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'If It's Football, It's Vital'

An Interview With Adam Virgo

This summer, there are thought to be somewhere near 700 footballers who face uncertainty over their futures, and compete for an ever decreasing number of professional contracts.

One however, in the case of Adam Virgo, has trodden a very different path than most to get to where he is now.

"It`s never easy for a player coming out of contract. You hope a manager likes you enough to give you a chance, and when you`ve been injured for a period of time that`s harder, as managers will look at games played and your age and think 'what can I get from this player and is he value for money?`"

With a career that takes in the entire Football League in England and Champions League football at Celtic, unsurprisingly his options are slightly wider.

"I have had one or two offers from this country, and spoken with clubs abroad. Some managers think 'if I can get him fit then I could get a player for good value`. You need luck of course, but you hope what you`ve done in the past will help."

To say that Adam Virgo`s life story has been eventful would be an understatement.

"I lost my mum at 13 to a heart attack." Recalls Adam, however worse was to follow.

Later that same year, his father Bob was diagnosed with liver disease; and in 2001 his elder brother James, also a footballer, underwent a lengthy operation to unblock a valve in his heart.

In 2005 however, with Adam a key part of hometown club Brighton & Hove Albion, worse was to come. Far worse.

"My dad was burgled in January 2005 and attacked, which led to his death two weeks later. It`s still an open manslaughter case."

Adam was the first person to his father`s aid following the attack, and had to painfully relive those moments at an inquest into his death later that year.

Two men had broken into the property and demanded a stash of drugs they believed was hidden there. Those men have never been found.

A verdict of unlawful death was returned, and Sussex Police launched a manhunt to try and find those responsible.

In such circumstances it would perhaps be understandable if Adam had made the wrong career or life choices, but he instead worked hard on the pitch, and was rewarded with the player of the year trophy after a turbulent season.

That triggered interest from north of the border.

"The move to Celtic happened quite quickly. I didn`t want to go initially because of the stuff that had happened with Dad. I knew of the interest and didn`t feel I was ready, but the club forced me to leave."

Thanks to Adam`s performances for Brighton there were no lack of suitors, and the club is a very different place these days to the one which needed the £1.5m from Celtic back then.

"I had offers from England but none as big as Celtic, and the chance to play in the Champions League was hard to turn down."

Big things were promised to Virgo by Celtic manager Gordon Strachan, who had personally seen him several times while at Brighton.

"I was promised I would start as his number one right back, and then move into the centre of defence, but that was never kept to. On my debut I got voted man of the match in a game live on TV, and the next game I was dropped."

There was one match which encapsulated his time in Scotland.

"We played Clyde in the FA Cup, and I was promised again that I would start. The manager played a Chinese boy instead as he was told the game would be live on Chinese television so the club would get more money."

To further illustrate the mental strength that he has, Virgo recalls some of the more unsavoury times in Scotland.

"I received death threats on the phone and by post, and of course the usual stuff from Rangers fans. For some reason footballers are expected to take that, or in some way deserve it."

Adam could never quite establish himself in the team at Parkhead, and spent the second half of his three-years at the club out on loan, back in England.

Unsurprisingly, when he left Scotland his first choice was to rejoin boyhood club Brighton, and reunite with manager Mickey Adams who had initially brought Adam into the side.

"I moved back to Brighton mainly because of the manager. He had come to watch me train when I was a kid playing for the youth team in my half term holidays, and he was the one who offered me my first professional contract."

"The ground was a big factor as well, the club had recently gained approval for the new stadium at Falmer after a long battle. I could have gone elsewhere but I really thought this would be my last move. That never really worked out."

Sadly in Adam`s case the old adage of never going back proved to be the case. The club informed him that his contract would not be renewed, and the summer of 2010 brought about his first taste of the West Country.

"Yeovil seemed like a good move, I knew I would be a regular starter and I already knew Nathan Jones, the assistant manager. That always helps, and I loved it."

After a stand-out season though, Virgo was on the move again.

"I had agreed to join Wycombe in League One, but when Paul Buckle told me what he wanted to do at Bristol Rovers, and the players he had already brought in like Matt Gill and Matty Harrold I felt I would be winning a lot more with Rovers than with Wycombe."

"Bucks seemed a good man and three or four phone calls to me helped me pick the Gas."

Sadly the pre-season optimism which engulfed both players and supporters quickly dissipated.

"On paper that team was the best in the league, but when you sign so many players at once it can take a season to gel. We did well in pre season and at the start but we then had a few injuries, and a few bad results so the manager made a few changes which ultimately confused the players."

Buckle was given his marching orders after just a few months, and replaced by another of Adam`s former managers at Brighton, Mark McGhee.

"Injuries played a huge part in Mark`s time at the club. He had a good start, and stabilised the club well after Bucks but for the new season maybe the new players weren`t firing. He missed out on James Constable and also lost Matt Harrold and Gary Kenneth to long term injuries, and it does unsettle the team."

"Again us as players could we have done more, and I think Mark would have said he may have done things differently."

Rovers fortunes did improve however when following another sacking, former manager John Ward returned.

"John brought a lot more organisation to the club, and a bit more structure. Some players missed training sometimes before, with some fairly strange reasons. I have never known that in my whole career."

"The tempo of training has increased and he is on everyone`s case and doesn`t let much slip. The gaffer is a good bloke who had time for everyone, even the injured players. I never played for him unfortunately but he was always asking how I was doing."

Injuries have blighted Adam`s time at the club, and have meant that he`s never really managed to sustain a long run in the Rovers team.

"I picked up a micro-fracture of my right knee; and then I had a further cartilage operation; and a meniscus repair as well. I had five operations in total."

It was an unheralded time for lengthy injuries for Bristol Rovers, but is that purely down to luck?

"Bad luck has played a part for some of us definitely. I`m not saying the other injuries were the players` fault but injury prevention in training does help and I feel we just didn`t do enough of that as a team."

"When you start getting a few of the same injury you have to look at why that might be, and I don`t think we did that. Moving training grounds didn`t help because there was no gym for the injured players to use, so we were all in different places."

Adam remains positive about his future though.

"I have seen a new surgeon and started seeing a new physio who has sorted me right out with a new training schedule. I am looking at possibly moving abroad so it`s exciting times for me and my family."

After a long, winding road of a career, Adam has finally enjoyed a couple of positive years away from the pitch. He became a father to William, now 2, in 2011 and recently got married.

"I have come a long way personally in the last few months. I hope to stay in football when I retire but I`m excited about spending time with my family."

Hopefully that`s not just yet though. At just 30, Adam has experience that is rare in the lower leagues, and still harbours an ambition to play at Wembley. Either on the pitch or the stage…

"Playing the guitar is my favourite hobby! I`ve played for about 16 years and have even done open mic spots before in front of audiences!"

For a player who probably won`t be considered as a great for Bristol Rovers, I struggle to think of many I hope succeed more.

And if young William grows up with even half as much dignity, courage and talent as his father, he will do very well for himself.

Many thanks to Mark McBurney for the interview.




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The Journalist

Writer: Mark McBurney Mail feedback, articles or suggestions

Date:Thursday June 13 2013

Time: 4:49PM

 

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