17 January 2014

ADAM EL-ABD: "I THINK I’D BE A RUFFIAN"

I think it's fair to say that we were somewhat rocked here at TSLR Towers when we heard yesterday's news that Adam El-Abd had signed for Brizzle City. Not many Albion players down the years make it to 300 appearances - and it's fitting that he was brought on to waste time in the cup match the other week to take it to that number. But more than that, AEA was beyond just a stalwart defender in the stripes. He was a what lazy football journos label a 'character' simply because he had a level of intelligence far outstripping most sportsmen. We will never forget his transformation from a Withers hoofer to the passing genius he undoubtedly became under Gus. We will never forget the smile on his face having floored - and then stroked the face of - some of the meanest attackers in whichever division we were plying our trade. We will never forget the years in which he served our football club.

It wasn't until the end of Albion's first season at Falmer that we saw - in an otherwise forgettable Channel 4 documentary - Mr El-Abd cement his place in Albion folklore. Not just a wonderful defender on the pitch but an all around great guy as well, someone who really gave a toss about the club. A proper footballing hard man who bled blue and white and ended up being a part of a very decent Albion decade, culminating in top half Division 2 finishes at our Falmer-shaped footballing Mecca.

But before Falmer...at the end of the 2010/11 season, Albion were leaving Withers having done the unthinkable: we had won the Division 3 title having spent almost eight months at the top of the table. The club had granted us an interview with our player of the season - decided by our dictatorial panel of co-editors, Adam El-Abd. So we sent our roving reporter to the training ground in April 2011 to quiz the (sort of) Egyptian and secure this photo of him holding TSLR028 (just don't mention that month's cover star, FFS). The club knew we were right, and presented Adam with their official player of the season trophy shortly thereafter. To think, he was the last Albionite to win player of the season other than Liam Bridcutt. 

This interview with Albion legend, Adam El-Abd, was originally published in TSLR029 - the April 2011 issue. Reading it now, you can see just how much time El-Abd had for Gus, and that must - in part - have helped motivate his move to the west country. Let us look back fondly on the North Stand Ruffian...

TSLR: Adam, you have been awarded the fanzine Player of the Season award for 2010/11, slightly less importantly you were selected in the Football League team of the year; did you expect that back in August? 
Adam El-Abd: Oh I had no idea about the Football league team - it’s news to me, but of course it’s less important! No I didn’t - to be fair back in August I was just concentrating on trying to get in the Brighton team. That’s really good news really, really pleased. (TSLR assumes he means the league one award!) 

Who would be your player of the season? 
The team. To pick one is so difficult because there have been so many stand up performers from one to eleven really, hence the position we are in, we wouldn’t be doing this well if there wasn't a team effort. 

What do you think clicked this season compared to other seasons at the club?
Difficult - everything really, from the standard of training that the gaffer has come in and set (and) that is reflected on the pitch. Great team spirit that has been built since the Gaffer came in is the reason why it has clicked on the pitch.

All of the players say it’s great working with Gus, but what has he changed in your game specifically, are we right in thinking that Tanno has been leading the defenders in training? 
They both play a massive part, they work as a team, and (Gus’) helped me no end, made me think about the game more than I did. On the ball he’s made the defenders show for the ball and play around at the back, he’s changed that part of my game. Also he has given me confidence, made me go onto the pitch believing in myself which helps any player really. If you are low on confidence you don’t play well. 

It must be special to have a new manager come in and see something in you that the previous managers haven’t, what is it that Gus likes about you so much?
That’s a question for the manager, I don’t know. I think he likes players from 1-11 to give everything from the Monday right through and leave nothing in the tank at the end of the week. He demands that from every player not just me. 

What do you consider the best game of this season and why? 
It’s a difficult one. It’s a toss-up between either Charlton away or Peterborough away - probably Charlton because they had 11 men. It took the gloss of Peterborough that they had an excuse because we were playing against 10. 

Not including Harty, you’re the most senior player at the club now. What have been the biggest changes in your time here? 
Ha ha ha - is that right? There’s been so many changes that it’s difficult to put my finger on one. The biggest changes have been since the gaffer came in he’s changed the club right through not just on the pitch and how we train but everything involved in the club. He’s made the club more professional, little things like we now have our kit washed for us which is taken for granted in every other club. Making the club a proper football club (by) demanding standards from not just the players but everyone at the football club. He said ‘that’s not right’ and he’s changed it, and the playing surfaces at the training pitches - (he) made sure we play on better pitches so that we are better in training. 

You’re also a Withdean veteran. What are your feelings on the place now we’re finally moving away? Are there times when the facilities here frustrate you or do you love the place?
The playing surface is good. The surroundings aren't great - the noise goes up into the air, making it hard to generate an atmosphere. I think that on the whole we've had good times there really - the success we have had isn't bad really. Having said that we are really looking forward to going to Falmer.

What are your best memories of Withdean? 
There has been many this season. One memory stands out, when we stayed up in the championship, clinging on for the last 10 minutes - Virgo scored. And again when Virgo scored against Swindon. There have been many times this season. 

And the worst?
When we had already been relegated from the Championship and playing against Stoke, I was on the bench that day and part of it is that it was a bad day for the club and a bad, bad time. It’s horrible being relegated (and I) hope it never happens again in my career.

Would you be a 1901 club member or a north stand Ruffian at Falmer? 
Ha, ha, ha I don’t know - I think I’d be a Ruffian probably, yeah, I think so!

It’s Notts County on the last day of the season - Meadow Lane was where you made your Albion debut in 2003 so is it going to be quite special to finish your best season there 8 years later?
Fingers crossed. It is special. It was my league debut there and we won 2-1 and I haven’t played there since. I remember it like yesterday, you never forget your debut.

You put the cross in for the winner... 
I did yeah, we won 2-1. It will be great to go back there and lift the championship trophy.

Southampton away. What’s it like to see inside your own leg? 
Oh yeah my scar, look - it wasn't very pleasant. I've done my calf before (shows another scar!) - same thing. It looks a lot worse than it feels - it was the sight of it that made me light headed - it wasn't nice. 

One of the finest songs we sing is yours. How much do you enjoy that? As much as us? 
I've heard one or two - everyone likes to hear their name (as) it gives them a buzz. Probably more than the fans yeah! Ha ha!

The two previous winners of our award have been Andy Whing and Elliott Bennett... Do you think next year will involve £1 million bids coming in for you or going out on loan to Orient?
Ha ha, well those are two far ends of the spectrum, who knows what the future holds - not expecting any bids, no!

What’s your favourite biscuit?
Chocolate digestive with the caramel in. They are called caramel I think.

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