Goal.com's Top 50 English Players: Tony Adams (23)

Goal.com are counting down England's greatest players of all time, and at number 23 it's Arsenal's inspirational captain Tony Adams...
No.50 - John Terry
No.49 - Tony Currie
No.48 - Terry Butcher
No.47 - Gerry Hitchens
No.46 - Paul Ince
No.45 - George Camsell
No.44 - Wayne Rooney
No.43 - Jackie Milburn
No.42 - Roger Hunt
No.41 - Rio Ferdinand
No.40 - Wilf Mannion

No.39 - Frank Lampard
No.38 - John Barnes
No.37 - Nat Lofthouse
No.36 - Eddie Hapgood
No.35 - Chris Waddle
No.34 - David Platt
No.33 - Phil Neal
No.32 - Johnny Haynes
No.31 - Peter Beardsley
No.30 - Ray Clemence
No.29 - Ted Drake
No.28 - Michael Owen
No.27 - Raich Carter
No.26 - Colin Bell
No.25 – Frank Swift
No.24 - Paul Scholes


Tony Alexander ADAMS


Romford, Essex


66 caps, 5 goals



When, on the eve of the 2002-03 season, Tony Adams announced his retirement, Arsenal fans saddened that such an influential player would never again wear the red-and-white shirt were also relieved that he'd finished at the top.

His last competitive game for Arsenal was the 2002 FA Cup final against Chelsea. Although sidelined by injury for the 4-3 victory over Everton that wrapped up the 2001-02 Double-winning season, Adams hoisted silverware at the end of both matches to cement his place in Arsenal history as the club's most sucessful skipper - the only player ever to captain a League championship winning side in three different decades.

Tony Alexander Adams was born in Romford three months after England won the World Cup in 1966. Schooled at Dagenham, he joined Arsenal as a schoolboy in 1980, becoming an apprentice in 1983 and a professional in January 1984. By then he'd already made his League debut, at Highbury against Sunderland on November 5, 1983 - 26 days after his 17th birthday. 


"Tony had been greatly missed since his departure. He had been a solid wall in defence and a pure provider of passion and energy for the rest of the team. There may never be such a skipper of his caliber and passion for Arsenal for years to come. Tony we, Arsenal fans, salute you." - Gooner Die Hard | Ashburton Grove

Add Your Comment Below!
He played twice more that season, and skippered his peers to the FA Youth Cup semi-final alongside other future internationals Martin Keown, David Rocastle, Michael Thomas and Niall Quinn.

The following season Adams made a further 18 first-team appearances; but in 1985-86 he was overtaken in the pecking order of young Highbury centre-halves by Keown.

However, summer 1986 was a turning point: Keown left for Aston Villa (though he would return in 1993); and George Graham arrived as Arsenal manager. Graham recognised and admired the qualities of Adams, pairing him with David O'Leary in central defence. That season Adams was ever-present, made his full England debut and collected a League Cup winner's medal. He was also voted PFAYoung Player of the Year and hailed by Bobby Moore as his natural successor.

Yet a year later, Adams, now the youngest-ever captain of Arsenal, was the most derided player in England. The media singled out the 21-year-old for intense criticism after England's abysmal showing in the 1988 European Championship. This was not entirely fair as nearly everyone in the England camp had flopped, and the fact that Marco van Basten ran rings round Adams hardly made the Arsenal man unique. It was the first major set-back of his career.

Yet in many respects Adams' career was a triumph of achievement over adversity. He responded by leading Arsenal to the League championship at Anfield the following May. During the last few months of that season, after he'd scored at both ends in a 1-1 draw at Manchester United, the Daily Mirror drew donkey's ears on a picture of Adams, triggering a torrent of actual and inflatable carrots, donkey taunts and braying from opposing fans for the next several seasons. It only motivated him more. He took the taunts and lifted the trophies.

In 1991, three months after being released from Chelmsford Prison following a drink-driving conviction, Adams was holding aloft the League Championship trophy again.

Winning the Double in 1997-98
He forged an unbreakable bond with the Arsenal fans because he  always made it clear that Arsenal mattered to him. Even when his own performance was below par, he kept motivating those around him to greater efforts.

While the rest of the League jeered, Arsenal fans grew more and more appreciative of his leadership and supreme defending - the well-timed tackles, powerful aerial ability, shrewd reading of the game, surprising skill on the ball, appetite for battle and sheer guts. They knew that in their toughest competitor, Arsenal possessed a priceless asset.

In 1993 he lifted both the League and FA Cups at Wembley, and a year later picked up the European Cup Winners' Cup in Copenhagen. He was keystone of Graham's awesomely drilled defence that made Arsenal hard to beat. The arm-raised appeal for offside, made in unison by Adams, Steve Bould and full-backs Lee Dixon and Nigel Winterburn was emblematic of the Gunners at that time.

On the pitch, Adams was the perfect lieutenant for Graham; off it, his life was rapidly sinking into the desperate alcoholism that he graphically depicted in a brutally honest autobiography, Addicted.

In 1996, shortly before Arsene Wenger arrived at Highbury, Adams admitted his alcoholism to his team-mates and the wider public. The two events heralded another turning-point - not just in his career, but in his life.

Recovering was the toughest test of his character, and his greatest triumph. With no lessening of his commitment, the clenched fists and snarling gave way to a more considered approach. His horizons widened dramatically. The one-dimensional footballer who once epitomised a laddish, booze-fuelled culture metamorphosed into a man of the world with diverse interests who also happened to be the best English defender of his generation. 

Under Wenger's astute guidance, Adams saw his career given a new lease of life. The French tactician's emphasis on diet and preparation, and his footballing philosophy, allowed Adams to express himself more on the pitch. When Arsenal won the Double in 1998, he played some of the best football of his career, revealing hitherto unsuspected touch and vision while honing the natural leadership qualities that had earned him 66 England caps, 15 as captain.

In his 30s, Adams' appearances became increasingly restricted by persistent injuries, but he went out on that high of winning a second Double in 2002. It was a fitting finale for a player who'd turned his life around six years earlier. 'Mr Arsenal' had personified the club for nearly 20 years, 14 of them as skipper. Only his original partner at centre-back, O'Leary, has made more first team appearances for the Gunners than Adams, who finished on 669, scoring 48 goals and winning 10 major trophies.
As well as devoting much time, effort and funds to his charitable Sporting Chance clinic, designed to help other sports people overcome the sort of addictive demons that nearly destroyed Adams himself, he has had a couple of unsuccessful forays into management, most recently with Portsmouth. The experience has not deterred him and he's expressed determination to make his mark as a manager.


Football/Premier League Championship winner - 1988-89, 1990-91, 1997-98, 2001-02
FA Cup winner - 1993, 1998, 2002
League Cup winner - 1987, 1993
European Cup Winners' Cup winner -1994
FA Charity/Community Shield winner - 1991 (shared), 1998, 1999 PFA Young Player of the Year - 1986-87
England captain - 1992-96
2004 - inducted into the English Football Hall of Fame in recognition of his impact on the English game.
2008 - placed 3rd in the "50 Greatest Gunners" poll on the club's website.

...That the successful 1997 British comedy film 'The Full Monty' pays homage to Adams, the male strippers practising their dance routine using his iconic raised-arm offside appeal. 

Graham Lister, Goal.com

Goal.com invites the readers to leave their comments about Tony Adams. The best one submitted within 24 hours - whether funny, informative or just purely passionate - will be added to the article. Keep them clean, fairly short and start writing now for your chance to be a part of the series!