Adam Virgo: Brighton, Celtic and retirement

Credit: SNS

You retired from professional football in 2013, How are you enjoying retirement and how is life for you these days?

To retire at 29 years old it is an early age in terms of where you are in your career playing football. I think the thing for me at the time was that it was not an impact injury where all of a sudden one minute I was playing and training and the next minute you are waking up from surgery and being told that your career is over.

It was a really difficult process of trying to get back fit and the rehab that you do to try and come back and all of a sudden you break down again and they were the hardest periods to get over.

I went and saw a knee surgeon in Andy Williams January 2013 who is one of the best knee surgeons in the world and he basically gave me a very honest assessment of this is the situation and you have probably got a year left tops if everything goes right but unfortunately that was not to be there was not lacking of trying and I knew from January 2013 that the likelihood of me playing football again was slim.

So mentality I prepared myself for finishing and then you are trying to find over avenues of work and what you are going to do next in your life and I think sometimes that life in general is about timing. You also need just a little bit of luck the year that I retired was the year that BT Sport started and the head of BT Sport was a Gentleman named Grant Best who went to school with my brother and I had known Grant since the age of six he used to come and stay at my Mum & Dad’s house when he would come home for weekends and when I rang him he said to me that the team had already been setup in terms of national league football and he encouraged me to learn the trade and do some jobs so I went BBC Sussex and started to work there.

I really enjoyed my time there mainly working on Brighton & Hove Albion games and at the time the National League duo was James Beattie and Steve Bower. James Beattie got the Accrington Stanley job and then I got a phone call in November saying right you’re in.

What I have now learned and what I know about the media is that sometimes it goes on reputation and who you are and that will get you a job sometimes rather than being good at it and applying your trade. So I knew that Grant putting his head on the line for me in terms of me not being the biggest name that they could have got but I think Grant knew how hard and how well I worked and what I could bring as a co commentator. I did not want to let him down and after working hard, I have not looked back since. It has been a good transition for me and I have been very lucky and even through I have lost football in terms of playing I have been given a second chance and I never take the games that I do for granted.

You mentioned Brighton & Hove Albion and that leads me nicely to my next question. You had two spells at the club during your career. How do you look back on your time at the club and what does the club mean to you?

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Growing up my Dad was a massive fan of Brighton & Hove Albion and back then they were in the old Division 3 so supporting Brighton as a youngster was not the thing to do as not many people supported the club. I think that is the biggest thing now you see that when I do coaching or you drive past the park you see a lot of kids now wearing Brighton & Hove Albion shirts where once upon a time you would not see one person in a Brighton & Hove Albion shirt and that is how far the club has gone as a community.

I see my career at the club in two completely different spells and I think that one was definitely more successful than the other.

My first spell being a youngster and being given a chance and I think when you speak to any athlete especially in football, and I would say Rugby and Cricket to a certain extent, it is always an honour to play for your hometown club and I was very fortunate to be able to do that and to put on a Brighton & Hove Albion shirt was certainly one of the proudest moments in of my career and of my journey in football.

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You played three seasons for Celtic FC. Given the size of the club particularly in Scotland. How do you look back on your time at the club and do you have any highlights or special memories?

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It was a very exciting move to Celtic FC for me at the time and I think in hindsight and the timing of the move was probably a bit too early in my U.K. career where you go from playing in front of 6,000 at the Withdean Stadium to all of a sudden playing in front of 60,000 at Celtic Park.

The move was taken out of hands a little bit that Brighton & Hove Albion were in dire straights really and I think money at the time and speaking to people within the club that the money that was raised by selling me kept the club in business.

If they didn’t sell me then the club might have gone into administration with another season in the Championship and the financial burdens that playing in front of small crowds and not really having a big budget for players to come in that I think that it was quite a significant transfer in the football club really.

When Celtic FC come calling it is always very difficult to turn down that offer and I think if you had asked me the question just then you could have gone to Celtic FC and you didn’t I think I would be probably spitting feathers more had I not taken that opportunity.

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I remember listening to Michael Owen when we went to Real Madrid and I think he would always regret not knowing what that move would have been like if he had not taken it. You go there with optimism and wanting to play and wanting to make an impression but I went to Scotland injured and that did not help my cause being injured pre season and then you are thrown into an Old Firm Derby and then all of sudden you are playing centre midfield, right back and then centre half as well as then coming on as a substitute upfront.

You are kind of playing different positions really and I just couldn’t ever really settle in terms of getting that regular first team football. When you go to a club like Celtic FC the times have changed where a squad is lot more used that what it was ten to 15 years ago and a winning team was kept to be the same team and the manager very rarely changed the team.

I remember after we lost to Rangers FC we went on this unbeaten run for around 25 games and it was very difficult for me to go on the managers door and say why I am not playing because the thing that he will say to you is the team keep winning. I got a couple of games in January when Bobo Balde went to the African Cup of Nations. I started against Motherwell FC and I ended up getting man of the match and I really felt then it was going to be the start and all I ever said to Gordon was that I just need a run of games to prove myself.

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I just don’t think I ever got that opportunity and when you are at a big club like Celtic FC they are signing players all the time and I do not think I got a fair opportunity to put my stamp on the first team to really show what I was capable off but I look back on the players that I played with John Hartson, Chris Sutton, Neil Lennon, Stan Petrov, Roy Keane and Artur Boruc. Players that are legendary and players of unbelievable world class talent so to have had the honour and pleasure to have done that.

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It made me realize the top end of football and I got to it to a certain extent and if someone would have said that to me at the start of my career that I would get a move to Celtic FC I probably would never have believed them. Not many people do get that opportunity but I just had the feeling of disappointment at the end of it where it did not quite work out how I wanted it to but that was through no lack of trying and effort.

The starts just did not fall into place and I think the biggest thing about it was going up there injured hampered my start I think if I had gone up there fit I would played in the first couple of games of pre season and I would have started the season and who knows what would have happened. One of mixed emotions but to get a move to Celtic FC was certainly my proudest achievement in my career.

You accrued good experience in England and in Scotland. could you say who were among the best players you played alongside when you look back on your professional career?

I was lucky to start off early in my career. I remember going on loan to Exeter City and there was a guy called Kevin Miller in goal who played for Crystal Palace in the Premier League and I got early signs then. Don Goodman was down there who know commentates for Sky and when you see players like that at the early stage of your career that played at a high level so you knew what you needed to do to get to that high level just in the way that they train and the way they moved around and there was just something slightly different about them.

I was very fortunate to play alongside Bobby Zamora in my early stint at Brighton & Hove Albion. He came in from Bristol Rovers and was just a phenomenal goalscorer, you just knew then that he was going to be a very special talent that would go on and score at the very highest level and he was also capped by England. He was far too good for us and we always went into games with the mentality of if we kept a clean sheet we will probably win the game because Bobby will probably score. It was nice to start my career at the same time as him and to go on to see what he would achieve in the game.

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The majority of players that I played with at Celtic FC when I walked into that dressing room and Chris Sutton had won the Premier League with Blackburn Rovers, Neil Lennon was a multiple winner of the SPL as was Stan Petrov then Alan Thompson who had also played in the Premier League. John Hartson was part of a very successful Arsenal side but also youngsters that had also made a mark in the Champions League at Celtic FC David Marshall being one of them, Stephen Pearson, Shaun Maloney and Aiden McGeady was arguably the best player I played with throughout my career.

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Then you had the unknown players such as Artur Boruc and Shunsuke Nakamura and I think that Artur was the first player I looked at and saw a world class goalkeeper. You play with a lot of quality and very good goalkeepers in your career but he was just on a different level in terms of his awareness around the 18 yard box and saving of the balls were different class and Naka was a Japanese international and I saw him play in the World Cup.

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He had great attention to detail when he was on the ball just something completely different I think if he had just had a little bit more pace I think a Premier League club would have snapped him up straight away because he was that good. I remember playing a friendly in Japan in Yokohama because that was part of the deal when he came to Celtic FC and we went there and he was like Justin Bieber there the fans were going nuts for him and that iconic status that he has in Japan was something that I had never seen before.

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Towards the later stages of my career I played with Glen Murray who went on to be one of Brighton & Hove Albion’s best ever players. Don Hutchinson at Coventry City. Robert Page who is a very good center half at Coventry and I have been really fortunate to play with lots of different kinds of players but the players I have mentioned are the ones that stood out for my in my professional career.

I can imagine in your position as a defender and utility player that you have played against many difficult opponents during your professional career, could you say which opponents stood out for your in terms of talent and ability?

Yes. Sometimes you come up against younger players and you see that they have got a very good future in front of them and the two I remember from early on in my career was Darren Bent and Dean Ashton when they were at Ipswich Town and Crewe Alexandra respectively. They were just very good all round strikers that you come up against and you realize who you are.

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You could tell that both were going to go on to play at a much higher level even at a young age they had great movement and awareness in the 18 yard box and it was always difficult to mark against. I remember marking Kris Boyd at Celtic FC and that was always a very physical test. Dado Purso was another good player who was very influential for Rangers FC in terms of them winning the title before I arrived.

I played pre season against Wayne Rooney and he is arguably the best striker I ever played against. Even times where I played against Andy Cole right towards the end of his career at Burnley FC and you could just tell his movement in the 18 yard box it was still sharp but slower than what it was once upon a time and while I was marking him I thought I am struggling against at 35 year old what would he have been like at 26, 27 when he at his peak at Manchester United and Newcastle United.

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I also played against Paul Scholes and Roy Keane at Manchester United and you always think what would they have been like in their prime even through they are coming to the end of their careers and they are still causing you issues and problems. The lesson from Andy Cole I remember walking off the pitch and complimenting him afterwards saying I am glad I did not mark you in your prime because you gave me a hard afternoon. You remember certain players straight away because they gave you a difficult time in games.

Finally Adam, Could you say who were the coaches and managers who meant a lot to you and played a key role in your development during your career in professional football?

It is weird because every single manager that you have played under even if you have good experiences or bad experiences that I kind of took a little bit from everybody really. Martin Hinshelwood was my earliest mentor in terms of finding me at Brighton & Hove Albion and giving me that opportunity to be seen because if it was not for him I would have never even been found. He scouted me and got me into the football club so I will always owe everything to him in terms of getting that chance and once you are given that chance you have to try to take it with both hands.

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I played for Micky Adams four times so it shows what he thought of me as a player and me signing for him shows what he meant to me as a manager. When I was younger Micky had that fear factor about him and he kept me on the straight and narrow and I think when you are younger at 17, 18 and you have just signed your first professional contract and you think you have got the world st your feet and that you can get away with stuff and I was always so fearful of letting him down. He kept me disciplined and concentrating on football at an early age. Mark McGhee managed to get the best out of me and gave me that chance to bring me back into the side when I was not playing under Steve Coppell and I always felt like I owed him.

At the end of the day football is about opinions. I would be training and playing exactly the same as I was for Mark as I was for Steve Coppell but Mark seemed to fancy me more than Steve and that is just football sometimes and the way that it happens.

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My favourite all round manager was Iain Dowie when I was at Coventry City. He was very knowledgeable and I liked his training methods and his mannerisms around the training ground. Some managers will deal with the first team squad and if you are injured you are not part of his plans and always remember that he made a mark of shaking everybody’s hand in the morning whether you were in the team or out the team he was always very honest with you.

I think sometimes managers cannot give you the whole truth but I always remember when I was leaving on loan I wanted to sign and he mentioned to me about the owners and he said I will be honest with you I think this club is only going in one direction and I don’t want you to be a part of that, try and find another club and I always remembered that because I think six months later the club went into administration. Iain Dowie also had great man management skills.

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Gordon Strachan and Gus Poyet two managers that I probably did not play as much under but their coaching styles were excellent especially with their techniques and I kind of take than on now when I coach. I still use of a lot of sessions that they used but maybe their man management skills were not as strong but everyone has good points and bad points. I think Martin Hinshelwood, Micky Adams, Iain Dowie and Mark McGhee are probably the four that have had the biggest impact on my career in terms of me playing well and progressing on in my football career.

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