A free man's moving tale

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If football was the only drug in Tony Adams' life, it would be easy to imagine his autobiography being one of the more mundane in a sporting genre not exactly blessed with outstanding literature: season after season of hanging on for three points after Wrighty nicked a great goal; chapter after chapter of Playing For England, By George! and My World XI. This, after all, was a man of such limited vision that his main concern after the Hillsborough disaster was what effect it would have on the title race.

But there was another drug - the demon alcohol - fuelling his football and being fuelled by it, which is why the story of his life so far is called Addicted (Collins Willow, pounds 16.99), the single word, chosen by Adams himself, stamped across his picture on the cover as if with a branding iron.

It is a book that, for once, lives up to the publisher's claim, "open and inspiring"; every footballer who has ever subscribed to that uniquely British philosophy "win or lose, we're on the booze" should be inspired, for instance, to consider that there but for the grace of God... There in Chelmsford prison for 58 days, after driving through a garden wall while almost four times over the limit; there in the gutter with an England Under-21 colleague; there with underpants round ankles in the foyer of a five-star hotel; there at the 1988 European Championship in a bed sodden with urine.

The last of those episodes came after England's manager Bobby Robson had told his players to stay focused on the next match, whereas the team captain Bryan Robson "thought we would be better served by a night on the beer"; which touches on the important question of just how clubs, coaches and team-mates handle the question of alcohol. The answer, sadly, appears to be turning a blind eye as long as the player is still "doing it" on the pitch.

Bryan Robson, of course, is now manager of Middlesbrough, the club that Adams' friend and fellow-alcoholic Paul Merson last week insisted on leaving because he did not trust the environment there. Paul Gascoigne, who seems to revel in it, does not come out of the book well, though Adams sympathises with him in the run-up to his exclusion from the World Cup to the extent that "Gazza was an ill man and Glenn [Hoddle] did not understand properly the illness of addiction".

How many coaches would? Possibly not George Graham, though he was shrewd enough to spot two of the three occasions when Adams played under the influence of drink (on the third, at Sheffield United, Sky TV named him man of the match). Certainly not Bruce Rioch, who shortly before his dismissal by Arsenal told the dressing-room: "I feel like Marje Proops with you lot."

Other criticisms of Hoddle, much trumpeted in the Sun's serialisations, are minor when placed in context. In fact, so extraordinary is the context of the book as a whole that otherwise interesting opinions, like the defenders in England's 3-5-2 system sometimes not knowing whether they are markers or a free man, or Adams' belief in himself as all-round footballer rather than lumbering stopper, seem minor.

Adams is now a free man in a more important sense. In telling his moving tale of the journey to the gutter and back, he could have found no more sympathetic a co-author than Ian Ridley, a former football correspondent of this newspaper, who has wrestled with the same demons. They can be proud of each other's efforts.