Football: Adams moved by new spirit of camaraderie

EURO 2000 PLAY-OFFS: England's senior player revels in the `special feeling' of Keegan's team while veteran defender reports fit for Republic
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The Independent Online
BEING A patriot, Tony Adams could never quite understand what Niall Quinn was going on about when his former Highbury team-mate talked about the special feeling he got from joining up with the Irish squad.

"What," wondered Adams, "was so different about being involved with the Republic of Ireland squad compared to the England squad?"

Now he knows, and it has taken the fall-out from the Bosman judgement for him to find out. Bosman is generally regarded as being good for English club football but bad for the national side - the influx of foreign players strengthening the former but weakening the latter. However, Adams has noted a beneficial side-effect.

Speaking after training at the Madejski Stadium in Reading yesterday, he said: "It's great to meet up with an England team because you've got all English guys here, and it's been great. It really has been, like, fantastic."

This might seem obvious but, said Adams, it is only now that his club is dominated by foreign players (15, spanning 11 countries, plus the French manager and a Yugoslav coach), that he has really noticed. "Arsenal is a cosmopolitan club and we've got a lot of nationalities. Then you come away for England, and everyone is English. I'm now getting the feeling Quinny talked about with Ireland, how they would go into their own environment and they've got this kind of bonding and stuff. I'm feeling that in my own country now.

"In the past the Irish, and the Scottish lads, have used that kind of feeling positively. I think we can use that, too."

This sense of patriotism, said Adams, was further fuelled by having, as England coach, someone such as Kevin Keegan who carries his emotions so openly. "He's very passionate about his fixture," said Adams. "He's a nice guy, he's a good guy, he wears his heart on his sleeve and he wants to do well for England and everyone in this country. I think that has a knock-on effect on everyone around him. He cares.

"I think the guys can relate to Kevin a bit more than previous managers. He talks to them, he's a friendly guy, and he's a bit closer. Some managers of the past have been a bit more like Arsene [Wenger], more father-figure- ish."

Adams has long been impressed with Keegan, though the feeling may not, initially, have been mutual to judge from the Arsenal captain's account of their first meeting.

"I first came across Kevin Keegan when I was in Cyprus in my drinking days on an end-of-season tour with Arsenal. I'd been drinking for a couple of days and we had a game to play [against a team which included Keegan as a celebrity guest].

"The guy had been retired a couple of years, and I couldn't believe how hard he tried," recalled Adams of Keegan. "His commitment and enthusiasm was astonishing. I came off the pitch and he'd run me ragged.

"I was really surprised and I thought `Jeez, this guy really works hard and puts a lot of effort and time into his profession'. It made a lasting impression on me, how he worked at it. He'd given me a little insight into how he played his game and how, if you wanted to stick around for a long time, it's about hard graft."

It was an evocative story, but it only tells half the story. When Keegan was asked to cast his mind back to that day he could not remember much about Adams but he could remember why he was running around so much.

"Steve Williams, who I had played with at Southampton, was playing for them and he topped me in the first minute," said Keegan. "I spent the rest of the match chasing after him trying to get my own back."

The young boozer of Cyprus is now England's senior pro, and his relationship with Keegan is close enough for the coach to have taken him aside at half- time in the recent friendly with Belgium and asked for his view on why England were struggling. "I think he respects what I have done in past games," said Adams, adding without a hint of bragging. "I talk and he listens."

Adams has played twice against Scotland, in Euro 96 and in 1988, but he has never played at Hampden Park. Neither has anyone else in the England squad and the Hampden roar will be new experience for all except Keegan.

"Some of the guys will relish the particular passion of the occasion and perform really well," said Adams. "Some of them will be bit taken aback and shocked."

Not that they need be fearful. Eight of the squad played in the Euro 96 victory and, like their opponents, they have grown up in an era of English domination of the fixture. England not only won both of the games Adams played in, keeping a clean sheet in each, they have only lost twice since 1977, at Wembley in 1981 and Glasgow in 1985. The other 11 matches have seen nine English victories, prompting suggestions that the national "inferiority complex" Craig Brown, the Scotland coach, referred to this week may extend to playing football against England.

Adams agreed: "I think we've beaten them a few times and when someone beats you more than you beat them there's a chance that you're going to form an inferiority complex.

"It is a bit like going to Liverpool in the 1970s, or to Manchester United or even Arsenal now. Most of the time we win at Highbury and United do at Old Trafford. At Anfield in the 1970s you were kind of beaten before you went out there. But," he added, "I do think these will be tight games."

For Adams the tie is about qualifying for Euro 2000, not beating Scotland. He admitted, however, that the derby nature of the game provided a different dimension.

"An England-Scotland game is always going to be an important fixture, whether it's once a year or every now-and-again. They're going to give it everything, otherwise they shouldn't be turning up. But I can assure you that we'll be doing our best as well.

"I've a lot of passion for my country. I love London, I love England. We could do with better weather, I suppose, but even that's part of it. I think I would miss the seasons walking the dog over the park and I like the summer. I'm very proud to live in England."