Tony Adams, who is about to turn 57, is a football legend who left his heart on the field, adored by fans. He was a vital part of Arsenal’s great late ’90s team, which had its fair share of issues with alcohol, partying, and more.
During a significant portion of his career, Tony Adams, the long-time Arsenal captain, battled alcoholism, hovering on the precipice of life and death. Recently, he published his second autobiography, shedding light on the drinking culture in football and how his newfound passion and weakness have shifted to food.
“I wish my parents had taught me to cook, but I’m thankful that my wife, Poppy Teacher (his second wife, with whom he shares three children – Atticus, Hector, and Iris, and he’s also the father of Oliver and Amber from his first marriage to Jane), is an excellent cook. Through her, I gave up drinking and self-medication. With her, I found a loving family well aware of the consequences of alcohol. But jokingly, I can say that I wake up to Teacher’s (whisky) every morning. That’s my little joke.
I grew up in Dagenham near the police station and the bakery. My early memories were filled with fear – I used to cry on my way to school, where the food resembled prison fare (Tony Adams knows what it’s like behind bars, having found himself in prison in the 1990s after a car accident with a blood alcohol level more than four times the legal limit).
And those three months in prison made everything worse. Even though I couldn’t drink there, I couldn’t let go of the bottle. My mind was fixated on the next drink throughout my time inside, not just one, but a hundred. And when I was released, I drank harder than ever. I was scared of death, and my alcoholism took a severe toll on my family mentally. But I used alcohol to suppress that fear, trapping myself in a vicious cycle.
My drinking habit started at 17, and although it wasn’t enjoyable initially, I liked how alcohol made me feel. It boosted my confidence and liberated me. In the ’80s, the drinking culture within English football teams was sacred, akin to the team’s prayer in church. If I hadn’t participated, I would have been an outsider, so I joined in. But I don’t want this to be taken as an excuse. I genuinely enjoyed drinking.
My mother was a large woman; nowadays, they would call it obesity. She took advantage of Auntie Renee’s baking skills and indulged in plenty of cake. That’s my main memory of my mom. During the day, she made sausage sandwiches for me, and I ended up throwing up during my debut.
My father never cooked; he brought home the money as a driver, and my mom would say, “I married your father because he had a job and never hit me!” Perhaps there was some love there, but food was paramount; it was on a pedestal. I recall my mom making eggs with beef, but it always looked overcooked to me.
On the bus after matches, we had drinking competitions, much like our drinking challenges. It was a game of how many cakes you could eat before feeling sick, and it was never enough. This was even the norm at Arsenal in the ’80s, although most clubs had similar practices. We always had smoked salmon on the bus.
When I was in prison in 1990/91, there was a gym, and I exercised 3-4 times a day because the food was insufficient, and I was losing weight. A fellow inmate would give me extra chicken; he was the goalkeeper for the prison team.
I played while intoxicated in matches on several occasions. I would see double, the ball, my teammates, and even my own legs, leading to mistakes that decided games. George Graham should have substituted me immediately, but I’m glad he didn’t, as otherwise, I might have drunk myself to death. If I hadn’t been drinking, I could have been an even better footballer, but I was fortunate not to be the only player battling the bottle.
I was part of the legendary defensive quartet at Arsenal alongside Steve Bould, Lee Dixon, and Nigel Winterburn, but I never drank with them. I would pour myself a drink at the pub near my house. Surprisingly, I never shared a drink with our striker, Paul Merson (another legendary drinker, partygoer, and drug user). Back then, it was customary for every Londoner to have a drink with him at least once.
Even when we drank excessively, there was a culture to it. We at least aimed for quality food, a kind of formulaic routine. First, chicken, then proteins, carbohydrates, and so on. So, for a lunchtime kickoff, we ensured the food was in our stomachs three hours prior, avoiding having chicken for breakfast.
I gave up alcohol, but my struggle with chips and fish persisted. On Friday, August 16, 1996, I embarked on training at 5:00 PM after three days of revelry. I spent the entire weekend with fish and chips. It was a total detox. I woke up on Monday surrounded by pieces of fried cod and potatoes.”
In summary, Tony Adams, the football legend, battled alcoholism during his career, and he reflects on his experiences with alcohol and food, highlighting how he overcame his addiction and the role of family in his recovery.