Football autobiographies are ten a penny these days. A star player ‘writes’ one to cash in on hitting the big time. A sacked manager pens a few chapters lifting the lid on why it wasn’t his fault that the team kept conceding silly goals. Or a recently retired pro tells tales from inside the dressing room. The formats are rather tired – and there’s little insight that you wouldn’t gain from a few months on the after-dinner circuit.
You can tell a good football book these days because they have a different angle. It isn’t about settling scores or reliving the glory days, but offering you – the person who will likely never be good enough to experience professional sport themselves – an insight into the lonely world of an elite performer. The pressures manifest themselves not just on the field of play but in the quieter moments when the sportsperson is left to contemplate the future should things not go according to plan.
Micky Adams had a storied football career having been in the same dressing room as Matt Le Tissier and Alan Shearer at Southampton in the early days of the Premier League and, so many years after an abrupt and deeply unsatisfactory departure from Craven Cottage, he remains a cult hero at Fulham. His contribution during an injury-ravaged eighteen months as a player who had been convinced to drop down the divisions to join Ian Branfoot’s rescue act might not have been what the supporters had expected, but Adams more than made up for that in his first managerial job.
Pitched into management at the age of 33, when he freely admits he was ‘young, naive and a hot head,’ an impetuous Adams went about a club that was at rock bottom, without any money, training facilities, kit or – seemingly – much hope. The powers-that-be might have expected Adams to feel his way into management, but having watched several players take advantage of Branfoot’s softer side, the new boss was keen to put his foot down. He was equally determined to take on the legendary Jimmy Hill, who was frequently late to board meetings and had been used to seeing underlings tolerate his own views on the game as Adams tells it. The book recounts Adams insisting to his chairman that seventeen members of the 1995/96 squad should be handed free transfers. whilst it also notes that, when Adams achieve promotion the following season against all expectations, Fulham missed out on the Division Three title because Hill had persuaded his fellow chairmen to switch from goal difference to goals scored in the event that teams finished level on points.
The still unbelievable success of that season is told in humorous detail. Darren Freeman, now a manager himself at Lewes, comes across just as daft as he did in Simon Morgan’s book. The skipper himself was unsettled by Tony Pulis at Gillingham earlier in the season, before Adams insisted that he should be told what was bothering Morgan. The slight tactical tweaks that saw Fulham adopt a very modern 3-4-3, with Nick Cusack converted from a striker to a sweeper/holding midfielder, that allowed Mick Conroy, so starved of goals in the previous campaign, the sort of service upon which he thrived.
The secret of Fulham’s outstanding season that generated the fateful interest from Mohamed Al-Fayed appears to have been a pre-season tour to Ballygar, where Adams’ promotion-winning medal is now located, fixed up by the GMB’s Paul Kenny. It wasn’t the most glamorous of tours given what players are used to these days – and Freeman was caught out on two trips getting up far too early for a spot of fishing – but it fostered the sort of camaraderie that carried Fulham through a remarkable year. Even the briefest of returns for prima donna Paul Parker couldn’t upset the applecart.
Adams admits he can only truly appreciate how special that season was now that he is far removed from management – with no desire to return. For a club that had been heading towards oblivion, not just in football terms but financially, that season was something so special. From being a soft touch, Fulham could scare the opposition now – no surprise given their line-up featured Carpenter, Mark Blake, PauL Watson, Morgan and Terry Angus – but they also played some fine football along the way as well. Young Sean Davis, who did go on to make it, and the terrifically talented Paul Brooker, who sadly didn’t, played their part alongside the likes of Robbie Herrera and, famously, Rodney McAree.
It remains one of the more controversial decisions of the Al-Fayed tenure that Adams was never given an opportunity to finish what he started. He is candid, writing about the impact of seeing Kevin Keegan and Ray Wilkins in the crowd and responding to incessant rumours about his own future from the outset, and admits he might have made a mistake in not standing up to the Harrods tycoon. Adams is forthright – as you’d expect the Sheffield-born full-back who took no prisoners to be – and the book is all the better for that.
As a cult hero at Craven Cottage, it’s the sections that detail his time at Fulham that garner most attention for this audience but the book includes plenty of fascinating details on the remainder of his managerial career, especially on the promotions with Brighton and Hove Albion and Wycombe and just how it all fell apart at Leicester. Now employed as a consultant to other young coaches, the book, written with the experienced football journalist Neil Moxley, should be required reading for anyone who loves the game. It’s just a bonus that it contains the inside track on one of Fulham’s most memorable seasons.
My Life in Football by Micky Adams, with Neil Moxley, is published by Biteback Publishing and priced at £20.