Tag Archives: Tony Adams

Premier League Files: Paul Merson

Premier League Career: Arsenal (1992-1997), Middlesbrough (1998), Aston Villa (1998-2002)

Paul Merson’s career was chequered to say the least. On-the-pitch, he enjoyed immense success with Arsenal, winning two First Division titles before the Premier League was formed. He also was a vital part in the promotions to the top-flight with Middlesbrough in 1998 and Portsmouth in 2003. After an unsuccessful attempt at management, Merson has become one of the regular pundits on Gillette Soccer Saturday.

Off-the-pitch, Merson has had to face up to his demons. He admitted in 1994 to his battle against drinking, gambling and drugs which led to a rehabilitation campaign and time away from the game he cherishes the most.

It was at his first club, Arsenal where Merson enjoyed the most success. He spent 11 years with the club, joining as an apprentice in 1984 and making his first-team debut against Manchester City in November 1986. His breakthrough season came in 1988-1989, when Arsenal famously pinched the title from Liverpool FC’s grasp in the last moments of the campaign at Anfield. Paul was voted PFA Young Player of the Year, scoring 10 times in the Gunners’ triumphant campaign. He had now established himself on the right wing for George Graham and an England international call-up wasn’t far away.

That honour didn’t arrive until Graham Taylor succeeded Sir Bobby Robson as England boss. Merson made his international debut in 1991, playing in a friendly against Germany. In total, he won 21 caps for his country, featuring and scoring in the penalty shootout defeat to Argentina at the 1998 World Cup finals. He could have won more caps for his country had it not been for his drinking problems which meant Terry Venables couldn’t trust on picking him during his battle off-the-field.

In 1991, Merson won his second league championship and enjoyed his best goalscoring season too, finding the back of the net 13 times. Arsenal became a cup specialist side in the early Premier League Years and Paul played a huge contribution in their domestic cup double of 1993, scoring in the League Cup final victory over Sheffield Wednesday. However, his dark side away from football was revealed in public in November 1994.

He revealed he had been battling addictions to alcohol, gambling and cocaine and was immediately placed into rehab. Two months later, he made a tearful return to public life, breaking down in a press conference organised by the FA. When he composed himself, he admitted: “My life was going nowhere. I now have a choice – I either go back to the booze, the gambling and the drugs or I go the other way.”

Following treatment, he returned to training and was back in first-team action for Arsenal in February 1995. It is a battle Paul has had to fight constantly for the past two decades. When at Portsmouth, his gambling problems relapsed which led to a spell in the Sporting Chance clinic, created by his former Arsenal teammate Tony Adams.

In the summer of 1997, Merson was surprisingly sold from Arsenal to Middlesbrough, who had just been relegated from the top-flight. Arsene Wenger had offered the midfielder a new two-year contract but preferring longer-term security and a better wage package, he decided to drop down a division and help Boro make an instant return to the Premier League. He was nicknamed “The Magic Man” by supporters as the Teesiders earned promotion, ending second to Nottingham Forest in the final standings.

After three games of Middlesbrough’s return to the Premier League spotlight, he claimed homesickness was the reason for a return to the south of the country. With money to spend after the departure of Dwight Yorke to Manchester United, John Gregory bought Merson to Aston Villa in September 1998. He scored in his opening two home matches for the club and played a key role in Villa’s run to the FA Cup final in 2000 which they ended up losing 1-0 to Chelsea. In total, he made 101 Premier League appearances for the Villans, scoring 18 times. This was to be his final spell in the Premier League.

After playing an instrumental role in Portsmouth’s return to the top-flight in the summer of 2003, he elected to move to Walsall so he could be closer to his family. When Colin Lee was sacked in February 2004, Merson was thrown into the managerial spotlight but couldn’t prevent the club being relegated from Division One. After failing to launch a sustained promotion bid in League One, he was sacked in February 2006 and after two part-time matches for Tamworth, announced his retirement from playing a month later.

Since his retirement, Paul has moved into media, working for Sky Sports, co-hosting The Fantasy Football Club and working on Gillette Soccer Saturday. He also writes a regular column for The Daily Star newspaper.


Memorable Matches: Arsenal 4-0 Everton (May 1998)

Goalscorers: Slaven Bilic 6 OG, Marc Overmars 28, 57, Tony Adams 89


Arsenal: David Seaman, Tony Adams, Martin Keown, Lee Dixon, Nigel Winterburn, Emmanuel Petit (David Platt 44), Patrick Vieira, Ray Parlour, Marc Overmars, Nicolas Anelka (Ian Wright 72), Christopher Wreh (Steve Bould 80)

Everton: Thomas Myhre, Slaven Bilic (John Oster 46), John O’Kane (Gareth Farrelly 46), Craig Short, Carl Tiler, Dave Watson, Michael Ball, Don Hutchinson, Peter Beagrie (Mickael Madar 46), Nick Barmby, Duncan Ferguson

Referee: Gerald Ashby, Attendance: 38,269

At the end of February 1998, most bookmakers stopped taking bets on the title after Manchester United won at Chelsea to establish a 13-point lead on the chasing pack. However, Arsenal had games in hand and had been plugging away at United’s lead. A 1-0 win at Old Trafford in March had really got their fans believing and they were now cantering towards their first Premier League crown.

Arsene Wenger’s side hosted Everton who were desperate for points at the wrong end of the table. Bolton’s victory over Crystal Palace 24 hours earlier had put Howard Kendall’s Toffees into the bottom three. Arsenal knew that a 10th successive Premier League victory would hand them their first top-flight title since 1991. However, they were missing the influential Dennis Bergkamp whose season had been ended by a hamstring injury five nights earlier against Derby County.

It was set to be a party at Highbury and playing in gorgeous sunshine, Everton were simply no more than bystanders to a day of immense celebrations in the capital. Just six minutes had been played when Arsenal went into the lead. From a free-kick on the right-hand side, Slaven Bilic headed the ball into his own net, under pressure from Arsenal skipper Tony Adams. The Gunners were getting closer and closer to the main prize in English football.

Everton didn’t even manage an attempt on-goal in the first half and went 2-0 down before the half-hour mark. Peter Beagrie lost possession and Marc Overmars ran at a frightened backline. His shot had too much power for Norwegian goalkeeper Thomas Myhre, who got a decent hand on the effort but saw the ball squirm over the line. Had it not been for a couple more decent saves from Myhre to deny Christopher Wreh and Ray Parlour, the scoreline could have been even worse at half-time for the visitors. The only minor negative for Wenger was an injury to Emmanuel Petit which meant he was withdrawn before half-time, to be replaced by David Platt.

Kendall made a triple substitution at half-time but it simply didn’t make any difference to the match. The championship was heading to Arsenal Football Club and they were going to do it in style. The outstanding Overmars burst past Everton captain Watson on 57 minutes, leaving him in his wake before stroking a shot across Myhre’s bows to make it 3-0. The fitting finale was still to come though. Substitute Steve Bould played a wonderful ball over the top of the defence and his centre-back partner Adams had made a surge forward. Picked out by Bould, he delivered an emphatic finish to produce the perfect ending to a sensational afternoon for the Arsenal faithful.

Everton did avoid relegation on the final day of the season on goal difference but this was Arsenal’s day as Adams hoisted the Premier League trophy aloft around half an hour after the final whistle. Their long summer party could now begin as they became only the third team to win the Premier League.

Premier League Files: Steve Bould

Premier League Career: Arsenal (1992-1999), Sunderland (1999-2000)

Steve Bould spent two decades as one of the game’s most challenging and uncompromising defenders. His partnership at the heart of the Arsenal backline alongside skipper Tony Adams is one of the best pairings the English game has ever seen. Arsenal has been a huge part of his career and he remains an integral member of the club today, now in his sixth season as Arsene Wenger’s assistant manager.

Born in Stoke-on-Trent, Bould signed for his hometown club Stoke City as a schoolboy in 1978 and turned professional in November 1980. He would spend the next eight years with the Potters, although he did have a nine-game loan period with Torquay United in 1982 to enhance his playing experience. Initially training as a right-back, it was Mick Mills who converted him into a centre-back. Not only was this a shrewd decision, it ensured Bould would excel in this position for the remainder of the 20th century. Despite his rapid improvements, Stoke were still a Second Division club and in 1988, the time came for him to move onto pastures new with a higher reputed side. Both Arsenal and Everton registered an interest and for £390,000, Steve moved to Highbury in the summer of 1988 and started a relationship with the club that has largely held together over the next 30 years.

He became part of the much-talked about ‘Arsenal back four,’ together with Adams, his former Stoke teammate Lee Dixon and Nigel Winterburn. There was instant success in his new surroundings. Bould won the English Division One title in his maiden season with the Londoners as Arsenal recorded a dramatic victory on the final evening of the campaign against Liverpool FC to snare title glory away from the Merseysiders.

A second league title followed in 1991 and a year later, he was voted the club’s Player of the Season despite a slightly underwhelming campaign for the team which included an embarrassing FA Cup exit at the hands of lowly Wrexham. In August 1992, Steve Bould ensured his name with be in Arsenal’s Premier League record books forever. After 28 minutes of the club’s first match of the new era, he headed home the opening goal at home to Norwich City. Norwich stormed back from 2-0 down to claim a very surprising 4-2 victory but no-one could take this feat away from the centre-back. Fittingly, it was another centre-back in Shkodran Mustafi who recently scored the Gunners’ 1000th home Premier League goal against Watford in March 2018.

Injury ruled him out of Arsenal’s double domestic cup success of 1993 and it was his deputy, Andy Linighan, who scored the winner in the FA Cup final replay victory over Sheffield Wednesday. However, he returned to the first-team fold in time for the second Premier League season, winning the Cup Winners’ Cup in 1994. By now, Martin Keown had arrived from Everton and was a serious challenger to Bould’s regular place in the team. When Adams was fully fit, the pair would often alternate roles and initially on his arrival at the club in 1996, Wenger seemed to prefer using Keown. Bould saw this as an extra challenge and his desire to prove his use was never greater than in Arsenal’s double-winning 1997-1998 season. He featured 24 times and famously set-up his central defensive partner Adams for the fourth goal against Everton that sealed Arsenal’s first league championship in seven seasons.

After one further season in north London, Bould briefly severed his ties with the club to continue his playing days at Sunderland. When Kevin Ball departed in December 1999, Black Cats boss Peter Reid made Bould the club captain and he played 20 times as Sunderland finished an excellent seventh in their first season back in the top-flight. However, he was forced to retire from the game in September 2000 due to arthritis.

In June 2001, he returned to Arsenal and began working with the club’s youth teams, whilst studying for his UEFA coaching qualifications. He was head coach of Arsenal’s Under-18 Academy side that won back-to-back Premier Academy League titles as well as the 2009 FA Youth Cup.

In May 2012, long-serving senior assistant manager Pat Rice decided to retire and Wenger promoted Bould to the role as Rice’s replacement. On appointing him, Wenger said: “His qualities are that he has the experience of the top-level game. He has managed here. He knows our football philosophy and therefore there will be continuity.” It is a role he has held since then and therefore, has experienced being part of the coaching staff to win three FA Cups in the last five seasons.

A stalwart of the Arsenal defence for over a decade, Steve Bould has shown his desire as a highly-rated coach since being forced to retire 18 years ago. Whilst his name is never linked as a long-term successor to Arsene Wenger, he should be a figure that remains at the club for many years to come, due to his outstanding knowledge of the DNA within Arsenal and their excellent youth system.

Premier League Rewind: 7th-8th February 2009

Results: Manchester City 1-0 Middlesbrough, Blackburn Rovers 0-2 Aston Villa, Chelsea 0-0 Hull City, Everton 3-0 Bolton Wanderers, Sunderland 2-0 Stoke City, West Bromwich Albion 2-3 Newcastle United, Wigan Athletic 0-0 Fulham, Portsmouth 2-3 Liverpool FC, Tottenham Hotspur 0-0 Arsenal, West Ham United 0-1 Manchester United

Going into this February weekend in the 2008-2009 season, only five points covered the top four teams. Manchester United held a two-point lead over Liverpool FC and crucially had a game in hand too. Despite having lost two of their last four matches, Chelsea were still in contention and Aston Villa’s best run for several seasons meant they couldn’t be fully discounted from the title picture.

The weekend’s matches began at The Etihad Stadium and there was more misery for Gareth Southgate and his Middlesbrough side. They were beaten 1-0 by mid-table Manchester City with Craig Bellamy scoring his second goal for his new club since joining from West Ham United. Middlesbrough had only scored one goal now in their last six matches and their Premier League status looked in severe jeopardy.

In the 3pm kick-offs, most attention was focused on Chelsea who looked to close the gap on the top two. However, they suffered a damaging blow to their title hopes after an unconvincing display at home to Hull City which saw the teams play out a goalless draw. At the full-time whistle, boos from the home crowd were notable and banners were hurled out by frustrated fans, calling for manager Luiz Felipe Scolari to be sacked. Two days later, the supporters got their wish as Roman Abramovich parted company with the Brazilian former World Cup winning manager. Chelsea were now looking for their third manager since Jose Mourinho’s abrupt departure 17 months earlier.

Their slip-up allowed Aston Villa to capitalise. They won 2-0 away at Blackburn Rovers, courtesy of goals from James Milner and Gabriel Agbonlahor. This meant they had achieved a club record of seven away victories on the trot and moved Martin O’Neill’s side into third place. They were now genuine contenders for a UEFA Champions League spot at the end of the season.

Blackburn remained in the drop zone, where they were joined by Middlesbrough and West Bromwich Albion. Albion lost 3-2 at home to Newcastle United but Newcastle’s victory was without their manager. Joe Kinnear had been taken to hospital before kick-off and health problems meant he would have to vacate his position. Assistant manager Chris Hughton would take caretaker charge. Peter Lovenkrands scored his first goal for the club in this five-goal contest.

With Manchester United not playing until the Sunday, Liverpool FC had the chance to go top of the table for a few hours at least. They did it the hard way away to Portsmouth but got the job done. Fernando Torres came off the bench to score a last-minute winner as Rafa Benitez’s side won 3-2, despite trailing twice in the game at Fratton Park. The result left Pompey just four points clear of trouble and they decided to wield the axe on Tony Adams as manager, only a few hours before Scolari’s departure from Chelsea was confirmed.

So, could Manchester United respond? A question was asked and once again, it was responded in style. Ryan Giggs scored his first goal of the season and it was a fine individual effort too to breakdown West Ham United’s resolve at Upton Park. United won 1-0, as they continued their winning run. They hadn’t dropped a single point since returning from FIFA World Club Championship duty in mid-December.

Elsewhere, the North London derby ended in a goalless draw. For Arsenal, it started a worrying run of four successive 0-0 draws which almost cost them a top-four finish.

What else happened in February 2009?

  • ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ wins 15 awards combined at the BAFTAs and Oscars, including Best Director for Danny Boyle and Best Film.
  • Duffy is the big winner at the BRIT Awards, scooping three gongs, including the MasterCard Album of the Year for ‘Rockferry.’
  • UK unemployment reaches 1.97 million.
  • Many parts of the UK experienced heavy snowfall at the start of the month, causing plenty of travel disruption and the closure of many schools for the best part of a week.
  • Prime Minister Gordon Brown suspends PMQs at the end of February for the first time since 1994, following the tragic death of David Cameron’s six-year old son, Ivan.
  • Boxing champion Joe Calzaghe retired after 46 fights. He remained undefeated throughout a 15-year career.
  • ITV was forced to apologise after millions of TV viewers missed Dan Gosling’s extra-time winner in the FA Cup fourth-round replay between Everton and Liverpool FC. The gaffe saw an advert for Tic-Tac mints shown instead!

Referees in the Middle: Graham Barber

Premier League Career: 1996-2004

First Premier League Match: Nottingham Forest 1-4 Sunderland (21 August 1996)

Final Premier League Match: Bolton Wanderers 0-2 Fulham (15 May 2004)

One of the most familiar referees in the late 1990s and early 2000s, Graham Barber took charge of 169 Premier League matches during his excellent top-flight career. He showed no messing when it came to getting out his notebook, dishing out 624 yellow cards during his Premier League spell. That’s an average of nearly four yellow cards per match.

Barber’s first appointment to a Premier League came in August 1996 as Sunderland ran riot at The City Ground, beating Nottingham Forest 4-1 to record their first Premier League victory. His first red card was handed out to the Arsenal skipper Tony Adams for bringing down Newcastle’s Alan Shearer in a goalscoring opportunity position during a match in November 1996.

Among his other red card victims over the years were Nicky Butt in a 3-0 defeat for Manchester United at Highbury in September 1998. He also sent off Andy Cole in a Red Devils’ 3-2 victory at Anfield in September 1999 and Gareth Barry for foul and abusive language on the opening weekend of the 2003-2004 season when Portsmouth saw off Aston Villa 2-1.

Graham’s professionalism was rarely called into question. His biggest error of judgement came in a Premier League game between Sunderland and Liverpool FC in February 2001. Sunderland’s Stanislav Varga took out Liverpool FC midfielder Gary McAllister as the veteran bared down on-goal. Whilst Barber gave the spot-kick which was duly converted, he failed to send Varga off in the mayhem that followed his decision. The FA gave him a severe reprimand for failing to follow the letter of the law.

Based in Tring in Hertfordshire, he was close pals with Graham Poll and like his namesake, was privileged to take charge of some showpiece occasions. He controlled the 1999 Charity Shield which Arsenal won against Manchester United and the Gunners’ FA Cup final victory over Southampton four years later.

He also took charge of the 2002 Division One play-off final in Cardiff when Birmingham City defeated Norwich City on penalties and the 2003 UEFA Super Cup Final which saw Carlo Ancelotti’s AC Milan beat FC Porto, managed by a certain Jose Mourinho.

Two years before the standard FA retirement age, Barber decided to retire at the end of the 2003-2004 campaign. His final match was on the last day of that Premier League season as Fulham achieved a 2-0 away victory at Bolton Wanderers.

He moved to Spain soon after his retirement with his family and is now the CEO of Europa Networks.

Premier League Rewind: 11th May 2002

Results: Arsenal 4-3 Everton, Blackburn Rovers 3-0 Fulham, Chelsea 1-3 Aston Villa, Leeds United 1-0 Middlesbrough, Leicester City 2-1 Tottenham Hotspur, Liverpool FC 5-0 Ipswich Town, Manchester United 0-0 Charlton Athletic, Southampton 3-1 Newcastle United, Sunderland 1-1 Derby County, West Ham United 2-1 Bolton Wanderers

Although the destiny of the championship had been settled a few days earlier, there was still some issues to address on the final day of the 2001-2002 season. The main factor at stake was the final relegation spot. Who would be joining Derby County and Leicester City on a one-way ticket to the First Division?

The favourites to join them in the second-tier were Ipswich Town. George Burley’s side had finished fifth the previous campaign but apart from a brief revival early in 2002, they had failed to find the form that took them so close to UEFA Champions League qualification in 2000-2001. They went to Anfield and had to win to stand any chance of survival.

Liverpool FC were in no mood to be easy either. Midweek results meant a victory here would guarantee their best-ever finishing position in the Premier League of runners-up. They had beaten Ipswich 6-0 at Portman Road in February and another thrashing was on the cards when John Arne Riise fired Liverpool into an 11th minute lead. Ipswich did hit the bar and the Reds’ lost Steven Gerrard to a groin injury which would destroy his World Cup hopes. However, as soon as Riise doubled his tally just before the half-hour mark, the Tractor Boys’ fate was sealed. A mistake from Titus Bramble allowed Michael Owen to score a third seconds into the restart and further goals from substitute Vladimir Smicer and Nicolas Anelka put the seal on the 5-0 final scoreline. Ipswich went down and Liverpool FC had beaten Manchester United in a final league standings table for the first time since 1990.

Ipswich’s nightmare on Merseyside meant Sunderland would survive, regardless of their result at home to Derby County. Kevin Phillips scored the opening goal and although Derby equalised, these sides would be playing in different divisions in 2002-2003. It was a worrying drop for Peter Reid’s side though – a fall of 10 positions on their previous two seasons.

It was a day of parties and celebration at Highbury. Arsenal’s midweek magic at Old Trafford had meant they’d won the double for the second time in four years. Thierry Henry scored twice in an entertaining 4-3 final day victory over Everton to pip Alan Shearer and Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink to the Golden Boot award. It was the first of four occasions that the Frenchman would come out on top in this race. At the end of the match, Tony Adams lifted aloft the Barclaycard Premiership title which confirmed Arsenal were back at the summit of English football. Adams and Lee Dixon would announce their retirements from professional football shortly after the celebrations had concluded.

Another player saying farewell was Matt Le Tissier. ‘Saint Le Tiss’ had struggled with injuries for the past couple of seasons and had already played his last game for the club. However, he received a guard of honour and presentations on-field before Southampton’s final match of the season which was a 3-1 victory over Newcastle United.

At Old Trafford, there were no trophies to lift at the end of an unsuccessful season but David Beckham did sign a new contract on the eve of a sterile goalless draw between the former champions and Charlton Athletic. Beckham would only feature in one more Premier League season before joining Real Madrid in the summer of 2003.

After 111 years, Leicester City played their final match at Filbert Street before moving to the Walkers’ Stadium (later known as the King Power Stadium). They ended on a high – beating Tottenham Hotspur 2-1. The ground was demolished a year later. Elsewhere, Leeds United overtook Chelsea on the final day to finish fifth after beating Middlesbrough 1-0. David O’Leary was sacked though in June and Blackburn’s 3-0 triumph against Fulham ensured a top-10 finish on their return to the top-flight.

What else happened in May 2002?

  • Tragedy hits the rail industry with the fatal accident at Potters Bar railway station. A points’ failure was to blame, leaving seven dead and 76 injured.
  • After 21 years, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s award-winning musical “Cats” appears for the last time of its original run at London’s West End. It is revived in 2014.
  • Star Wars Episode II – Attack of the Clones debuts at cinemas.
  • Latvia wins the 2002 Eurovision Song Contest, held in Tallinn, Estonia.
  • African newcomers Senegal stun holders France to win 1-0 in the opening match of the 2002 FIFA World Cup.
  • After 26 years of occupation by Indonesia, East Timor regains its independence.
  • McLaren’s David Coulthard wins the Monaco Grand Prix for the second time in his career. It is the last time a team other than Ferrari will win a Formula One event for 10 months.