Tony Adams was ‘Mr Arsenal’. No one deserves the title more than he, especially after spending his entire career at Highbury.
In that time, Adams grew in stature, quickly taking up a place in the centre of the back four. So confident of his own ability, he started shouting instructions at the more experienced pros in the team. Although slightly perturbed about a youngster who had risen through the ranks to finally get in the first team, the likes of David O’Leary and Kenny Sansom quickly realised Adams was something special.
Tony Adams had a nightmare debut and came only four weeks after his 17th birthday. In a home game against Sunderland on 5th November 1983, he was at fault for both of Sunderland’s goals as Arsenal lost 2-1. He would only play another two games that season.
Don Howe, the man who gave Adams his debut, was fired in 1986. Former Arsenal midfielder George Graham came in to replace him and made Adams a regular in the first team, where he would remain an integral part of the Arsenal defence for the next sixteen years.
The club won the League Cup in his first season in charge, giving Adams his first piece of silverware. They returned to Wembley in the same competition the following year but lost 3-2 to underdogs Luton Town. Four months earlier, Adams had been given the captain’s armband. He would have lifted the cup if Arsenal had beaten Luton, but he wouldn’t have long to wait until another trophy came along.
Adams made his international debut in 1987 in a friendly with Spain and was selected by Bobby Robson to play at Euro ‘88. He scored England’s only goal of the championships, but this was forgotten by the English fans and media after Marco van Basten gave him the run-around and scored a hat-trick in the final group game.
Arsenal started the 1988/89 season brightly and were top of the table saw Adams turn from the figure of ridicule to the captain of the league champions in the space of eight weeks.
In a televised game at Manchester United, Adams scored a bizarre own goal to give the home side the lead. He would rectify matters with an equaliser, but the press were quick to get on his back.
Headlines referring to the Arsenal as a donkey were unfairly used. Donkey sounds followed from opposing fans followed Adams wherever he played for years to come, but this would only spur him on.
Arsenal won the league title and it was Adams who lifted the trophy after a famous 2-0 win against Liverpool on the last game of the season. Michael Thomas scored Arsenal’s second goal that clinched the title in the dying seconds of the match. Forget Sergio Aguero’s goal for Manchester City in 2012, this was the greatest end to a league season!
The league championship trophy returned to Highbury two seasons later. In the December of that season, Adams was jailed for four months after being caught drink-driving. After serving half of his sentence, Adam was released and regained his place in the Arsenal line-up.
Alcohol was already a big part of his life and it affected his personal life. On the pitch though, Adams remained a strong and fearsome defender, barking out the orders and always putting his body on the line to keep the opposition at bay.
Two years later, Arsenal became the first club to win both the League Cup and FA Cup in the same season. Adams grabbed the headlines in both competitions.
After the 2-1 victory over Sheffield Wednesday in the League Cup Final, Adams ran to congratulate the match winner Steve Morrow. He tried to lift the midfielder onto his shoulders. It didn’t work out and Morrow fell to the floor, badly breaking his arm and was taken off to hospital with an oxygen mask to ease the pain.
Better memories were had in the FA Cup as Adams headed in the only goal of the game in a 1-0 victory over Tottenham in the semi final. The following day, a tabloid ran with the headline ‘Donkey Won The Derby’ – probably the best form of apology for the headlines four years earlier!
As a reward for the FA Cup win, Arsenal entered the European Cup Winners Cup. Adams headed the winner in the Quarter Final against Torino and lifted the trophy after a 1-0 victory over holders Parma in the final.
England didn’t reach the 1994 World Cup in America so Adams would have to wait another two years to try and atone for his display against Holland in 1988. He played well at Euro 96, despite giving away a penalty in the second match against Scotland. His Arsenal colleague David Seaman saved the resulting spot-kick from Gary McAllister and England won 2-0.
Adams later revealed that he was fighting the urge to drink throughout the tournament, wanting to stay sober and focus on the matches. After the semi final defeat to Germany, he went out on a bender lasting several days. It was at this point he went for rehabilitation and has not had a drop of alcohol since.
Arsene Wenger became Arsenal manager a few weeks into the start of the 1996/97 season and revolutionised the way the players prepared for games. It helped Adams with his alcohol problems and kept his career going for another couple of years with new and advanced training methods.
In the 1997/98 season – Wenger’s first full season at the club – Arsenal won a league and cup double for the first time since 1970/71. Adams scored the fourth goal in the home game against Everton that confirmed the league title.
Running from deep, Adams chased a through ball from his centre back partner Steve Bould and lashed the ball into the back of the net – with his weaker foot! It is one of the most iconic goals in Arsenal history and his celebration of spreading his arms out and walking serenely in the sun has been replicated in a statue made in his honour outside the Emirates Stadium.
The 2001/02 season was Adams’ final season at the club. He was 35 now and in his third decade at the club. He went out on a high, as Arsenal won both the league and FA Cup for a second Double in four years.
A farewell match was arranged with Scottish champions Celtic at Highbury nine days after Adams lifted the FA Cup in his last competitive match. A capacity crowd was able to see our beloved captain in the famous red and white for one last time.
After 672 appearances and 49 goals over 19 years, Adams retired as an Arsenal legend. ‘Mr Arsenal’ is a fitting tribute to a fantastic defender and captain.