History Boys | Adam Newton

Adam Newton’s professional football CV makes for fascinating reading.

He served as understudy to former England winger Trevor Sinclair, got promoted from League Two in successive seasons and even represented Caribbean nation Saint Kitts & Nevis, alongside current Brentford captain Romaine Sawyers, on six occasions.

But with many of the Bees’ League Two winning side having seemingly dropped off the radar in recent years, do you have any ideas what industry he may have entered after calling time on his playing career? No? Adam Newton is a full-time, fully -fledged black cab driver in the nation’s capital. And he’s worked ridiculously hard to get there.

“You can’t beat being your own boss and having a bit of flexibility, which is paramount with my young family,” he tells BEES.

“But when I was studying for the Knowledge [a required qualification to drive black cabs in London], I found balancing everything very difficult. There’d be some days where I’d come in late from football but have to get up and go to work the next day and vice versa; I’ve had a long day at work and I’ve had to cut short to get to football on time.

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“It’s totally different from being able to rest, eat properly and then get to the game on time and be fully focused on the match ahead. I had to, but I adjusted quickly. It was a tough period of my life, but I didn’t want to veer away from it because this was going to be towards my future after football and providing for my family. It’s like doing a university degree and then you just quit it – I’m not that type of person, no matter how tough it was.

“It [The Knowledge] took me three years and two months, but the average is about four to four-and-a-half years. As much as you can put into it is what you are going to get out and what I’d say with me is, because of my part-time job as a courier, I was on the streets a lot which helped.

“A lot of people had to be patient with me, none more so than my wife, because it can put a strain on people’s marriages being away, being pretty unsociable. The kids were jumping on the map or scratching out my lines and I’m snapping at them.

“I persevered with it and got my reward in the end, got my licence, got my job, got the opportunity to be my own boss. Afterwards I managed to combine the two of being a cabbie and being a part-time footballer, which was so much easier.”

The career change gave Adam – who turned 38 in December – the chance to take a well-deserved rest after a 17-year playing career in which he made almost 600 club appearances. During this time, he turned out for eight clubs, starting with an enviable grounding under Harry Redknapp and a star-studded West Ham squad that featured the likes of Rio Ferdinand, Frank Lampard, Stuart Pearce and Paulo Di Canio, to name but a few.

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“There were some big, big names and obviously, at the time, very big characters in the dressing room,” he says. “We had a great squad.”

“As an aspiring young pro, it was good to be around them and learn from them. When it was time to work, we had people like Di Canio who was one of the most eccentric, charismatic individuals you’d ever come across, but what a guy, what a player. When it was time to work, he drew everyone up alongside him.

“Stuart Pearce, wouldn’t take any nonsense from anyone. Don’t get me wrong, he was in the later stages of his career, but to see him keep going at that stage was inspiring. Naturally, Trevor Sinclair played in the same position as me and what was nice as a young pro was that he demanded that I become better than him, run harder than him, train harder than him and he kind of took me under his wing. He was my inspiration, my mentor, so to speak, and, even though we played the same position, I’ve got nothing but admiration for him.”

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He continues: “As a young pro, you can only play reserve team football for so long and the game is based on opinions – I quickly grew to understand that. When things were going well, I was understudy to Trevor for the best part of a season, so I was always on the bench and around the first team squad. Unfortunately for me, he was quite a fit guy so he never really got injured and I had to be patient.

“In training I had a bit of a freak accident, which put me out for two months and Harry Redknapp suggested I go out on loan and get a few games under my belt, which was fine. I was at Notts County and things were going well so I ended up staying there a little bit longer than what I would’ve liked, but in the middle of that, Harry left, Glen Roeder took over and when I came back, the next season, he had different ideas. I spent the best part of a year in the reserves and not really near the first team squad and I started to understand that my future might lie away from West Ham.”

For the boyhood Hammers fan, his assumptions proved to be correct. He reluctantly departed Upton Park after a loan spell – and subsequent contract offer – from Leyton Orient and instead signed for Second Division outfit Peterborough. Adam soon became part of the furniture at London Road, with his 249 appearances over six seasons enough to place him in the top 15 all-time appearances makers in Posh’s history.

Though it was at Peterborough he had the rigours of lower league football thrust upon him, by his own admission, the years he spent with the club weren’t most gratifying of his career.

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“Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean it was terrible because I’ve been fortunate to have a career and every club that I’ve been to has had positive, successful influences in one way or another. But with Peterborough, it made me grow up very quickly. Coming out of reserve team football and working with a manager like Barry Fry, being a 21-year-old, you have to learn about men’s football ridiculously fast.

“So it toughened me up very quickly, it meant a lot more and the game wasn’t so fast, but it was quite physical and I had to adapt to that quite sharply. It started on a low with Peterborough because we were mid-table and then got relegated, but then it ended on a high, even though I left the club, with the appointment of Darren Ferguson.

“It made me understand what it’s like to win each week and maintain a level of consistency. It was a good six years of my life; it didn’t end great but that’s what happens in football. You move on and seek new chapters and new adventures.”

Those new adventures would begin with a season at Griffin Park. With bags of experience at League Two level and above, Adam fit the player profile Andy Scott was looking to add as he shaped his squad in his first summer transfer window at the helm and an informal meeting in a pub was enough to convince the player to move south.

“He was nothing but positive about what he wanted to do,” says Adam. “For me, just to hear that, I said: “Ok, cool, I’ll give it a go”. There was the respect that he’d come this way to meet me and I said I’d do my best at whatever he needed me to do.

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“I got a good vibe from some of the players that were there already. I knew Glenn Poole from mutual friends, I knew about Craig Pead from when we were younger in the FA Youth Cup days, I knew Charlie MacDonald from youth team football as well. We had a great pre-season, with a lot of hard work, so I understood what Andy and Terry Bullivant were about. It was just a great dressing room and I think that’s what I enjoyed the most and got to appreciate in my season at Brentford. It was fantastic.”

Upon his arrival, Adam became part of the unofficial leadership group that has been mentioned in earlier editions of ‘History Boys’, most likely due to his omnipresent nature during his time at Peterborough. That influence landed him the role of captain during Kevin O’Connor’s injury absence and, as such, he started the first 18 games of the season. It was a privilege he appreciated, but Adam knew the role truly belonged to Kevin.

He adds: “Andy Scott made me captain but I think three or four of us could’ve been. Kev was always the club captain, though, he was always going to be because he’s a club legend. I knew how much of a good player and pro he was, one from playing against him but also, a good person I know, Lloyd Owusu, spoke very highly of him and Lloyd likes everybody. Working with him it was easy to see why he was a club legend. I just hope to have done my bit and been responsible for the team.”

Following those opening 18 games, though, he didn’t feature in the Bees’ starting 11 until a 3-0 win over Aldershot on 27 January 2009 – a full 13 games later. From there on in, he found himself in and out of the squad, failing to nail down a guaranteed starting spot at either right-back or on the right wing.

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That said, he started the final six fixtures and rounded off the season in style, scoring the second goal in the 2-0 win over Luton at a packed Griffin Park. And what a glorious strike it was. He picked up David Hunt’s square ball on the edge of the area, shifted the ball onto his left boot and curled past Luton goalkeeper Dean Brill. Not only that, it eased the pressure of Andy Scott’s lingering expectation.

“I took a little bit of stick in that week; even at the Darlington game Andy said that everyone had chipped in with a goal and he let it be known that I hadn’t. It wasn’t so much pressure, but the game was a case of, yes we’ve won the league, but in front of our own fans, don’t end it by just petering out.

“We finished it off in style but I think we were just waiting for that first goal and I got the opportunity to finish the second like I did and that’s why I got a bit happy! I threw the shirt down! It was a bit of a relief and I know Hames [Ben Hamer] was happy for me, anyway, because I couldn’t beat him in training!”

It was quite a way to bow out. Whether or not the strike had any impact on their pursuit, Luton snapped him up soon after his release upon the expiry of his contract as they sought to regain their Football League status after financial troubles had seen them deducted 30 points at the start of the 2008/09 campaign.

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The Hatters narrowly missed out on promotion at the first time of asking, losing to York City in the play-off semi-final and in the second season, an unlikely source revealed that Adam would be without a club in the summer of 2011.

He says: “We had quite a few changes of manager and it wasn’t to be there, but I found out on the BBC that I wasn’t going to get a new deal. I was on holiday and I found out on the website, so that wasn’t quite so brilliant and I found myself at a bit of a loose end.”

Undeniably, this was the period of time when his focus and mindset shifted, as he went on to explain.

“By then I had to think about what I’d be looking at after football: Will I get back into full-time? Do I want to get back into full-time, which was an obvious ‘Yes’. Woking were in the Conference South, so I went even lower than I had done. Even though I was living in Essex, I could’ve gone to a club that was more local but I met up with the manager Garry Hill, who was very straight-talking and I like that. The fact that I met him first, I made up my mind pretty quickly.

“That’s when I also decided to start the Knowledge. If I’m playing part-time, then I’ve got time to look at other avenues and search for what I could possibly do. The first season was a walk in the park, basically – 5-0 away to Sutton and it could’ve been more that day! The way we started the season, we set our stall out and totally dominated that league that season. We gave people a good run for their money but Father Time creeps up on you, a few injuries take longer to heal and as Garry Hill said, “Sometimes the dressing room is like your front room – you might want to change the sofa or the curtains now and again.” I think I was the curtains!”

After 169 appearances, four goals and a Conference South winners medal to his name, Adam bowed out of the game after the 2015/16 season was wrapped up. At 35 perhaps it was a good time to do so, with the spare time allowing him to dedicate his hours to his newfound profession. His struggle to balance his former and future careers was utterly admirable, but he concedes that being totally removed from the only way of life he’d known since a teenager was emotionally painful.

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“When I left Woking, it hurt and this is just me being honest. It hurt, not so much leaving the club, but leaving the game. I’d had 18 years of being associated with a club or a team and all of a sudden, I wasn’t. All I did was be at home with the family and then work in the cab. I had no training to go to, no match to look forward to on a Saturday and I found that very difficult to adjust to.

“I did help out on a couple of training sessions, but it started to interrupt my time to work and I had to decide on what was my priority. I quickly realised that the work became more important and that was my priority – my family came first and I wasn’t prepared to be travelling all over the place to play football. I missed it and, if I’m honest, about two or three months ago, I finally got over it.

“I’ve since played a couple of times for my cousin’s Sunday league team and I got my buzz just by playing that. There was no commitment, there was no stress, it was fun and it was a massive eye opener for me, playing on the Hackney Marshes. I got the buzz, the same enjoyment, just from playing football – it didn’t matter where it was. I understand my time is done in terms of my career, but I realised that I missed playing more, rather than coaching or being a manager.”

And though he may spend the day sat in the cab, Adam has by no means given up on the upkeep of his physical wellbeing.

“I played with an ex-Brentford side a couple of years back and that was good,” he adds. “And my old West Ham colleagues meet up now and again for a game, too. It’s nice for the social element to do that, but what’s also helped me as well is that I’ve turned my hand to a different method of training now.

“I box twice a week – boxing has always been a passion of mine – and I also do rowing now as well. What it was for me was finding a new or different challenge and I get my physical need, my emotional need out of those two things. I’m in a decent balance now and I’m in a good space.”

Originally featured in BEES Issue #15 v Blackburn Rovers (2 February 2019)

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