the cup winners cup, but as we all know from the mid 1980s his drinking began to get out of control.  On 19 December 1990, just two years after becoming captain of the club he was imprisoned for four months (serving two, as is the norm for prisoners who behave in prison), on a drink driving offence.

However even imprisonment did not stop his alcoholism, and the club continued to support him, despite this.  It was not until September 1996 that he made public the fact that he was seeking treatment for alcohol abuse.  His autobiography was titled “Addicted” and was well received in 1998 upon publication.

George Graham however left the club in February 1995, 18 months before Tony Adams “came clean”, and it is concerning that through all this time, when Graham must have known what was going on, he did not manage to do anything to help Adams.  It was, after all, during George Graham’s time that Tony Adams served his prison sentence – so there was no doubt as to the nature of the problem, and the number of scrapes that Adams got into that were in the press was escalating.

In fact it looks as if the man who helped sort Tony Adams out was Arsène Wenger who joined as manager in October 1996.     Since one of his first steps was to change diet of the players and the players’ lifestyles, and since Wenger was supportive of Tony Adams’ decision to go public, it looks as if there was a strong personal bond between the two, which did not exist with Graham.

Under Wenger Tony Adams won two more league titles, and two FA Cup and League Doubles.   I believe he is also the only player in English football to captain a league winning club across three decades.

Tony Adams played 668 matches for Arsenal – the second highest of any player in the club’s history, and was the most successful captain of all time for Arsenal.

In the summer of 2010, I had the honour to have a meeting with Ivan Gazidis, as part of my work for the AISA Arsenal History Society, and I spoke at some length about putting up a statue of Herbert Chapman in the walkways outside the stadium.

Mr Gazidis was interested but said no more about it, and it was not until just before the unveiling of the statues in December 2011 that we learned there would be three statues.  One was Herbert Chapman, as I had suggested.  One of the others was Tony Adams.

Since retiring as a player Tony Adams has had a number of managerial positions, but without major distinction.   He is now with Gabala, from whom he took a year’s break in 2011/12.   However although his management has not thus far been very successful his charity work is astounding.

In September 2000 he founded the Sporting Chance Clinic to support sports men and women suffering from drink, drug or gambling addictions, and it has attracted many well known names as patrons.  All the proceeds from his own testimonial match (over £500,000) went to the Clinic.   He is also a Patron for NACOA—which provides information and support for anyone affected by parental  drinking.

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3 comments to George Graham’s players: Tony Adams

  • colario

    Yes a great player and a great captain. The best since the war. I think that the evidence is sufficient to more than suggest that GG was not good at manager and player relationships.
    In a way Tony was fortunate that AW arrived when he did. As were we all.

  • nicky

    One aspect of Adams I always admired was the urbane way he treated the jibes and jeers of “Donkey” from all and sundry (not Arsenal fans though).
    His massive performances for his country became so compelling that even his strongest detractors were eventually won over.

  • Sod

    Correction: Adams became permanant Captain of Arsenal in March 1988 after a “Sign Me Or Sell Me” article in The Sun led to present incumbant Kenny Sansom being stripped of the Captaincy.
    Adams did actually captain the side on New Year’s Day 1988 in the fog at Portsmouth, when Sansom was injured/tired and emotional.

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