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Football News: Jean-Pierre Adams 'The Beautiful Sleeping Athlete'

Jean-Pierre Adams 'The Beautiful Sleeping Athlete'
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Jean-Pierre Adams

The sad tale of Jean-Pierre Adams began back in 1948 in Dakar, Senegal, where he was born to a family of devout Catholics. His grandmother Paule took him to Rome on a pilgrimage when he was 3 years old, where, in Piazza San Pietro, Pope Pius XII blessed him "on behalf of all African people". When he was 10, Paule took him on another pilgrimage, to Montargis in the Loiret department in France. This time she enlisted him at a local Catholic school, Saint-Louis de Montargis, and left the little boy there.

There he gained the nickname 'White Wolf', and after 4 years in France the Jourdain family fostered him and made him a part of their family, where he grew very close to little 'sister' Joelle, who was a couple of years younger than him. After leaving school he studied shorthand at college for a while, but he found it boring and so dropped out and took a job in a factory.

Adams worked for a local rubber manufacturer while playing football for local amateur teams and living it up on his time off. A serious knee injury suffered during this period almost ended his career before it had even begun and a lucky escape from a car crash with just cuts and bruises while his close friend Guy Beaudot was killed deeply affected him.

He had met a girl called Bernadette at a dance in the late 1960s and the pair fell in love and moved in together. At first her parents were unhappy and her mother refused to allow them to marry because he was black, but they decided to marry anyway and she told her parents so. They invited them over for a meal and, by the end of the meal, they were as much in love with Adams as she was. Bernadette's mother became his biggest fan and would often give people tickings off in the crowd if they shouted anything racist about him.

Adams joined the army and played there and with amateur team Fontainbleu, who were one of the best amateur teams in France, winning amateur titles. He was recommended to Nimes head coach Kader Firoud, who offered him a trial in Rouen. Bernadette drove him up and he impressed enough in his first trial game to earn his first ever professional contract in 1970. It was not long before Adams was fully established as a first choice defender in the Nimes team.

Former Argentina captain and Nantes player Angel Marcos remembers him there well: "In the rugged defence of Nimes, there is a pillar, a kind of force of nature, a colossus of uncommon athletic power: Jean-Pierre Adams. I always dreaded the two annual confrontations." With that colossus at the back, Nimes achieved their best-ever finish in Ligue 1 in the 1971-72 season as they finished in 2nd to qualify for their first ever European campaign.

He was that impressive that Adams became the first African-born player to represent France when he made his debut on 15th June 1972 in an unofficial exhibition match against a CAF-selected African XI. His first competitive cap was later that year in a World Cup qualifier against the Soviet Union and quickly formed a formidable partnership with Marius Tresor that was dubbed 'La Garde Noire' (The Black Guard). In fact they were immediately friends from their first meeting, which ended in a pub crawl of the worst dives in Corsica!

"Adams and Tresor have formed one of the best central defensive pairings in all of Europe." - Franz Beckenbauer

In the summer of 1973 big spending Nice signed Adams to help them achieve their ambitions and he carried on standing out as a defensive colossus. France Football naming him in their team of the season said: "Adams remains without a rival in his role, where his extraordinary athletic qualities can match the best." Unfortunately injuries curtailed his France career after just 22 caps but he continued to dominate at the back in the league.

There was controversy in European competition with Nice 4-0 up from a first leg at home to Fenerbahce in the UEFA Cup 2nd round, when they travelled to Turkey. The Hungarian referee gave Fenerbahce a penalty that was reported as 'non-existent'. An incensed Adams went over to the referee and dropped his shorts and was shown a red card, receiving a 3 match ban from UEFA.

"He was a force of nature, very strong physically, and he had great determination and willingness. He was formidable, very patriotic and it was a pleasure to play with him. He started as a forward but then played at the back." - Henri Michel

Adams went on to play for PSG before dropping down to Ligue 2 with FC Mulhouse and then a year with amateur side FC Chalon before retiring in 1981 at the age of just 33. Adams made the decision to move into youth coaching and so, in March 1982, he travelled up to Dijon for 3 days of studying and training. While there he damaged a tendon in his leg and went to hospital in Lyon for an x-ray to assess the extent of the injury.

At the hospital he met a doctor who looked after the Lyon team and the doctor offered to help Adams. After a consultation the decision was made to have surgery on Adams' troublesome knee and he was booked in for Wednesday 17th March 1982 at Edouard Herriot Hospital in Lyon. Just before leaving for the operation Adams told Bernadette: "It's all right, I'm in great shape! They will operate at 11. Think of me and go to see me in eight days, and don't forget a couple of crutches."

It was purely routine surgery to correct his troublesome knee but the hospital staff were on strike when Adams reached the hospital. Despite that, the operation went ahead with an anaesthetist, and a trainee, having to look after eight patients at once, in two different rooms. One of those eight patients was a child that took up most of the anaesthetist's time, leaving Adams barely supervised and so the errors made were not spotted in time.

He was badly intubated, with a tube blocking the pathway to his lungs instead of ventilating them, meaning Adams' brain was starved of oxygen, causing him to go into cardiac arrest. He was left in a coma. Bernadette said later: "The female anaesthetist was looking after eight patients, one after the other, like an assembly line, Jean-Pierre was supervised by a trainee, who was repeating a year, who later admitted in court: 'I was not up to the task I was entrusted with.' Given it was not a vital operation, that the hospital was on strike, they were missing doctors and this woman was looking after eight patients, in two different rooms, someone should have called me to say they were going to delay the operation." Just to make matters worse, Adams had been put on the wrong type of bed with the drug used known to be problematic.

The call Bernadette was given was to get there immediately, she explains: "I found him lying on a bed, tubes everywhere. I didn't leave the hospital for five days. I thought he was going to wake up and that I needed to be there." Adams was then moved north to a hospital in Chalon, where he was neglected by staff. Bernadette discovered an infected bed sore, that required yet another operation to treat as the infection had reached his bones. She was, quite rightly, livid over the way he had been handled and began legal action.

After 15 months in hospital care the local authorities told Bernadette that they were going to put him in an elderly care home, as he would be better off in there. Bernadette was unhappy with that idea, so instead she took him home to give him 24 hour round-the-clock care herself. Each day she gets up during the night to turn him over to prevent a recurrence of the bed sores, she blends all his food, takes him to the toilet, changes his clothes, shaves him, feeds him and helps the kinesiologist to ensure his lungs are clean and to exercise his muscles.

In the end, thanks to a lot of help from the French league, French football federation and Variety Club of France, she had a small house built, which she called Mas de bul athlete dormant (the house of the Beautiful Sleeping Athlete) where he could be next to the focal point of family life, the kitchen/living room. Her court case against the hospital took more than ten years to be resolved, with Bernadette stating that she has never once received an apology for what happened.

Eventually, in 1989, the medical staff were found guilty of "involuntary injury" but, even then it was a further five years before she was awarded any compensation, which took the form of an annuity. The anaesthetist and trainee were given 1 month suspended sentences and a small fine, while Adams continues on an existence in a "persistent vegetative state" having suffered catastrophic brain damage. He can breath without a machine, feel, smell, hear, even jumping when a dog barks, but he cannot see or shut his eyes.

Bernadette says that: "I talk to him all the time - about TV, what's in the mall, anything. There is always movement around him. He is always next to us. The more time that passes, the more bothered I get. His condition does not get any worse, so who knows? If one day, medical science evolves, then why not? Will there be a day when they'll know how to do something for him? I don't know."

It is all a long way from the flamboyant joker who loved his clothes, music and nights out on the town. A former team-mate of his from Nimes remembered him: "He loved to dress in a white jacket and a pink shirt, a couple of years ahead of John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever. When it was hot, he was able to change his shirt three times a day." It is not just what the world has missed out on, it is what Adams has missed out on, such as his son Laurent signing for Nimes in 1996, though he was unable to make it at the club. Could things have been different if he had his father there to guide him? Then there are the grandchildren he has never been able to enjoy. It is a sad way for such a great athlete to spend his days, unable to interact with the world around him.

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Written by Tris Burke July 24 2019 16:08:34


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