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The Adams family

The news that the Fulham Supporters’ Trust has organised a special evening for the supporters with the hero of my early years of following the Whites, Micky Adams, brought a massive smile to my face. I’m sure not the only one who still treasures the memories of that magical eighteen months when a man brought in from Southampton to bolster Fulham’s flagging defence instead ended up shoring up the club’s position in the Football League after taking over Ian Branfoot as player-manager and, after telling the press ‘to judge me what I do next season,’ went on to guide the Cottagers to promotion on a shoestring budget.

A much younger version of your correspondent was crestfallen when Adams was cast aside in favour of Ray Wilkins after a League Cup defeat at the hands of Wolves. After a week that has had Fulham fans agog at the stories coming out of Motspur Park, it seems strange to reflect on events from more than 20 years ago and think about how the club badly mistreated the man who engineered the revival that ended up sparking Mohamed Al-Fayed’s interest in purchasing London’s oldest football professional side. But they did.

Adams has written at length in his new autobiography, which I devoured in a single setting, about the circumstances that led up to his departure from Craven Cottage and you wouldn’t blame him if it still rankled. The famously driven son of the city of steel had performed a minor miracle in getting Fulham, a quaint club that barely had two pennies together, out of English football’s basement at the same time as transforming the fortunes of striker Mike Conroy, who went from surly Scottish forward to the terroriser of Divison Three defences seemingly in the blink of an eye. At the end of a managerial career that initially saw him as the game’s answer to the emergency services as he specialised in putting clubs in crisis back on their feet, a more rounded Adams is in more reflective mood.

For supporters of a certain generation who remember the first time they clapped eyes on a shaggy-haired Darren Freeman, an injured Terry Angus leading the signing at Leyton Orient, ‘Fish out’ and the extraordinary scenes after Rodney McAree’s wonder goal at Carlisle United, Adams is a cult hero. Let’s hope, more than two decades since his abrupt departure, he gets an idea of just how fondly he is remembered by the Fulham faithful in a couple of weeks time.

Book review – My life in football, by Micky Adams

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.

Who put the ball in the Carlisle net? Exclusive interview with Rodney McAree

I had a very embarrassing moment as a Fulham fan last season. I was fortunate enough to be given some freelance work for the BBC contributing to Final Score NI and this sometimes involved getting the post-match reaction from the managers for use online and on BBC Sport NI’s Irish League Show. It was a fun but nerve wrecking experience so I suppose I can forgive myself for focusing so much on what I was doing that I didn’t fully appreciate who I was talking to on one particular evening.

I was sent to Ards v Dungannon Swifts in April. I had covered both teams before and had had the privilege of interviewing both managers on a couple of occasions but unfortunately my ‘fully focused on the job at hand’ mind at the time meant that I missed out on an important detail. When the Dungannon manager made a joke with me about supporting Fulham, I hadn’t quite realised what had happened. It took me to the day after and a series of texts for me to realise that the local lad who was the Dungannon Swifts manager was also Fulham cult hero, Rodney McAree!

Have you ever been subconsciously aware of something but just weren’t able to make the connection at the time? That was exactly what had happened here. I knew the name, of course, but I assumed that I recognised it because of my interest in Irish League Football, not because I had actually sung his name as a Fulham fan from time to time. As you can imagine, I was a little in awe and got ridiculously excited about being on first name terms with someone who had a real impact on the history of my club. If you are of the younger generation, you might not be fully aware of what was happening at Fulham just over 20 years ago, so let’s have a very brief history lesson. Fulham were very much in danger of dropping out of the Football League altogether but player-manager Micky Adams guided the club to safety in 1996 and then had them battling at the top of Division 3 the year later.  McAree’s moment came in the April of 1997, just over 20 years ago, when he blasted Fulham to a famous victory against league leaders Carlisle that all but assured us of promotion to Division 2. Below is a video of the goals from that game, and don’t be afraid to sing while you watch, “Who put the ball in the Carlisle net…”

Being the gentleman that he is, Rodney was willing to have a sit-down interview with me when South Belfast based club Lisburn Distillery took on his Dungannon Swifts side in a preseason friendly about his time at Fulham and about his ambitions in management. We started right at the beginning of his Fulham career in 1995.

You came to Fulham after a spell at Liverpool and then Bristol City, is that right?

That’s right, yeah, I was released after four years at Liverpool and then had an opportunity at Bristol City. I made my debut for Bristol City in the Championship and was doing quite well but the change in management and maybe a poor attitude at the time went against me so I found myself without a club again. I actually came home for a few months and played for Dungannon Swifts but then got the opportunity through Micky Adams and Ian Branfoot to come to Fulham and it all started from there.

When you came Micky Adams was actually player-manager. What is that dynamic like, trying to play for someone who also wants to play?

I probably came in just as Micky decided that he wasn’t going to play anymore and was making that transition, walking away from playing and trying to educate himself on the coaching side of football. Micky was a good guy and great to work for. We still keep in touch, I speak to him quite regularly and he was just a good guy to be around.

Although you got games under Adams, that was probably the most difficult time in the club’s history as you were down at the bottom of Division Three. What was the atmosphere like at the club then?

The atmosphere was actually quite good. I enjoyed the effort that we had to put in to try and get ourselves out of the situation that we were in. It was a great group of boys, we had to bring our own training kit home and get it washed for the next morning, trained on probably poor enough facilities but it was a good atmosphere. It was Micky Adams and Ian Branfoot who I worked for at the beginning and those two guys put a lot of hard work and effort into it and managed to bring good guys in around the club who wanted to socialise with each other which you then reap the benefits of on the pitch. They were good times. Coming from Liverpool with great facilities and even Bristol City, it made you appreciate what you had before and how hard you had to work to try and improve things.

In 1996 you survived quite dramatically and then fast forward a year you are sitting third in the table and in a promotion push. What was that like, going from relegation battle to promotion push so quickly?

When we were battling for survival we were very close to actually dropping out of the Football League and going into the Conference, which is a scary thought when you think of the big teams who actually have slipped out of the league. So to look at where Fulham were then and now is incredible. The promotion season was really enjoyable to be part of. We had such a great group of boys and a great coach in Alan Cork who had a real way about him and his way with the players. I’m absolutely delighted that I was part of it. For me I got injured early on in the season and missed three/four months but then I came back towards the end of the season and got a few games then at Mansfield away I managed to fracture my cheekbone and missed the end of the season! I maybe didn’t play as much as I would have but to be in the group and up around the top of the table, going to games expecting and wanting to win was memorable.

What were the fans like then?

We had great fans. Fulham is a great place and a lovely part of the world and the fans at that time were very supportive. They followed us home and away. I always remember the Fulham fans following us away, they made good noise and the amount of support that they took to Carlisle that day was phenomenal. That was a great occasion, I think there was about 12,500 at it which was a Third Division match at that stage which showed the importance of the game and was a great game to be involved in.

Talking about the game at Carlisle then and that goal. It’s 1-1 and the ball drops to you about 30 yards from goal. What about that moment made you hit it?

When I look back on it, it seems as though there was a bit of fate involved. I had been out for a long time and hadn’t played a lot of games since coming back and I went to Carlisle in the squad fully expecting to be on the bench. My father was actually away with Dungannon United Youth in the Preston Tournament and he was actually driving back up the M6 to come home and was going to stop and watch the game but I told him not to because I wouldn’t be playing. Then at 1:30pm, I’m sitting there a bit gobsmacked realising that I was playing! So, when you look back on it maybe it was meant to be. It was a good ball in and it was laid off for me perfectly and I thought why not have a go. Whenever you look back on it you think that things maybe happen for a reason. Micky could quite easily have went with Martin Thomas that day in the middle of the park but he went for me and obviously it’s a memory that will live with me forever.

Is it strange knowing that you name is still sung at Craven Cottage?

It is but there’s a lot of other people who did a hell of a lot more in terms of what they have contributed towards Fulham but I am hugely honoured to be remembered for that goal and to hear the song being sung is something special.

Obviously you work in football so it is hard to get over to Craven Cottage but when was the last time you were able to get to Fulham?

It’s very difficult but Fulham actually brought me over a couple of years ago and I was special guest and went onto the pitch at halftime. It was very nice of them and my wife was over with me so it was nice to go over and experience that. They were playing Spurs that day, unfortunately the result went against them but you score a goal in the Third Division to help towards promotion and then to go back to see the club play in the Premiership against Spurs a short time later, to see the progress was incredible!

Just before we talk about your move back to Northern Ireland, let’s talk about the changes around the club. Al Fayed bought over the club and wanted his own men in charge and Micky Adams was unfortunately sacked. What is that like as a player? Is it unsettling or exciting to see the changes at the club?

When Al Fayed came in you knew that there was going to be a lot of changes. Before he came in I think Paul Watson was the last signing and I think the club had to pay about £20,000 for him. So to see that and then to see one of the first signings under Kevin Keegan in Chris Coleman come in for about £2million and to see the players that the club were able to target showed that the club changed dramatically overnight. We all knew, or at least, I knew that everyone there at the time would start to be dwindled out. I think the only one who lasted to the end was Morgs (Simon Morgan), Captain Fantastic, which he deserved. He really worked very hard and was one of the players who you knew would continue to fight for himself and continue to stay in the frame. I think it was important for Fulham to keep someone like him because he was able to bring things back down to earth and keep everyone grounded because of the career that he had had up to that stage.

I suppose that, although having someone come in like Al-Fayed was great for the club, there are difficult parts to that as well when you have guys who have worked their socks off for the club told that they will be replaced by a more expensive model but is it just part of football?

Unfortunately for us it was. The club went from very workman like run club to a business. But that’s football, people want to invest money. What Al-Fayed did for Fulham was second to none, what he contributed to the training facilities and what he provided in terms of the revenue for the club was absolutely fantastic. Fulham definitely wouldn’t be in the position that they were if it wasn’t for Al-Fayed and you have to give the man a lot of respect for that but it didn’t work out in our favour at that stage.

After that did you go straight back home?

Well, I went to Chesham United were Alan Cork was managing and played a few games there and then ended up playing a bit for Crawley but then things in a personal life made me make a decision. I had two options; either I could stay over there and look for a job or I could move back home, be with family and friends and try and get a footing back into the game. It was the best option for me and I’m very happy because I have really enjoyed myself since I came home.

When you went home you spent a bit of time at Glenavon before moving to Dungannon Swifts. Are they your home town club?

Yes, I only live less than a mile from the ground and grew up with a connection there. My father was the bar manager and first team manager for years so ever since I was able to walk I was travelling to games and was going here, there and everywhere over the North of Ireland following Dungannon Swifts. When I started playing I got my opportunities here playing for the school boys before moving across the water. But coming back home and playing here has been a great experience. As soon as I came back to Dungannon Swifts I just felt at home and at ease and started doing well on the pitch and enjoying my football again. Then I moved into management with them.

What are your aspirations as a manager with them?

I think for me it’s about trying to develop our own players and trying to develop our own style of play that is good on the eye. We try and play a good style of football. It’s very difficult because Dungannon Swifts have such a low budget, maybe the lowest in the league so it’s a case of trying to get the best out of them that we possibly can. We have a great bunch of players and I really enjoy working with them and taking training. I get a good vibe back from them and it makes you look forward to going to your work and delivering something that you know they are going to enjoy.

I am also a director within Dungannon Youth. My father was the one who was the founder of it as such and we now have 13/14 teams and I try and help them develop as players and it’s very enjoyable.

I suppose when you just love the game, this sort of thing just comes naturally?

Yes, I am 42 years old now and relatively young and am as ambitious as a coach as I was a footballer. I want to go and achieve things whether that is with Dungannon Swifts or maybe an opportunity elsewhere. If I ever got the opportunity to work as a full-time coach in a full-time set up I would love that, but there is a lot of learning and educating to be done and I just have to keep working hard at it.

Would you ever move back across the water?

Absolutely. To coach and be involved in football as a full-time coach would be special.

I finished our conversation by presenting a signed Fulham 16/17 shirt to Rodney that the club sent over to mark 20 years since his goal and our promotion to the Second Division. What an experience it was getting to talk to someone who was present during a defining part of the club’s history and it was a pleasure talking Fulham and generally all things football with him. Make sure you keep an eye on the happenings of Dungannon Swifts this season. They play great football and the hard work and dedication put in by Rodney and others at the club make it move in the right direction.

Finally, I just want to thank Rodney for taking the time to chat. What a legend!

#COYW

Fulham were too good, says Adams

A honest Micky Adams admitted Fulham were too good for his Port Vale side, who failed to repeat their earlier Carling Cup heroics at Craven Cottage last night.

The former Fulham manager couldn’t script a fairytale return to the place where his managerial career began and was candid enough to disclose that Vale’s chances of causing another giantkilling after felling QPR in the first round receeded once he saw that Mark Hughes had selected a strong team.

As soon as we saw the team sheet we knew we would be in trouble. A lot of the Premier League clubs last night made wholesale changes. Fulham for their own reasons picked their first team and it was always going to difficult.

But we are disappointed. I think we are better than we showed tonight but we couldn’t get near Fulham. They had pace and movement and it was too much for us.

They are real athletes which is why they play at this level. We will lick our wounds and get on with it.

I came back here with Brentford and Leicester. I think this is my first defeat since coming back. The place is unrecognisable from the one I first managed. There are even tiles in the bathroom and hot water.

Hughes hails professional performance

Mark Hughes was delighted that his Fulhaam side took the opportunity to build on Sunday’s draw against Manchester United by scoring six against Port Vale last night.

Hughes set the tone by sleecting a strong side for the League Cup second round tie, only making three changes from the weekend, and Fulham were far too good for their League Two opponents.

It is important after games like this to make the headlines for the right reasons and we have done that because we approached it in the correct manner. We showed the competition the respect it deserves and I was really pleased with what we produced.

There were some outstanding goals and some great finishes. There some really good progressive play and that augurs well for the future.

I didn’t want to make too many changes. It is early in the season and not the time of year to be resting players.

The Fulham manager reserved special praise for young left-back Matthew Briggs, who delivered a fine cross for Zoltan Gera to open the scoring.

I felt it was an opportunity to have a look at him (Briggs). I am trying to see what we have got in terms of quality.

He is a young man I haven’t seen a great deal of. I have been impressed in training and he acquitted himself really well.

He was instrumental in the first goal with a great cross and he did himself no harm tonight.