Micky, you joined the Albion in April 1999. How did the move come about?
I was working at Nottingham Forest as assistant manager to Dave Bassett, but he got sacked. Ron Atkinson came in and brought
Peter Shreeves with him, so I was kind of demoted and started looking after the reserves. I then got a call from (Albion chairman) Dick Knight to see whether I would come and meet him in London — that’s what I did and he talked me into taking the job.
So you went from the comfort of the City Ground to the uncertainty of Priestfield?
It was a difficult situation, a 150-mile round trip for Brighton fans to Gillingham, but they still turned up in their numbers and showed their passion for the club. The team wasn’t doing particularly well and needed a big overhaul of players, but first we needed to secure our status in the Football League because there was a move to Withdean on the horizon.
That move came for the start of the following season. What were your first impressions of Withdean?
That first look around was quite a shock for me really, because it was an athletics stadium and there were potholes in the pitch from the shot putt being thrown! It didn't look like a football stadium and although the club had a fantastic history, trying to get players to join was difficult. The one place we never took them, if we were going to sign them, was the stadium. We always took them to the Grand Hotel instead!
Still, at least it was difficult for the opposition as well…
What I tried to do as manager was instill a siege mentality – we knew Withdean wasn’t the most attractive of places to play football, but just think about how difficult it was for the away team! We beat Mansfield 6-0 in our first match there and we couldn’t have wished for a better start.
People still talk about the players from the Third Division title winners of 2000/01. You assembled some team, right?
When the history of the club is written and people look back, they’ll talk fondly about a lot of the players from back then: Bobby Zamora and his goals, Darren Freeman, Paul Watson, Danny Cullip, Charlie Oatway, Richard Carpenter, Kerry Mayo, Gary Hart, there’s so many — I would hate to miss any of them out. They were all winners. People said I ruled by fear, but the only thing they were ever fearful of was a running session after a bad defeat!
That side were tough cookies but they could play as well...
If teams wanted to play us at football, we played them at football. If teams wanted a scrap, then there was nobody better than that mob to have a fight! A lot of the time, the problems on the pitch that we were experiencing they used to sort it out themselves.
Not only were they good professionals, they were intelligent professionals. You have to give them so much credit — they were real characters.
Bobby Zamora obviously played a key role with his goals. What were your first impressions?
Bobby came into the football club as a raw 19-year-old and he looked like a little boy when he first arrived. But he was very, very intelligent; he had a real understanding with Paul Watson from free-kicks and he never worried about being on the receiving end of a vocal blast from me. The goals he got, particularly at Chester during the first season which persuaded us to buy him, showed the potential he had. For £100,000 it was a fantastic deal for the club. It took a lot of hard work from Dick to get that one over the line but I’m certainly glad he did. I’m just pleased that we played a small part in his progression up the leagues.
You left for top-flight Leicester City just three months into the following season. Did it pull on the heartstrings?
Moving to Leicester was a massive decision and, in hindsight, I wish the club had tried a little bit harder to keep me, but finances were tight and they got a good deal for me. After winning the league we were flying again, but we just didn't have the infrastructure behind it all, such as a training ground, to make me think that I could massively progress the club either. I left after about 14 games of the season, and I’m not saying I would have got them promoted, but I would have had a decent chance. The players just carried on and it didn’t affect them — that showed the characters that were in the dressing room. They knew the manager had left, but they also knew they were a good team and they did everything they could to carry on the success, which is exactly what they did, winning a second successive title.
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You returned to the club in May 2008 and the following season famously beat Manchester City in the League Cup...
You always hope against the big teams that you’re still in the game with ten or 15 minutes left. I wouldn’t say we played negatively, but we certainly didn’t throw bodies forward. We managed to get an equaliser and I always remember putting Cooky [Steve Cook] on at right-back, even though he was a centre-half and didn’t really know what he was doing. But the one thing he had was a long throw — and the game plan for the last ten minutes was to just throw it into their box and see how they coped. Luckily enough, we managed to find an equaliser, survived 30 minutes of extra-time and then won it on penalties. I remember the fans made an awful lot of noise and it was a great night for the club.
You have written a book, Micky Adams: My Life in Football. Worth a read for Albion fans?
The book is an honest portrayal of somebody who’s worked his way through the lower echelons of the leagues, both as a player and manager. I started as an apprentice with Gillingham in the Third Division and worked my way up to Premier League level with Southampton. From a managerial career, I started at the lowest level of the Football League pyramid with Fulham and then managed in the Premier League with Leicester. What I didn’t want to be was one of those bitter and twisted old footballers who thinks the game owes me something. I have to stress, the game owes me nothing. But having said that, I don't owe the game anything either, because I gave it my all. The fans can read and make their own minds up about me.