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Interview: Roker Report meets... ex-Sunderland defender Blair Adams! (Part One)

Former Sunderland (and current South Shields) left back Blair Adams joins Roker Report to talk about coming through the club’s academy and trying to force his way onto the first team scene under Steve Bruce.

Soccer - Barclays Premier League - Sunderland v Everton - Stadium Of Light Photo by Mike Egerton - PA Images via Getty Images

Former England-under-20 international Blair Adams was involved in the first-team setup during Steve Bruce’s tenure in charge, but never managed to make a senior appearance.

He left the club in 2013 to join Coventry City, going on to have spells with: Notts County, Mansfield, Cambridge and Hamilton, before returning to the North East with Hartlepool United. Now 28, Adams is playing regularly for his hometown club South Shields, who are currently top of the Northern Premier League table by twelve points, alongside Sunderland loanees Jordan Hunter and Bali Mumba.

Soccer - Pre Season Friendly - York City v Sunderland - Bootham Crescent
Adams was an unused substitute ten times during his tenure at Sunderland.
Photo by Andrew Matthews - PA Images via Getty Images

MC: Many Sunderland academy players often mention Kevin Ball as someone who influenced their career - who influenced you as a player?

BA: I can’t speak highly enough of Bally, Ged McNamee and Elliot Dickman. They all played a major role in helping me develop as a footballer and as a person, I still speak to them regularly now.

MC: You were part of Sunderland academy when players like Jordan Henderson, Jack Colback and Martyn Waghorn were coming through - could you always tell that Henderson was destined to play for England?

BA: I wouldn’t say I always knew Jordan would go on to play for England. He was a quality player, no doubt about it, but Sunderland were always fortunate to have strong reserve sides in those days and so I don’t recall any players sticking out as a “he’ll play for England one day” kind of way.

I think the difference between Henderson, Waghorn and Colback to others was their mindset. They were all true athletes, dedicated to getting better. Not to say others weren’t, but they just had that extra edge.

MC: During your time at Sunderland you were competing for the left-back position with the likes of Phil Bardsley, Kieran Richardson, Wayne Bridge and Danny Rose - how did you feel about the likelihood of yourself being given a chance?

BA: I was always in and around the first team so I knew I was close. There was always top players ahead of me in the pecking order, with the stakes being so high in the Premier League it is understandable why managers pick experience over youth.

When Martin O’Neill was in charge, we were drawn away to MK Dons in the League Cup. I had been training with the first team for a while so I was hoping to start. I travelled down but was left out the squad.

After that I had to wonder if my debut would ever happen. I think I left to join Coventry not long after that.

Arsenal v Coventry City - FA Cup Fourth Round
Adams joined Coventry from Sunderland in 2013, where he made 64 appearences.
Photo by David Price/Arsenal FC via Getty Images

MC: Under Steve Bruce during 2010/11 season Sunderland finished 10th, with yourself being named on the bench 10 times throughout the season - how did it feel as a youth player to be part of the matchday squad being around quality players on the Premier League stage?

BA: They were amazing experiences. I was really lucky to be involved when the club were playing some of the big boys away. Taking in Old Trafford and the Etihad were particular highlights.

I loved being part of the match day squad, travelling down with the squad and eating with the lads, hearing their stories, being part of meetings. At that age you just soak it all in, and hope it’ll be a regular occurrence.

MC: You were part of the squad during Sunderland’s famous 3-0 away victory against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge - what was the dressing like after that game following Nedum Onuoha’s wonder goal and Bolo Zenden’s hilarious dancing?

BA: It was electric in the changing room after the game. I remember a few of the players were going out in London that night and were asking me to go, but Keith Bertschin (Reserve manager at the time) had already text me to say I was in training the next morning! It was a little bit of a come down being one of the few travelling back after the game!

As a left back I was a massive fan of Ashley Cole, so I walked through the tunnel after him at full time. I wanted to ask him for his shirt but after a 3-0 hammering at home I didn’t think it was the right time.

MC: Steve Bruce was the only Sunderland manager to involve you within the first-team setup, how did you find him as a manager in comparison with Martin O’Neill?

BA: I loved being part of Steve Bruce’s Sunderland team. His assistant Eric Black was a brilliant coach, his sessions were always well designed and engaging, and I felt the two of them brought out the best of that team.

Martin O’Neill was a lot more reserved and distant, leaving training to his coaches, though he was good to me in terms of always keeping me involved with the first team during pre-season.

Soccer - Sky Bet League One - Swindon Town v Coventry City - County Ground
Adams represented England at the 2011 Under-20 World Cup in Colombia, alongside the likes of Jack Butland and Saido Berahino.
Photo by David Davies/PA Images via Getty Images

MC: Your first permanent move in English football came at Coventry following a successful loan-spell - with yourself having three loan spells away from Sunderland, would you say it is essential for youth players to go out and get proper men’s football experience?

BA: It’s massive. It’s not often you see academy players going straight into a first team environment without having experience elsewhere. There is a huge gulf in class between reserve games and senior football.

I was sent back early from my first loan at Brentford after struggling to cope with the physicality of the league, but I learnt a lot more from those three months then I would have with a full season in the reserves. I signed for Northampton in the new year and I found my feet at that level.

Without those two loans prior, I don’t think I would have had the same success at Coventry.

MC: Looking at your tenure with Sunderland overall, does it frustrate you that you never made your debut even for a brief cameo appearance off the bench?

BA: It’s a huge frustration, but I can look myself in the mirror and say I gave it everything to play for that football club, it just wasn’t meant to be.

I do wonder if the timing had of been better, such as now when the team are playing League One football, what could of been, but I’m proud to have come through Sunderland’s academy and to have built a career from there.