Tuesday, May 14, 2002
Bhoys savour Adams party, but will next trip count?
By Roger Hannah
Arsenal 1-1 Celtic
Celtic ended their supreme season last night as they had begun it last August - by pushing the English champions to their limits in an unofficial Battle of Britain.
Alan Thompson's spectacular free-kick was the outstanding moment of a 1-1 draw with Arsenal in Tony Adams' testimonial at a packed Highbury.
The end-of-season clash might have been less spectacular than the 4-3 thriller against Manchester United at Old Trafford but, with the Old Firm perhaps bound for England on a permanent basis, it was surely more meaningful.
And it ensured the SPL champions emerged undefeated from four testimonials south of the border, after successes at Leicester and Leeds as well as Manchester.
But while Martin O'Neill will delight in his team's burgeoning reputation among Premiership chairmen, the evening was really a celebration of one man's incredible career.
Adams' young children, Oliver and Amber, began the party for the most successful captain of Arsenal's modern era by carrying the FA Cup onto the lush turf.
Their dad, having lifted the Premiership trophy on Saturday, returned with the gleaming silverware to the adulation of a 38,000 full house.
Celtic's loyal fans were not to be disappointed either as Tom Boyd paraded the SPL championship trophy.
Adams' second testimonial, one well-deserved in light of 22 years' unbroken service, was always going to be more about back-patting than point-scoring.
Celtic chairman Brian Quinn chatted with the play-ers on the pitch prior to kickoff, but the plc boss was surely more interested in boardroom discussions.
Even if Celtic must reluctantly use the Nationwide League as a platform towards the Premiership, the power-brokers will covet a return to venues like Highbury.
And if last night's result will be forgotten among the revelry, the opportunity to talk hardball with David Dein and Co - just six days after speaking with Leeds chairman Peter Ridsdale - will have been worth as much as the silverware on show.
Adams' old cronies were wheeled out with the shame-lessness of a Downing Street cocktail party as Ian Wright, John Lukic, Steve Bould and Nigel Winterburn all donned the Arsenal colours again.
Any red-and-white donations reached a good cause on this occasion, however, as the Sporting Chance charity benefited to the tune of £500,000.
The skipper - with four title medals, three FA Cups and a Cup Winners' Cup to his name - was simply over-come by the occasion.
'To have a full house here at Highbury in my honour is truly humbling,' said Adams. 'I have had a truly incredible 22 years at this football club. I consider myself immensely lucky to have been given a chance to fulfil my dreams. As the greatly-missed David Rocastle always used to say: "Remember who you are, what you are and who you represent.î
'My mother passed away 18 months ago but she is still with me in spirit, kicking every ball. Regrettably, my father is very ill at the moment.
'But my parents supported me throughout everything. Now, of course, my own children, Oliver and Amber, are the most important things in my life.'
The tears welled up in the eyes of a Highbury legend as Britain's finest, albeit devoid of World Cup-bound stars, honoured his achievements.
Tributes were paid by Arsene Wenger, chairman Peter Hill-Wood, ex-England boss Terry Venables and former Arsenal and Celtic star Charlie Nicholas.
'Tony was just a natural, instinctive leader, ' said Nicholas. 'I remember when he made his debut and, even then, he was being spoken about as a future captain.
'But as well as being a good communicator, he was obviously a special talent.'
Adams' immense talent was still in evidence last night, even if he could have done without Shaun Maloney snapping at his ankles throughout the match.
The newly- retired Lee Dixon traded blows with Bobo Balde as though to pretend the Battle of Britain charade was a contest worthy of its lavish billing.
Adams then effected a stunning tackle on the effervescent Maloney, with Arsenal sweeping to the other end and Francis Jeffers watching his shot deflected inches wide of Jonathan Gould's post.
Gould and Thompson replaced Robert Douglas and Stilian Petrov as the only changes from the winning Pittodrie side 24 hours earlier.
Arsenal, by dint of their old boys' policy, rested Sol Campbell, Thierry Henry, Freddie Ljungberg, Martin Keown and Ashley Cole.
In Patrick Vieira and Dennis Bergkamp they still possessed class - but Thompson also exhibited that quality in abundance as he thrashed a free-kick beyond Lukic after 31 minutes.
Celtic lost Balde to injury just before the interval, with 18-year-old defender John Kennedy the first of a lengthy procession of substitutes.
Momo Sylla was denied twice in quick succession after the break as Celtic, showing little sign of fatigue after Aberdeen, sought to embellish their lead.
But Arsenal levelled midway through the second-half as Dixon - in nose-bleed territory at centre-forward - glanced a header past Gould.
Ex-Celt turned telly darling Wright won a great ovation as a late sub, with Celtic's stream of replacements including young French keeper Michael Herbert.
In the end, though, nothing mattered more than Adams' celebration and the charitable donation. But watch this space for the competitive rerun...