CHAPTER 29: Micky Adams (Part One)
Managers tend to surround themselves with coaches that they know they can trust and rely on, but given his previous experiences, Brighton’s Micky Adams was understandably more determined than most to hire someone who could watch his back. Mohamed Al-Fayed had peremptorily dismissed him at Fulham just four months into a new five-year contract in favour of the higher profile Kevin Keegan, shortly after Adams had won both promotion and the Third Division manager of the season award. He then lasted less than a fortnight at Swansea City and explained what had happened to the Daily Telegraph: “I had 13 days there which was pretty controversial at the time. I got promised ‘x’ amount of pounds for the squad but the money never materialised and I told them they could look for another manager. I walked out on principle.”
In 1959 Ian Fleming wrote in Goldfinger, “Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. The third time it’s enemy action,” and Adams must have nodded his head in appreciation at the astuteness of this aphorism when his next managerial job at Brentford also ended quickly and badly. He inherited a squad that had been denuded of its best players and largely comprised low quality, cut-price nonentities. Assisted by his former Southampton teammate and Rod Stewart lookalike, Glenn Cockerill, who at 38 was comfortably the best player in the team, he brought in a series of experienced campaigners, but for all his energy and enthusiasm the Bees were relegated on the final day of the season.
Adams felt that he had done a good job in difficult circumstances: “I signed loyal players who I knew and trusted and I took them around with me. We did not lose too many games but we could not score and it was the draws that killed us.” David Webb then sold the club to Ron Noades who immediately sacked Adams and appointed himself manager. Thus ended a turbulent year in which he had lost three jobs. No wonder he had trust issues and valued loyalty above all other virtues.
Adams then took a temporary backseat and became assistant manager at Nottingham Forest and he was at a loose end after the dismissal of Dave Bassett in January 1999. Micky had impressed Dick Knight with his knowledge and passion for the game when they met at a reserve game and he was Knight’s only candidate to replace the sacked Jeff Wood.
Adams brought his friend Alan Cork with him as his assistant and together they built a tough, gritty and experienced squad in the image of their manager, which was perfectly equipped to compete and win the physical battles experienced in the Third Division, but also contained some creative players. Most importantly, most of them were known quantities as Paul Watson, Charlie Oatway, Danny Cullip, Darren Freeman, Warren Aspinall and Paul Brooker had played for Adams at either Fulham or Brentford and three of them had played for both clubs. Adams had built up an extensive knowledge of players and recruited other strong characters in Richard Carpenter, Paul Rogers, Michel Kuipers, Nathan Jones and Andy Crosby who were all to play a significant role over the coming seasons.
It is all very well sharing goals throughout the team but any successful side needs a regular goal scorer. Steele was a poacher with little physical presence but Bobby Zamora was the real deal; skilful, quick, elegant and deadly. Adams recalls how he arrived at the club: “We were going through an indifferent spell and struggling for a big centre forward. David Cameron wasn’t up to it and we had been outbid by Brentford for Lorenzo Pinamonte, so I called Ian Holloway at Bristol Rovers who told me: ‘I have got a young lad who’s been on loan at Bath City. He’s only 19 and as raw as anything but he has scored a few goals for them.’ I was not totally convinced but we were desperate and the clincher was when Ian told me he was only earning £140 per week, so I said ‘send him down,’ and the rest is history!”
By the time of Cork’s departure in September 2000 it was clear that Brighton were mounting a serious promotion challenge and it was crucial that momentum was maintained. Cork felt that the opportunity to manage Cardiff City was too good to pass up and having been Micky’s assistant at three clubs it was time for him to become a manager in his own right.
Micky Adams had inherited Bob Booker as his youth team manager when he had taken over at Brentford in 1997. Bob was quick to remind him of the two goals he had scored for Sheffield United against Adams’s Southampton back in 1991, but his new boss purported to have no memory of that feat. Adams recalls that first conversation: “I looked him straight in the eye and told him that I didn’t know him but I would give him a chance and see if he was hard working and loyal, and if so we would be fine. He pointed out the camp bed in the corner of the dressing room and told me he was so committed that he would be sleeping there that night. I burst out laughing and we soon became great friends and I knew that we would work well together.”
Micky Adams had promised to keep his eye on Bob Booker when he left Brentford and Micky knew exactly who he wanted as Cork’s replacement at Brighton: “Corky’s departure surprised me as he had always seemed happy as a number two. I was disappointed but Bob Booker was my immediate choice to replace him. We had stayed in touch and I knew he was unhappy at Brentford. He jumped at the opportunity to join me at Brighton and it was the best decision that I ever made.”
Dick Knight interviewed Bob on Monday 2nd October and he accepted the job before he had seen either Withdean Stadium or the training ground at the University of Sussex. Bob smiled at the memory and recalls that he was always instructed to take potential new signings for a cup of tea at the Grand Hotel where they could see Brighton at its best, and under no circumstances was he to show them the stadium before their signature was safely on the contract.
Dick Knight had vaguely heard of Bob from his time at Sheffield United: “Alan Cork was a good coach and would be hard to replace and when Micky made it clear that he wanted to hire Bob I backed his judgement. He made an excellent impression on me when we met at Topolino’s. Bob was very intelligent and had a lovely sense of humour and it was clear that he and Micky were on the same wavelength.”
Bob hit the ground running as he visited the training ground after lunch, which he greeted with a rueful smile: “Dick Knight loved the sound of his own voice but he was a fantastic chairman who knew his stuff. He made it clear to me that the club was being run on a shoestring and initially I was horrified when I saw the training ground. The facilities were awful, the players were spread over a number of small dressing rooms, the pitches were bumpy and we could only train whenever the University allowed us. Sometimes we had to train on rugby pitches, which made shooting practice interesting, or we would use the AstroTurf pitch, which took its toll on players’ knees. At least they had to clean their own kit and boots so that would not be my responsibility, as it had been at Brentford. Micky did his best to create an ‘us against the world’ atmosphere and made sure that the players made the best of things. I had seen far worse so I just got on with things.”
“Next we were off to Withdean Stadium, which was a total shambles. It was a small, decrepit athletics stadium with a football pitch surrounded by a running track. There were two uncovered stands, one holding 1,800 fans and the South Stand, which contained 4,500 temporary seats installed on a grass bank. It held less than 7,000 fans and there was no real atmosphere there, but we turned it into a fortress. The dressing room was a portakabin with a crooked floor and a leaking roof. There was a tiny office in the home dressing room, separated from the players, where Micky and I would go at halftime if the players were arguing with each other and we would let them sort things out for themselves.”
“Steve Winterburn, the groundsman, worked on his own with only a lawnmower, tractor, fork and a rake. No wonder the pitch was awful. There were no sprinklers or sheets to protect the pitch, which was either flooded or too dry. If a match was in in doubt there would be a general SOS and everyone would turn up with mops and try to get the pitch into playable condition.”
This was turning into a long first day and it ended with Bob getting his first sight of some of the players in a reserve game at Worthing against Oxford United.
Bob got home very late that night, exhausted but exhilarated at the challenge he faced. Initially he commuted every day from Watford and he would leave at about 5.30am and arrive at Micky Adams’s rented house in Burgess Hill before 7 o’clock and bring his new boss a cup of tea and the newspapers. Bob would get to the training ground at about 9 o’clock, an hour before the players.
The physio, Malcolm Stuart, introduced himself to Bob by covering his telephone with cling film on his first full day and when he finally managed to remove it he received a mysterious call purporting to come from the Samaritans stating: “You’re going to need us in this job.”
“Long serving kit man Jock Riddell had just left and was soon replaced by John Keeley who acted as kit man/goalkeeping coach – it was just like being back at Brentford! Dear old Jock used to sell antique furniture at car boot sales and the first time I went into the kit room at the training ground the playing strip was buried under a pile of his unsold stock. He died in 2002 and we all went to his funeral at the Downs Crematorium and just as we carried the coffin inside, a seagull landed on the roof and we all burst into tears.”
Bob shared an office at the training ground with Micky Adams and Malcolm Hinshelwood, Dean Wilkins and Vic Bragg from the youth section crowded in next door. Dean White also arrived at the same time as Bob as reserve team coach/chief scout.
Bob fretted all the way to Brighton on Tuesday 3rd October as despite all the frenzied activity of the previous day neither Dick Knight nor Micky Adams had outlined his responsibilities, but he had no time to think as he was thrown in at the deep end on his first day with the players. Micky Adams told him to run the session, starting with a warm-up, followed by some ball work and passing drills and he said he would come out and join him afterwards. Bob knew that he was being tested and wondered if Adams knew that this was the first time he had ever taken a session for professionals rather than YTS kids?
“I was worried about how the players would take to me and whether they would make my life difficult? I already knew some of them from their time at Brentford and had played with Darren Carr at Sheffield United but I wasn’t particularly close to any of them.”
Bob had particular concerns about one player: “I had clashed with Warren Aspinall several times in his Wigan days and he had developed a reputation for being difficult and upsetting people. How would a wily old pro like him react to me telling him what to do? I was his assistant manager now and I needed to earn his respect. Micky introduced me to the players and I could see Warren looking at me with an enigmatic grin on his face and I had no idea what he was thinking. I tried to put him out of my mind and I got them into a circle and said: ‘Right lads, I’m Bob Booker and I’m taking over from Alan Cork’ and went straight into the session, which was quite nerve racking as I was winging it. The players tested me straight away and tried to wind me up with comments like: ‘That’s not how Corky did it’ but I gave it right back to them: ‘He’s gone, I’m here now and I am not Corky! I’m doing it my way!’ Thankfully the players responded and seemed to enjoy the session. That was a crucial milestone for me as if things had gone differently I could have lost control of the squad and been finished before I had even started, and I learned that it isn’t necessary for every player to like you as long as they respect you.”
Former teammate Darren Carr that week told Andy Naylor in The Argus just what Bob Booker would bring to the Albion: “He was well liked (at Sheffield United) and I cannot see any reason why he won’t fit in with the lads. He is very bubbly and has a good sense of humour, so he will take over from Corky in that respect.”
Bob was a quick learner and realized that he was fortunate enough to be working with an experienced and committed group of players who largely policed themselves.
“There were several leaders. Danny Cullip, Charlie Oatway and Richard Carpenter were the loudest and ensured that nobody coasted. If Bobby Zamora was not producing then Cullip would have him up against the dressing room wall and tell him to ‘start running around as you’re costing me my bonus.’ The players would point fingers and sort things out, which is exactly what you wanted. Everyone was encouraged to speak up and it was a very vocal dressing room, but there were no cliques, no bullying, nobody went too far and everyone accepted criticism. They strongly reminded me of the Sheffield United squad which was also a strong group in the way they looked out for each other.”
Micky Adams understood how difficult it was for Bob at first as: “He knew nothing about the club and had to prove himself with a strong group of fiercely competitive and opinionated players as well as take over from an established number two in Corky. I kept my distance from the players and Bob became the link between them and myself, and he ensured that they knew what I wanted. If I was not happy with them then training would mainly consist of running and sometimes the players would take their frustration and high spirits out on Bob and he would be ragged and stripped naked. He always took it well and maybe he enjoyed being manhandled by Charlie Oatway?”
Bob soon worked out what was required: “I decided to create my own job description and get involved in everything. It was up to me to take the weight off Micky, provide my opinions and make myself indispensable. I understood that trust was paramount as Micky only tolerated people that he could rely on. He had no time for yes-men and wanted someone with opinions about players, tactics and substitutions who could help him make good decisions under pressure.”
“I became the link between Micky and the players. I had to build up their trust and deal with all their problems, ideally on my own but also knowing when I had to involve the manager. Apart from Danny Cullip who would always go straight to Micky, they would come to me with their problems and complaints. Maybe they were a bit wary of what Micky would tell them and preferred to hear it from me? Gary Hart was always the first to ask me why he had been dropped and I would try and tell him Micky’s reasons. Micky kept his distance and largely ruled by fear. He knew how to press their buttons, and he told them exactly how it was. The players responded and never crossed him and instead they would take it out on me and call him ‘Mein Führer’ and ‘Little Legs,’ which was fine, as I knew that it was only frustration and high spirits and I made sure that things never went too far.”
“I remember a spineless performance at Scunthorpe in the FA Cup in December 2000. The defeat was partially my fault as when Micky finished his team talk I sent them out onto the pitch to a resounding cry of ‘unleash hell,’ as I had just seen Gladiator! That worked well! Micky was seething all the way home and when we arrived in the early hours of the morning I had to tell the players to be at the training ground at 8am and he ran them around the nearby pond for 45 minutes shouting: “You didn’t run around yesterday for the supporters so you can make up for it now.”
“My job was to pick them up after he had criticized them. Micky would keep his distance so I could go in and calm everybody down. I kept it light and enjoyed joking with them
and as assistant manager I had to be one of them but also ensure that they did not see me as a spy. They knew what would and would not get back to the manager, such as when someone refused to pay a fine, and sometimes they would use me as a conduit to Micky, particularly when they wanted permission for a team night out.”
“I was a voice for Micky to get into the players and also a vehicle for the players to communicate with the manager.
Sometimes I had to assert myself, challenge them and make it clear who was in charge or the inmates would be running the asylum. I knew that Micky Adams would always back me up but I could tell that the players trusted and respected me. That was the key.”
“We tried to mix things up and sometimes as we were walking off the pitch at halftime Micky would say: ‘You can be bad cop today’ and I would go in and hammer them, which took them by surprise as that was normally Micky’s role. He would then interrupt me and say: “I think you’re being a bit harsh, Bob’ and pick them up. Reverse psychology that always seemed to work.”
“I helped Micky with the coaching and some days I would take all the training and on others we shared it. Micky was an excellent coach and I learned how he ran his sessions and I used many of them for the rest of my career. He was always very structured and organized and the players enjoyed them as he varied things and they were never left standing around. His team was extremely fit and there lots of timed pitch runs.”
Bob loved coaching: “Particularly when something you worked on in the week came off in a match. We spent hours practicing near post flick-ons by Cullip for Zamora to score, as well as a well-rehearsed free kick when Zamora would jog towards Paul Watson and they would pretend to have a chat before Bobby sprinted off just as Paul bent the ball in and he would invariably be unmarked and have a strike at goal.”
“I kept an eye on the young players coming through and I scouted players and future opposition either alone or with Micky. I also liaised with the secretary, Derek Allan, regarding accommodation, pick-up points and training arrangements for away games.
“It was almost like being married to another man – after all I already made Micky a cup of tea and brought him his newspapers most mornings! I was at his beck and call but I seemed to know instinctively what he wanted, learned quickly and I made it up as we went along. We were already friends from our time together at Brentford but I could not take anything for granted and it was clear that you had to be on your toes with him and if you made a mistake he would come down hard on you. I caused chaos on the way to a northern away game when I completely messed up all the pick-up arrangements and he went ballistic with me and I never repeated my error. I totally respected and learned so much from him”
Dick Knight was rarely at the training ground but he soon learned that Bob had settled in well. “There was a discernible gap between Micky Adams and the players. He did not want to get close to them and Bob was the perfect bridge and ensured that the lines of communication were maintained. He was very easygoing and the players responded to him but Bob made it clear that they could not take any liberties.”
Micky Adams was also delighted with his new assistant: “Bob has an infectious nature and gets on with everyone, which is a rare skill. Sometimes when you go into a club you wonder about peoples’ ulterior motives, but Bob was so loyal and he also made me laugh, and I like people who do that. But there was far more to him as he was a deep thinker who really knew the game, he was not afraid to voice his opinions firmly both to the players and me and he was a good coach.”
“Most importantly, he built a rapport with the players who liked and respected him, which was crucial, particularly as nowadays you have to be more of a baby sitter and if you don’t keep players happy you are finished. I knew that I could drip-feed things into them through Bob and that he would pass on my instructions and keep the dressing room happy and in check.”
Bob was relieved that his arrival did not see an end to the team’s success and they continued on their winning ways before clinching promotion after a 2-0 victory at Plymouth on 14th April 2001. A narrow win over promotion rivals, Chesterfield, who had been fined £20,000 and deducted nine points after a series of financial shenanigans, ensured that the championship was won. Albion eventually finished 10 points ahead of Cardiff City; Micky Adams was voted manager of the year and Albion only lost seven times after Bob’s appointment in October.
Bob did not enjoy the initial celebration as: “I went to Micky’s house for a drink after the Chesterfield match and he put on all his favourite Billy Joel albums, which he knew I detested. He sat back in his chair, glass in hand and with a contented look on his face, told me: ‘That’s it, the job’s done and I am going to leave things up to you now, Bob,’ and I made the majority of the decisions for the final couple of matches.”
Dick Knight took the players to The Westin La Quinta in Marbella to celebrate and he noticed with surprise an initial absentee: “Micky Adams only came for part of the trip as he did not want to socialize with the players. Bob and Paul Rogers were in charge and we left Marbella reasonably intact.” Bob laughed and stated that the chairman had given an extremely sanitized version, or perhaps he was not fully aware of what had gone on?
“Warren Aspinall came in late on the first night, cut his hand when he knocked over an expensive vase in the lobby and there was a telltale trail of blood leading to his door. Despite the evidence he was adamant it was nothing to do with him and he asked for a DNA test. Eventually we clubbed together and paid for the damage. Another afternoon a group of players wearing pillowcases with eye slits came in and trashed my room. I knew who the culprits were as they were stupid enough to stand outside my door afterwards and laugh about what they had done, but I took it in good spirits and Messrs Mayo, Cullip, Oatway, Rogers and Carpenter escaped without punishment. I came out to the swimming pool one afternoon wearing a white bathrobe and a Michael Jackson mask, peeled off my robe and dived into the swimming pool, swam a length and walked off. The players all seemed to enjoy my impersonations and I felt accepted and part of the group.”
Bob spent as much time as he could exploring Brighton and soon fell in love with the city. Initially he commuted from Watford but the driving soon began to take its toll on him, particularly when he and Micky had been out scouting the night before, and increasingly often he would sofa surf with Micky, Malcolm Stuart and his wife, Lorraine in Mile Oak, or Matt Hicks, the Football Liaison Manager, who became a particular friend.
“I became a bit of a nomad and by the end of the season I was generally only going back to Watford every Sunday and I knew that I would have to make arrangements to move down permanently which would put further strain on my relationship with Christine.”
“I was doing well financially and I received a £10,000 promotion bonus, which I used to pay for an extension on the house in Watford.”
Bob had enjoyed an exceptional first season at the club culminating in his first promotion as a staff member. He had felt under pressure given the success of the previous partnership between Adams and Cork but he had been his own man and put his own stamp on the job. The friendship he shared with Micky Adams had grown deeper and they also developed an exceptional working relationship based on mutual trust and respect.
Bob recalls one incident that brought them even closer together: “We were sitting in his conservatory late one night and wanted a drink. Micky thought there was a keg of beer in the utility room, so we started drinking it but it was a bit warm so he told me to get some ice out of the freezer. I put the ice into the glasses and it started frothing up as we drank the beer. It tasted a bit odd but we finished it and went to bed. We were sharing a bed so Claire, who had just given birth to their son, Mitchel, could get some uninterrupted sleep – it’s a manager/assistant manager thing! In the morning we both felt awful and Claire burst into the room and asked: ‘Where is all the ice?’ ‘We used it in the beer,’ replied Micky. ‘That was my frozen breast milk.’ We looked at each other and he said ‘that’s the closest you will ever get to her breasts,’ and we laughed our heads off. Claire eventually saw the funny side.”
“We were confident about our prospects in Division Two, particularly as Micky signed a new contract and also brought in another of his old boys in Simon Morgan from Fulham. His knees were worse than mine, and he barely trained, but he was another leader who read the game brilliantly.”
“Micky took us to Ballygar, a village in County Galway for a preseason tour. He loved going there although there was only one sloping training pitch at the back of a pub. The trip was great for team bonding and some of our party stole a life-sized horse which was kept outside the pub, and tried unsuccessfully to bring it upstairs to Micky’s bedroom before leaving it in the training field.”
After losing to Sligo, Albion took part in the “Battle of Longford.” It all started badly when Longford Town scored an early goal which never crossed the line and there followed a number of unsavoury incidents including an elbow on Crosby, a falling-out between Wicks and Carpenter, a red card for Oatway and a brawl, which followed an appalling tackle by Steve Melton. Not surprisingly the game was abandoned at halftime and Bob did not help calm the situation when he popped his head round Longford’s dressing room door and said: “Thanks a lot for the game lads,” before beating a hasty retreat! Micky Adams apparently gathered his team together once they had made their escape, with bottles and cans pinging against the side of their coach, and instead of giving them a bollocking, as they expected, he simply said: “You’ll do for me lads.”
Micky and Bob’s partnership continued to flourish as Albion set the early pace in the Second Division with Adams winning the September manager of the month award following a run of four wins and two draws.
There was an early setback in October with an unexpected home defeat by Brentford and the following day Bob received another shock when Micky told him that he was leaving as he had the chance to join Leicester City as assistant manager to Dave Bassett, with the expectation of taking over as manager at the end of the season.
“I knew that Micky was very ambitious and wanted to manage in the Premier League. He felt frustrated at the lack of progress regarding a new stadium for the club and knew that the further we took Brighton, the harder it would be to sustain success, given the constraints of Withdean and the limited budget available. But I did not have a clue that he was about to leave.”
“I was devastated and whilst I totally understood his reasons, I felt that I had been left in the lurch. We had struck up a great relationship which was ending prematurely and I felt that we had unfinished business. I knew that there was nothing for me at Leicester as Micky was going there initially as assistant manager but just as when he left Brentford, he said that he would try and take me with him as soon as the opportunity arose, and, as you will hear, he kept his word at the end of the season. I knew I had done a good job but I was unsure of what would happen to me now as I had only been at the club for a year and I felt very vulnerable as most managers would want to bring their own staff with them.”
I spoke to Micky Adams recently and he explained his decision: “I was very ambitious and given the problems we faced I just could not see Brighton progressing at the pace I wanted. The higher we progressed the more difficult it would be to maintain our success. Dick Knight was always telling me how close we were to getting permission for a new stadium in the city but Bob and I would have a drink every Friday after training and our toast was always ‘Falmer, My Arse’ as we knew just how far away it was despite Dick’s words.”
“Like most chairmen, Dick Knight was strong-willed and opinionated, but he also talked a lot of sense. He never went behind my back and would speak plainly whenever something was on his mind. I was happy to listen to him although the lunches at Topolino’s were hard work as I used to come out stinking of tobacco, but we had good chats and I am extremely grateful to him for his support.”
“I was sorry to leave Bob behind as we got on so well both socially and professionally and it is not every manager who is willing to share his wife’s breast milk with his assistant!”
“In retrospect, I was a little bit eager and hurried in my decision to leave. I wanted to progress as quickly as possible but maybe I should have stayed another year and seen out the next title win – two in a row would have been incredible for me, but that’s life.”