Charlie Adam opens up on brother's health trauma, setting Rangers record straight, living dream at Dundee and kids' Johnnie Scobie song
December is the cruellest month. Charlie Adam will mark the anniversary of the deaths of both his parents in the coming days and weeks.
As the oldest son, he has borne a heavy responsibility, and continues to do so. An elder sister Nicola and three younger brothers have been boosted by his support. In the case of former Rangers and St Mirren goalkeeper Grant, 30, this has come most recently in the form of prison visits. As for Gary, 27, his diabetes took a worrying turn for the worse in the autumn. Unbeknownst to many, he was on a life support machine for five days.
“It has been a tough time for the whole family,” Adam says, while sitting below a portrait of Bobby Cox, a predecessor as Dundee skipper, in the Dens Park boardroom on Thursday.
“My younger brother just below me has been in and out of hospital and was on a life support machine for five days during the season – just about 6-8 weeks ago. It suddenly became critical. I had that for a good week or so. He was in a bad, bad way. It was touch and go. He is on the mend now, but it was tough.
“He is 27 years of age and has lost his eyesight. He has a guide dog, all through diabetes. Listen, it has been a tough time but everyone has tough times. We are not crying from the rooftops. We try to get on with it and deal with it as well as we can.”
This Fintry family’s mettle had already been tested again when Grant, who was on the bench for St Mirren when they won the League Cup against Hearts in 2013, was handed an eight-month prison sentence in October for embezzling money from their grandfather, also Charles, while having Power of Attorney over his financial affairs.
“Eight weeks he has done in prison. Eight weeks today in fact. He has done wrong, he knows that. He’s let everyone down. I hope this is a learning curve for him going forward and that he can put right the mistake.”
Adam has returned to the streets of his youth and found repeated woe. Amidst the gloom of a pandemic and his mother Ellie’s passing just under a year ago, he has somehow summoned the reserves of energy to keep a promise made last September to lead his boyhood team into the Premiership. And, to think, some suggested he didn’t have the legs anymore. They scoffed at his figure.
Technology now exists to gauge physical stamina. Adam’s contribution to Dundee’s 3-0 win over Motherwell, the first of two much-needed victories secured so far this week, was graphically illustrated on last weekend’s edition of Sportscene.
Adam rated first in terms of touches taken, passes completed and tackles made. The heat map produced was as if the contents of a jam doughnut had squelched out. Red blotches were smeared across the screen. He had, in short, been everywhere. Leading by example. A captain.
Mental health can be harder to evaluate and turn into pretty diagrams. There is no way of knowing what the longer-term effects might be from all this trauma. What’s clear, however, are that his duties as Dundee skipper help provide a panacea. The club is a crutch.
The badge on Adam’s chest represents a purpose. He is playing on because he knows no other way, with the bonus being that it’s for the club he loves and the team he always wanted to play for. It is also the club his late father loved, the one so many of his friends love. Even his two younger children, Annabella, who is seven-years-old, and Louis, who is four, are developing an appreciation.
“Now they are coming to the games they are beginning to understand,” he says. “They love being here. They never stop singing the Johnnie Scobie song (a fans’ anthem).
“They wake up singing it,” he adds. “I don’t know where they got it from. They just make the words up. But they know the song. As soon as they get in the car when I pick them up from school, they say: ‘put the Johnnie Scobie song on dad!’”
All this helps before such dreaded days as the first anniversary of his mother’s death aged only 54 on December 22, and, five days earlier, the ninth anniversary of his father’s death by suicide a week before Christmas in 2012. Charlie senior was just 50.
“It is hard knowing now it is coming up,” he says. “I know it is coming up, Dad’s one is a little bit different. It’s gone like that. It is still tough to take. It is when you get results like Saturday, or Wednesday (v St Johnstone), I know what it means. I am not doing it for me, I am doing it for him. That’s how I see my career. He gave me the opportunity. It was a tough upbringing, he was demanding. But now every result, it is not for me, I know I am doing it for – him and mum.”
His mother’s diagnosis of liver and bowel cancer hastened his return. Indeed, this Dens Park chapter might not have happened otherwise. His family, now based in the west end of Glasgow, were settled in England. As much as he loved the thought of ending his career with Dundee, a couple of testimonial appearances looked like being the extent of his adventures in dark blue.
“The only reason I probably came back is because of my mum,” he says. “That was the reason that pushed me here. They (the anniversaries) are going to be tough. I have had plenty of setbacks in my career, it is how you move on.
“I am more of a person that says you have to get on with it,” he adds. “I am employed by this football club. There will be times when I retire and I sit back and realise what I have achieved. Losing my mum and dad so young might hit me hard eventually when I retire and it’s all gone. At the moment, I am employed by this football club. It’s important to keep giving my best for them out there, that’s how I see it.”
There is another anniversary of significance looming. On Friday it will be 20 years since Adam became a full-time pro at Rangers. That happened on his 16th birthday, which means Adam is about to turn 36, a mere footnote, it seems, in a month already so laden with significance for the family.
There’s some poignant footage on Youtube from the Blue Heaven documentary from 2003 of Adam sitting at a table at Ibrox with the then Head of Youth Development Jan Derks as he prepares to sign a three-year contract, including the guarantee of £1000 for each first-team game he plays.
“Charlie, you’re a Ranger now, welcome,” Derks says, while shaking the teenager’s hand. Mum and dad look on, proud as punch.
Charlie Senior is recognisable as the Charlie Adam prototype sent out from the Fintry housing scheme in Dundee to inflict mayhem in Scottish lower division defences at the likes of Arbroath, Forfar Athletic, Brechin City and St Johnstone, then in the old Second Division.
A big move to Dundee United didn’t quite work out, although not because of the Dundee tattoo supposedly inked on an arm – “a myth”, affirms his son now.
It was, perhaps, more because of a lack of application – or at least the level of application demanded by Jim McLean.
Adam senior was determined Adam junior, a more sophisticated footballing version of himself, avoided suffering the same fate.
“Give it all or don’t bother,” he told his son, who took a train to Glasgow for training three times a week on his own. Sometimes over the course of a successful career Charlie jnr has taken such commitment to the nth degree but he won’t apologise for that. He was once banned from making tackles in training by Stoke City manager Gary Rowett because they were too full-blooded. “Ridiculous,” he says now.
Train as you play, something he learned at Rangers. “John Brown was tough on us as we were trying to be players, having to do jobs around the place. But I loved it. I loved being part of it. Every opportunity I got to be near the first team, I tried to take it.
“The under-18s would play on a Friday and if Rangers were playing at Dundee or Dundee United I would come home for the weekend and ask Jimmy (Bell, the kit man) if he needed help with the hampers. I just wanted to be in and around the first team to see what they were doing to prepare.”
He broke through under Paul Le Guen. “He was good for me, if not for others,” he says. He became more established but not established enough following Walter Smith's return. "I scored in Walter’s first game back v Dundee United – 5-0. I scored in the Old Firm game. I remember scoring at Tannadice v United. Moments you always remember.” His time as a Ranger came to an end when Blackpool signed him after a successful spell on loan.
Later there was an episode where he made flippant-sounding comments about Rangers’ financial explosion. The midfielder, then at Liverpool, claimed he didn’t care about the Ibrox club’s plight. Rather, he was more concerned about what it meant for his brother Grant, then an apprentice there.
“My brother was there and there was talk about administration and he was losing his job,” Adam explains now. “Sometimes you say things you regret. I certainly regret that because I owe a lot to that football club. It gave me a start in professional football. I never meant it in a bad way, it probably came across wrong.”
It’s significant now because he’s about to discover if Rangers fans have long memories or not. Incredibly, Adam is set to play his first competitive match back at Ibrox since his last appearance for Rangers, in an Old Firm defeat to Celtic, 13 years ago this month.
“There might be a few boos – listen, I made a silly comment a few years ago about the football club,” he says.
“It wasn’t that I didn’t care about the supporters, I cared about what the then owners were doing to the club. I respect Rangers, 150 years of unbelievable history. I got an unbelievable upbringing there.
“But I am not going back there to get applauded. I am going back to do a job. If I get cheered or if I get clapped, the buzz for me is running out in front of 50,000 again. If we can get a result, then we can start looking further up the league again.”
He is hoping to score at Ibrox for the first time since a 3-1 win over Aberdeen in March 2008.
“Absolutely. You score and you celebrate,” he says. “You enjoy it. These moments don’t happen very often, I keep saying it. You don’t know when they might happen again. I am not going to go crazy if I score, but I will celebrate.
“Anyway, Rangers won’t be worried about what Charlie Adam does, they will be more worried about the mentality of their players.”
Adam knows that if Rangers play to their full potential, then they will most likely win against a side who have conceded four goals in each of their last four visits to the stadium. These games pre-date Adam’s arrival and as much as Dundee fans are enjoying their team’s mid-season revival, there is some anxiety about the intentions of their midfield anchor, who they continually hail as one of their own. After all, he’s proving more than up to the task of competing with younger midfield combatants, even if Ibrox today might be one of those rare occasions when he is up against someone older than himself: former team-mate Steven Davis.
“I love being here at Dundee, I'm living the dream, and hopefully it can continue beyond the end of the season,” says Adam.
“It is about talking about other things. It is not just about playing, it is about the coaching side of it now. Can I get into coaching as well? That’s discussions we will have to sit down and talk about. No doubt these discussions will happen between now and the end of the season, there’s no rush.”
The issue might soon become academic in any case. Adam reveals there is a clause in the original two-year deal he signed which guarantees another 12 months if he plays in half of this season's league matches. Despite missing a few weeks with injury, he has already clocked up 11 which means just another eight to go.
Providing he doesn't miss any games between now and January 2, Adam will be on the brink of triggering another year’s deal as he prepares for his first taste of Dundee derby action at New Year against Dundee United at Dens.
“I am looking forward to it,” he says. “But I am one game away from a suspension. I am having to watch out. Sometimes, in the last couple of games, you see me not going for silly challenges. It is in my mind because I desperately want to play in the derby.
“I missed the last derby because of injury. I felt that I probably could have contributed to that game. I want to be ready and fit for the next one.
"For me it’s the biggest game, dad felt the same. There is nothing better than beating your rivals.”
Expect to see an arm pointing towards the sky amid the home celebrations should a victory occur next month.