One Career, Two Books – Tony Adams. Addicted (1999) and Sober (2017) written with Ian Ridley

The titles of former footballer Tony Adams’ two books make clear how his struggles with addiction have shaped large part of his life.

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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.

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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.

‘The European Game: An Adventure to Explore Football on the Continent and its Methods for Succes’ by Dan Fieldsend (2017)

The European Game is a journey behind the scenes of  how European football operates.  Fieldsend, formerly a staff member at Liverpool, spent three months travelling to the best and most famous football teams across Europe learning along the way about the club’s history, key figures, tactical developments, and place in their society.

It’s a book that celebrates the uniqueness and specialness of every football club which shifts between understanding why how clubs impact their environment and how environment’s shape their clubs.  It’s part exploration of what makes a club successful and part exploration of what makes a club magical.

The book can be dipped into chapter by chapter which each adventure heavily shaped by the people Fieldsend was able to meet and interview.  Overall, the cast of characters is suitably diverse and interesting to ensure that the book avoids repetition.   Some chapters have a heavy travelogue feel as Fieldsend connects with the people and the place as much as the football club.  At times the book suffers from a slight identity crisis as it shifts between very different types of stories.

It merits some comparison’s to the peerless Inverting the Pyramid or the excellent Football Against Enemy – a very different book from those but one that contains a similar desire to understand football at a deeper level.

It is clear the book is a real labour of love.  While some of the chapters contain fairly familiar material, overall it me feeling I understood more about some of the major European clubs and kept me entertained and engaged throughout.  Some tighter editing of slightly flowery prose wouldn’t have gone a miss – but I can’t begrudge the author attempting to show a bit of literary flair at times.

Overall, highly recommended for those who haven’t devoured countless books on European football while still worth a read for those among us who like to reread Inverting the Pyramid every summer!

‘The Education of a Coach’ by David Halberstam (2005)

It is a very rare gift to turn your hand from being a defining voice on foreign policy to writing truly great sports books.  Possibly as difficult as winning 5 Super Bowls. In terms of achieving their own personal greatness, Halberstam and Belichick make a perfect match.

Written in 2005, The Education of a Coach is not a simple biography of Belichick.  It is first and foremost a Halberstam book – it jumps around in time and place, it digs deep into his family history and contains chapters that would stand alone as superb and insightful magazine profile pieces.

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The title is apt – Halberstam primarily seeks to understand how Belichick was formed as a coach.  Its a focus on a him as a person and coach with less discussion on the impact that Belichick had on the game of football than you might expect.

What emerges is a portrait of a singular man who wants to be the best coach he can be. He emerges very much as his father’s son, having begun his education at a young age at his father’s side. Steve Belichick was a legendary scout and coach who proved the perfect role-model for his son. As Halberstam himself notes, it is a book about two journeys; the Belichick family’s journey into the centre of American life after their arrival from Croatia and Belichick’s own journey to the top in the world of professional football.

Other key influences on Belichick were his friendships with fellow football obsessives, in particular his long time assistant coach Ernie Adams. Halberstam captures something that Belichick learned from each of the coaches he worked with. In particular, his complex relationship with Bill Parcells is analysed with the senior Bill emerging in my less favorable light.  The book only begins to look at his success at the Patriots in the final 2/3rd’s – as by then Belichick had learned the lessons that would help him achieve such great things.

It is a relatively short book – less ambitious in scope and length as Halberstam’s basketball masterpieces.  As with all of Halberstam’s books, it is superbly well written, incredibly easy to read and thoroughly enjoyable. It leaves with a real sense of a man  obsessed with his sport and destined to be successful.   Halberstam clearly likes his subject, but the book feels like a fair and honest telling of how Belichick became Belichick.

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It is hard to overstate the level of Belichick’s achievement.  Its rare the coach (or person) that merits a significant biography who then continues to achieve great things for more than 13 years after that biography was published.  In terms of seminal achievements, only Sir Alex Ferguson springs to mind.

There is another great book to be written capturing the greatness of what Belichick has ultimately achieved at the Patriots.  The Education of a Coach was published in 2005 after Belichick and the Patriots had won 3 Super Bowls in 4 years.  In an era where the sport was designed to prevent dynasties, the odds on the Patriots remaining at the top of their game post 2005 must have seemed low.  Yet, as we all know, Belichick would go on to reach 5 more Super Bowls (so far), winning 2 of them.  The Education of a Coach is a highly recommend starting point for anyone seeking to understand Belichick and the Patriots.

Any recommendations on later books on Belichick would be greatly appreciated. And if you enjoy this, do seek out all of Halberstram’s other great books.

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