Tony Adams: 1983-2002
Tony played in 669 games over a 19 year period.
Born in Romford, London, Tony grew up in Dagenham before signing for Arsenal as a schoolboy in 1980. He made his Arsenal first team debut in November 1983 just four weeks after his 17th birthday and became a regular player in the 1985–86 season, winning the Football League Cup Final, his first major trophy, in 1987.
Alongside Lee Dixon, Nigel Winterburn and Steve Bould, he was part of the “famous back four” that lined up in Arsenal’s defence – they became renowned for the use of their well-disciplined offside trap. On 1 January 1988, he became Arsenal captain at the age of 21 and remained as such until his retirement 14 years later.
Their, strong and disciplined defence was a major a factor in Arsenal winning the League Cup in 1986–87 followed by two First Division championship titles; the first in 1988–89 and the second in 1990–91 after losing only one game all season. In 1992–93 he became captain of the first English side to win the League Cup and FA Cup double, and he lifted the European Cup Winners’ Cup the following year.
All along Tony had a ghost in his closet, namely his battle with alcoholism, which started in the mid-1980s and became increasingly worse; reportedly he was often being involved in fights in nightclubs. On 6 May 1990, he crashed his car and when breathalysed his blood alcohol level was found to be more than four times the legal drink-drive limit, in December of that year, he was found guilty and he was imprisoned for four months. Unfortunately his alcoholism continued and he was involved in further alcohol-related incidents. In September of 1996, he went public admitting that he was an alcoholic and was receiving treatment. Since his recovery he has become one of the most high-profile recovering alcoholics in the UK and his battle with alcohol is detailed in his autobiography, “Addicted”.
The arrival of Arsène Wenger as Arsenal manager in October 1996 has also played a significant part in his recovery as Wenger reformed the club’s dietary practices and the players’ lifestyles. Wenger showed his faith in Tony by sticking by him and keeping him as the club’s captain, the improvements in the regime probably helped to extend his career by several years. Arsene’s trust was rewarded with Tony captaining the club to two Premiership and FA Cup Doubles, in 1997–98 and 2001–02. He is the only player in English football history to have captained a title-winning team in three different decades.
In August 2002, just before the start of the 2002–03 season, he announced his retirement from professional football after a career spanning almost 20 years in which he played 669 matches for Arsenal making him second on the all time appearance list, he is also the most successful captain in the club’s history.
He made his debut for England against Spain in 1987, and played in Euro 88, scoring one of England’s two goals. He was the first player to represent England who had been born after the 1966 World Cup win. In total he appeared 66 times for England.
Nicknamed “Mr Arsenal”, he was honoured by Arsenal with a testimonial game against Celtic in May 2002 with many Arsenal legends playing, including Ian Wright, John Lukic and Adams’s fellow back four stalwarts, Dixon, Winterburn and Bould. The game finished 1–1 with Lee Dixon, in his final appearance for the Gunners, getting their goal.
In 2004, Tony was inducted into the English Football Hall of Fame in recognition of his impact on the English game. A statue of Adams was placed outside Emirates Stadium in celebration of the club’s 125th anniversary on 9 December, 2011. He has also been honoured with the MBE for his contribution to football.