Charlie Adam: The boy who got booed now makes Blackpool rock
Vicious abuse from Rangers fans meant his Dad stopped going to games. Now the Tangerine schemer is illuminating the Premier League. Marc Padgett meets Charlie Adam
Sunday 17 April 2011
For a lad whose family stopped watching him at Glasgow Rangers because the abuse from the fans was too vicious, it is fair to say Charlie Adam has done well for himself. Only a couple of years ago, a midfielder now widely recognised as one of the best in the Premier League was a bit-part player at Ibrox and a target for the boo boys.
His dad, Charlie Adam senior, a tough-as-boots striker for Forfar and Arbroath among others, could not stand the comments and insults any longer and stopped going to games.
Despite making almost 100 appearances – facing Barcelona in the Champions' League and scoring in an Old Firm derby against Celtic – Adam was told by Rangers manager Walter Smith in the summer of 2009 that they had accepted a bid from Blackpool, a side who had been struggling to stay in the Championship the season before.
It was with a heavy heart that Adam, a proud Scot who never thought he would leave Glasgow, let alone move to England, walked away. Fast-forward two years and it is the 25-year-old who has had the last laugh.
Adam is having the season of his life on and off the pitch (he gets married to a local Blackpool girl, Sophie, next summer) and tonight, dressed in a swanky suit bought specially for the occasion, he will occupy one of the best seats in the house at the PFA's Player of the Year bash at the Royal Lancaster Hotel in London.
Adam has been nominated for the most coveted award in English football, along with Carlos Tevez, Samir Nasri, Gareth Bale, Scott Parker and Nemanja Vidic. "It's just incredible really," says Adam, as if he can't quite believe what has happened. "For your fellow professionals to vote for you and to get this recognition is fantastic. As a footballer, in my first season in the Premier League, it doesn't get any better than this."
This is what makes Adam so endearing. He considers himself a new kid on the block, someone who has not quite proved himself just yet. He is now a bona fide football star, recognised almost everywhere he goes on the Fylde coast, yet there's no edge to him. He isn't cocky. He has not been tainted yet by years at the top, which can distance über-rich footballers from real life.
Perhaps Adam, given his often difficult time at Rangers, is still wary of how cruel the game can be. Not that you will ever find him criticising his former employers – he is simply proud to have played for the club.
"I feel fortunate that I was one of the few who managed to play for Rangers for a number of games – not just a handful, but a number of games," he said. "One game for Rangers is a highlight in a career. I played nearly 100. But in the end I didn't play as regularly as I wanted and that's why I had to leave. When they accepted a bid I knew it was time to go. That's football, you move on."
Born in Dundee in December 1985, Adam had wanted to be a footballer for as long as he could remember, perhaps not surprisingly given he spent most Saturdays cheering on his old man. "Some of my earliest memories are going to games at the age of five or six and watching him," he said. "The tea lady would look after me and my sister. We loved it."
Having a footballing father does not always make things easier. "If your dad has played the game, no matter what level, there is pressure to succeed," he said. "Everyone says: 'Is he as good as his dad?' Some players can't handle that, some go under. Fortunately I've always had self-belief."
Adam's high-school team at Braeview Academy boasted Garry Kenneth and Scott Robertson, now at Dundee United. But Adam stood out like a beacon and was snapped up by Rangers on his 15th birthday. The next eight years featured three managers – Alex McLeish, Paul le Guen and Smith – and more ups and downs than your average seaside roller-coaster.
"It was frustrating, especially after getting picked so early," said Adam, who made his debut at 18. "It doesn't matter what club you're at, once you've had a taste you want more. You want to play every week and when that doesn't happen it can be difficult."
McLeish didn't think Adam was ready and sent him on loan to Ross County and St Mirren. Le Guen then made him a regular but the Frenchman did not last long in the job, while Smith only picked him off and on. But it wasn't Adam's football that caught the eye. It was the stick he got. Criticised for his weight (he has always been big and burly) and his tendency to sometimes go for the Hollywood pass instead of a simple ball, Adam got both barrels from some fans.
"It was hard and particularly difficult when your family have to listen to it," Adam says. "It honestly didn't bother me. I just got on with it. But it was difficult for my family and they stopped coming." And the jibes about his weight? "I thought it was unfair but that's just the way it goes. That's the thing about football, everyone has an opinion," he said. "I know that I've always been in the right shape and the right frame of mind, and that shouldn't be in question. Fortunately I'm at a club now where they enjoy the way I play and things have been great over the last couple of years."
That's an understatement, for Rangers' loss is very much Blackpool's gain. He signed for a then club record £500,000 two summers ago. In his first season, a combination of Adam's brilliance (19 goals from the centre of midfield) and the tactical nous of manager Ian Holloway propelled the unfancied Seasiders to an astonishing promotion to the Premier League. Adam scored a sumptuous free-kick in the play-off final win over Cardiff at Wembley. Back in the top flight after a 39-year absence, it was the Lancashire club's greatest achievement since winning the FA Cup back in 1953.
Blackpool took the top flight by storm in the first half of the season and although the wheels have come off a little since then, have still gained more points than anyone predicted and have a decent chance of staying up. Adam, the subject of big-money bids from Liverpool and Tottenham among others in January, says he won't consider this season a success unless the Tangerines stay up.
But that isn't true: whatever happens to his club, Adam has cemented his reputation as one of the best in the game, shining for Blackpool and nailing down a place in Craig Levein's Scotland team. The PFA nomination is the icing on the cake. "It was a massive gamble to leave Rangers because all I knew was living in Glasgow," he says. "That's what I'd done for 10 years, but you have to try something new. I never felt my career was going backwards. I just wanted to show I was good enough to play in England, and I am lucky I came to a club where I have thoroughly enjoyed my time."
Adam pauses, then adds: "It is weird, you know, because there was a time when I never thought I'd leave Glasgow, let alone come to England. Now I can't see myself leaving this country. Off the pitch, I have met somebody who has changed my life and I am getting married.
"On it, I want to play in Europe, in the Champions' League. I want that opportunity to go and play at the highest level and hopefully stay in the Premier League because it is the best league in the world for me. I want to play in it for many more years."
Chances are the boy who used to get booed will do just that.
Life and times: Roller-coaster ride... but now enjoying salad days
Clubs Rangers (2004-09): 72 games, 18 goals; Ross County (2004-05 on loan): 13 games, 2 goals; St Mirren (2005-06 on loan): 30 games, 9 goals; Blackpool (2009-): 91 games, 33 goals
Early years Joined Rangers as a trainee and made his debut in 2004 but did not become a first-team regular until 2006 under Paul le Guen. Finished that season with 14 goals and voted Rangers' Young Player of the Year.
Seaside special Impressed on loan at Blackpool and was signed for a then club record £500,000. Scored 19 goals in his first season from midfield and voted Blackpool's Player of the Year. Has taken the top flight by storm with nine goals, and is a contender for tonight's Professional Footballers' Association Player of the Year awards.
National service Made Scotland debut in 2007 but has just nine caps and has not scored. Looks set to occupy "quarterback" role.
Best quote "I'd never really thought of eating salads before," after he was asked about changing his diet at the request of Le Guen.
The future Moves to Liverpool and Tottenham fell through in January, but it seems inevitable he will leave Blackpool in the summer.
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