The titles of former footballer Tony Adams’ two books make clear how his struggles with addiction have shaped large part of his life.
Addicted was published in 1999 when Adams was still Arsenal and England captain, and less than 3 years after he had revealed his alcoholism and stopped drinking. At the time it garnered a lot of attention as Adams discussed his career and his battles with alcoholism in stark detail. It was a striking honest book from a footballer still playing at the highest level.
Addicted covers all of the key aspects of Adams life in different chapters – his addiction battles, his Arsenal career, his England career, the managers he worked with, and the players he played with are all given their own space rather than following a more straightforward chronology. It works well but does mean there is some repetition – particularly of his England career which inevitably is also discussed as he goes through his Arsenal days season by season.
Adams portrays his younger self as fairly self-involved and oblivious to the world around him. He shudders to recall how little the Hillsborough tragedy affected him and acknowledges he hypocritically judged players like Charlie Nicholas who, like Adams, enjoyed life outside football a bit too much.
Don Howe and George Graham emerge as the key figures of influence on Adams career – Howe as coach from his early days and Graham as the manager who made him captain and under whom Adams won two Championship titles as well as 4 cup competitions.
However, more than football, addiction and alcohol are at the centre of the book. It reads largely as Adams’ own attempt to figure himself out. which makes it more interesting than a standard football biography. It’s a fascinating and at times harrowing read.
I first read it back when I was 17 and shortly to start out on my own booze filled college days. At the time I had no real appreciation of alcohol but remember being shocked at how an alcoholic could play football to such a high level.
Re-reading it now, aged 34, and one year after giving up booze myself, I experienced the book quite differently – there is the relief of knowing Adams did manage to stay off the booze for the last 20 years combined with a much greater empathy for the attraction that booze had for him. I enjoyed the book even more this time.
Sober, published last year, picks up where Addicted left off and covers the last 5 years of Adams playing career and his life thereafter. Sharing the same ghostwriter, Ian Ridley, means that both books have the same voice. There are some clear differences however. Sober is more open about family and personal relationships with family members being much more fleshed out in the second book.
Sober uses the language of AA and recovery much more regularly as Adams has spent the last 20 years maintaining his sobriety. It can feel a little much at times but it wouldn’t be Adams own voice if it didn’t. Adams major post career achievement is the founding and ongoing survival of Sporting Chance, a charity dedicated to helping sportsmen and women with addictions.
The end of his playing career is told fairly quickly as Adams moves on to focus on the transition to his post-playing career. While Addicted told the story of the Arsenal and England captain at the peak of his powers, Sober is mostly the story of an ex-player struggling to find the next step in his career. It’s interesting to see how a former superstar deals with being less successful in the next phase of his career.
Adams took various courses and coaching badges before trying his hand at management with Wycome. After resigning there, he returned to education before joining Portsmouth as Harry Redknapp’s assistant during their high spending days that included an FA Cup victory. He ultimately became manager after Harry left but appears to never had had much of a chance due to budget cuts before asking to be fired to save himself from resigning.
From here, Adams career took an odd, international turn. After briefly coaching in Azerbaijan, he stepped into a general manager / consultant type role in building a small Azerbaijani team from the ground up. This was followed by a connection with a Chinese football investor as Adams took on a general consulting role for Jiang Lizhang who owned a club in China and purchased Granada in Spain. He even briefly became Granada manager for a while.
It’s clear Adams feels somewhat unfulfilled with his coaching and management career. Sober gave me a much better impression of Adam’s post playing career than the easy narrative of failed manager which I suspect many fans of English football have.
Late in the book Sober becomes a series of musings about Arsenal, England, Wenger and the state of British football. At times it becomes a bit boring and simply the musings of an ex footballer who is annoyed that he isn’t able to contribute more to the game in England at the highest levels. Ultimately, the book ends as it begins with a reflection on addiction, recovery and staying sober.
Sober makes an excellent companion piece to Addicted but as a stand-alone book it’s good without being great. While it is equally honest, particularly about Adams mental health struggles, it doesn’t reach the difficult task of living up to its predecessor. The general musings on the game ultimately let the book down by going on that bit too long.
Overall, the two books together give an incredibly honest and interesting account of a man who achieved great things in the game, but none greater than achieving his sobriety and helping others achieve theirs.