Football: Adams: 'I will win the fight'

As George Graham makes a painful return from exile, his former captain admits to a personal nightmare; Ian Ridley explains how Merson is helping his captain cope with alcoholism
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The Independent Online
Arsenal's turmoil continues. Hard on the heels of Stewart Houston's resignation as coach for a probable move to manage Queen's Park Rangers comes the revelation that Tony Adams is seeking help for alcoholism.

The Arsenal - and former England - captain stunned team-mates by telling them at the club's training ground on Friday of the depth of the problem they had seen only superficially. He hoped, he said, to be granted at the club the same understanding as had been shown to his colleague Paul Merson, who accepted his own problems with alcohol, drugs and gambling 21 months ago.

Yesterday, he was back at the Hertfordshire training ground to face the press. "I have been attending Alcoholics' Anonymous. It's OK. I'm on the road to recovery," he said. "I have a lot of things to do and a lot of things to work on and I am doing it."

Adams explained that he had taken "a look at myself in the mirror" last February and decided to stop drinking, disgusted with his way of life. He maintained his resolve during the England players' Hong Kong high jinks, but relapsed after four months' abstinence amid the disappointment of England's semi-final exit from Euro 96.

There will be those who see Adams's admission as another entry in Arsenal's diary of shame, one more example of the club's moral decline. A series of misdemeanours and criminal offences by players - Adams himself served four months in jail for drink-driving almost six years ago - has been accompanied by scandal and intrigue.

There was the George Graham "bung" affair, which led to his sacking and ban from the game for a year, which was followed by Bruce Rioch's shabby dismissal a month ago. Arsenal still await the arrival of his replacement, Arsene Wenger, and following Houston's resignation they go into tomorrow's home game against Sheffield Wednesday under the charge of the No 3, Pat Rice, whom Houston is believed to want to take to QPR.

In reality, Adams's case is personal and separate from any underlying malaise within Highbury. Alcoholism, more prevalent in football than is acknowledged, is no moral issue, rather an illness that requires in equal measure compassion and tough treatment for the addict.

Adams is fortunate to have around him the example of Merson, who is helping and advising him. Merson has proved that, given the right support and treatment, a person can emerge enhanced, his playing potential improved indeed. Merson's form so far this season has been one reason why Arsenal have begun well when they might so easily have struggled.

Ian Wright, the Arsenal striker, said yesterday that Merson was quick to express support for Adams: "Like the rest of the boys, he just let Tony know that we'll be in his corner and we'll stick together."

Turbulence in Adams's marriage - his wife, Jane, is a recovering cocaine addict - has been compounded by a knee injury that has kept him out of action since Euro 96. The 29-year-old defender is, however, the symbol of Arsenal's seemingly indomitable spirit on the field. It is something he will now need off it.

It would appear to be yet another problem for Wenger to confront when he finally arrives at Highbury, which is expected to be within the next month. But maybe he will walk into the club with the Adams problem solved. Should the big defender get into recovery, once he has regained fitness it could be like signing a new player. His rehabilitation and restoration would be the most important fillip the club could get.

Adams should be applauded for his courage, rather than vilified for his problem; Arsenal encouraged to help him, rather than discipline him. Admirably, the Football Association rallied behind him. "We are deeply concerned," David Davies, the director of public affairs, said yesterday. "Tony Adams can be assured of our total support."

Graham, making his return to football as the new Leeds manager, said before his team's match at Coventry yesterday: "I am very sad. But I am certain he will conquer this as he has conquered his other problems."

Football has many unhappy cases who have refused to accept and deal with alcoholism, and the death last year of the former Leeds United winger Albert Johanneson is one such, but now the game has someone else besides Merson willing to tackle it.

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