REVIEW: Sober, by Tony Adams


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For many great football players, going into management is a risk. Why risk a reputation, when you could happily live off your existing status? Tony Adams certainly falls into this category. 669 games for Arsenal, captain of title winning sides in three different decades, and 66 caps for his country. He did well for himself, that is for sure.

A statue outside the Emirates cements this legacy. His loyalty has brought him adulation from Arsenal fans across the decades, seen as a lynchpin for much of the success enjoyed by the club from the late 1980s through to the early 2000s.

However, beyond this warrior exterior much deeper issues exist. Tony Adams' first autobiography, 'Addicted', documents much of his struggles with alcoholism and his shame that went with it. If 'Addicted' was an account of this struggle, Adams' new autobiography 'Sober' is certainly one of hope, and staying on the path of sobriety.

The early chapters of the book describe his younger years briefly, and the inevitability of falling into the drinking culture that was widespread in the sport. His alcoholism eventually led to a moment of realisation after one particularly damaging episode - "I know how to get drunk and how to play football but I don't know who I am." From this point on, his turnaround began.

What is evident throughout is the comfort Adams gets from his regular Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, even to this very day. Wherever he was in the world, whether it be at home or managing in Azerbaijan, these meetings were a necessity. These accounts of meetings, and regular AA quotes across the chapters, will surely be of inspiration to those going through similar struggles.

It is clear that he didn't always agree with the methods used by Arsene Wenger when Adams was at the club. One story about Ian Wright reveals his frustrations: "Arsene has never liked confrontation. Ian Wright was getting in late for training most days. Arsene simply made training later but the boys were fuming. It was big players who policed the group rather than Arsene."

These frustrations grew in later years as Adams tried to get involved with club in anyway he could, so desperate was he to return. He attempted to get involved at board level, as an assistant manager, and half-jokingly as U14 coach at Arsenal. Most interesting of all was Adams' account of one conversation with Wenger, when he told him "you will be the next manager of Arsenal." Could it be?

His account of his time at Portsmouth is particularly interesting, revealing much about how, alongside Harry Redknapp and and Joe Jordan, he was able to help the club to an FA Cup trophy in 2008. Adams takes credit for key decisions in the final, though that is a theme present throughout the book...

One of most enjoyable parts of the autobiography is his time in Azerbaijan at Gabala, a job he took in 2010 to get away from the judgement of the English media. It was pitched to him as a long-term project, one where he could mould the club in his own image and would be given time and the financial backing to do so.

What awaited him in Azerbaijan was perhaps even worse than he could imagine. No equipment to use, local farmers grazing cows on the training pitches, soldiers testing hand grenades on site, and a dodgy pitch: "Before the game, there was dog mess on the pitch and I called groundsman over. He duly moved it with a shovel - into a long jump pit next to the surrounding athletics track."