24 years on from EURO 96, England's captain Tony Adams tells his side of the story

It’s 24 years to the day since England opened up the UEFA EURO 96 competition at Wembley Stadium. As we look back to what turned out to be a memorable few weeks in the summer of 1996, former Three Lions captain Tony Adams lifts the lid on the tournament from his footballing, and personal perspective…

Monday 08 Jun 2020
Tony Adams was England's captain at EURO 96, while hiding his own inner turmoil throughout the competition

I was obsessed with that tournament and it is a really special memory for me for many reasons.

It was also a very dark period of my life off the pitch, but on the pitch was the only place that I felt okay, so I pretty much threw myself into the Euros.

I remember going to Hong Kong before the tournament, when I was at a stage with my alcoholism that I knew if I picked up a drink, I wouldn’t have made the tournament.

All the guys wanted to go out and because I had this mask of the captain and the leader, I felt I should go too but I knew if I’d picked up a drink I don’t know if I could’ve stopped and would’ve missed the tournament.

So I locked myself on the 15th floor of the hotel and all the lads went out and had the infamous dentist’s chair while I was in my room, crying my eyes out and scared to death because I knew at that point, after I’d had five or six months trying to moderate my drinking, nothing had worked.

Fully focused against Switzerland in the opening game of EURO 96

But I knew that I could abstain from alcohol while I was playing football, as it was the only thing I had at that moment.

I was fully committed and very proud and sitting down before that Swiss game, I was totally focused on that game and that tournament despite having so much else going on elsewhere.

The year of 1996 had started dramatically. My wife had gone into rehab in the January of that year and then I had my cartilage taken out in the February.

My rehab was basically a month down the pub, which wasn’t particularly great. So I hardly played any games for Arsenal until the end of that season and then went straight to Hong Kong with England, where I played one game against the Chinese national team before our first game against Switzerland.

Leading out England in EURO 96 was something I threw myself into

In the meantime, my wife had also told me she wasn’t coming home, my mother-in-law had taken the children as I couldn’t look after them, so I had to deal with the stress and fear of having no life to go back to.

I certainly had the inner resolve before that Swiss game to get through stuff but a month after the tournament, I was thinking about if I might die.

When you’re in that kind of place, it’s irrelevant what you’re going to say to yourself. I was very lost.

But I played some of the best football of my career in the tournament.

I'm now 24 years sober, and that started after EURO 96

We spoke to Terry Venables many times about whether we should have gone to a back four and did we over complicate things, but we all bought into the system, understood it and did our best.

And we were so close to getting to the Final, with Gazza being inches away in the semi-final.

I still think we were the best team in the tournament – we were all winners and there were good characters and leaders in the team.

In action for Arsenal in 1997, after the tournament and the start of my recovery

The way we went about it, we sometimes put ourselves down in this country when comparing ourselves on a technical basis, but we showed people across the world that we weren’t a kick and rush team.

I was lucky, I had a long career and won lots of things with Arsenal, but playing for your country is another level and to lead your country out at a tournament at home - it takes guts, but I embraced it, was very proud of it and loved it every single minute of it.

However I became a better player after that when I’d finally put down the booze and looking back, I needed all the pain, experience, joy and rejection to get where I am today - I needed that fear in my life at that moment.

By Tony Adams Former England captain