So how exactly do you become a club hero? Is it that one magical moment? Is it years of dedication?
Here at Shoot! we pride ourselves on reviewing them players who are most fondly remembered by football clubs up and down the land. Today our attention is in the English capital and a career of dreams for one “Colossus” defender.
It’s North London in the mid-1980’s. Margaret Thatcher is Prime Minister. Football’s hostility turned into hooliganism. Arsenal fans cram into Highbury with the hope of rekindling the joy of 1971.
But for The Gunners, Bertie Mee’s magic looked a long way off. Herbert Chapman’s champions of the early 20th century had descended into only something you told your grandchildren about.
But, then came a transformation. The league title in 1989, another in 1991, followed by the FA Cup in 1993. It was the stepping stone for The Gunners we know nowadays. Arsene Wenger became the third champion of the Premier League in his first full season in charge during the double winning campaign of 1998, followed by another domestic double in 2002.
So, after following The Gunners through years of heartbreak, imagine being part of the greatest period in the club’s long and established history?
It’s every child’s dream. For Tony Adam’s lifting silverware became the norm, his status as captain of The Gunners between 1989 and his retirement in 2002, makes him an Arsenal Club Hero.
Born just months after England’s World Cup triumph, Adam’s is a Romford boy by heart, he grew up in Dagenham, less than 15 miles away from his adapted home in the London borough of Islington.
His childhood was difficult. But, as an infant, he found a release – football. With the ball under his feet, all his worries disappeared. His strong physique he inherited from his parents, made him the “Colossus” individual of which George Graham used to frequently refer to him as.
Add to the fact that Adams had technical ability, it was not a surprise to know he was snapped up as a 13-year-old in 1980 by Arsenal. However little did everyone connected with the Football Club know that a 22-year love affair was set to begin.
Fast the clock forward three years and it’s 14:00pm on Bonfire Night. The teamsheet was released, it included the regulars: Pat Jennings in goal, Charlie Nicholas part of an attacking three. But look carefully in the defence and you would see an unusual name, Tony Adams.
Just weeks after his 17th birthday, Adams made his debut for The Gunners on a cold Saturday afternoon in North London. But there was no firework performance by Adams this particular Bonfire Night, a 2-1 defeat to Sunderland summed up The Gunners recent history – inconsistent. Fingers were pointed, he was the easy target to blame for the defeat. Welcome to the harsh world of professional football!
But do not worry, it would be soon Adams pointing fingers at other personnel. His leadership skills were always apparent, add to the fact that he was a likeable character within the confined Highbury dressing room and he was the clear favourite for captaincy in January 1988, despite him still only being 21, less than a year after his first silverware when Arsenal were victorious in the Littlewoods Cup.
And success beckoned. The League Cup victory in 1987 sparked life into Arsenal and kick-started the best period in the club’s history. Their first league title came in 1989 in late drama at Anfield. Michael Thomas’ goal will forever remain ingrained in the memories of Arsenal fans. The dream of lifting the league title came true for Adams at the slim age of 22, he became the first Arsenal captain since Frank McLintock in 1971 to lift the top-flight title.
No team wishes for the final game of the season to decide a league title, they want it wrapped up weeks in advance. But that happened in 1991. Arsenal were crowed champions after Liverpool’s defeat to Nottingham Forest. Despite their double hopes being ruined by a Paul Gascoigne inspired Tottenham, they would only be defeated once all season in the league.
It was at this point where the defensive four of Adams, Lee Dixon, Steve Bould and Nigel Winterburn were in their peak. In 1993, George Graham’s men were crowned FA Cup and League Cup champions; defeating Sheffield Wednesday on both occasions.
But the 1994-95 season was a campaign of controversy across English football. Just like Bruce Grobbelaar and Eric Cantona, Graham fell victim to the storm and was dismissed by the club just seven hours before their 1-0 defeat to Nottingham Forest.
The incoming manager was Bruce Rioch. While his stint as manager is not remembered fondly amongst Arsenal supporters, his acquisition of Dennis Bergkamp proved indispensable. Rioch left and in came an unknown. He went by the name of Wenger.
It kick-started the greatest period in the club’s history. Arsenal were crowned champions of England for the first time in their history in Wenger’s first full season in charge. Adams’ goal against Everton on the day the title was clinched at Highbury will remain with every Arsenal fan forever.
“That sums it all up,” was the famous line. One that saturates the walls at the Emirates Stadium now.
It came in a double winning season. Just weeks later, Marc Overmars’ and Nicolas Anelka’s goals were enough for Adam’s to walk up to the royal box and lift his second trophy in a month – the FA Cup.
And, after three years watching Manchester United be crowned champions, as well as defeat to Liverpool in 2001 FA Cup Final, the same fete was repeated in 2002.
The Millennium Stadium proved to be more forgiving for The Gunners this time around, with Ray Parlour’s goal proving to be decisive.
The following week, Old Trafford was the destination for their title triumph as Sylvian Wiltord’s goal was a fitting way to bow out on a professional career of dreams.