Vive le garde noire!

by Mark Godfrey

Jean-Pierre AdamsIt should have been a routine operation.

Ruptured ligaments are a common occurrence, especially for footballers. However, the reparative surgery to deal with the damage to Jean-Pierre Adams’ knee became even less significant in the aftermath of that fateful hospital visit…

Adams was born in Dakar, Senegal on March 10th 1948 and was raised there until the age of 10, when he and his grandmother (a staunch practicing Catholic) went on a pilgrimage to the town of Montargis in the Loiret department of north-central France. There, he was enrolled at a local catholic school and soon after, adopted by a local French family.

After a successful amateur career with RC Fontainebleau in his late teens, the defender earned his first professional contract in 1970 with Nîmes Olympique; a club whose first incarnation – Sporting Club Nîmois – was founded in 1901, ironically, as a team for Protestants only. More accolades followed during his three year stint at the Jean Bouin stadium – a Coupe des Alpes victory and a runners-up spot in Le championnat in 1972 were topped off by his debut for the French national team in the same year.

He became a regular for Les bleus once he had transferred to OGC Nice in 1973, gaining 22 caps. It was on international duty that he met another trailblazing black French player, Marius Trésor. Their defensive partnership became known as ‘Le garde noire’ – The Black Guard – a crude and latterly non-PC nickname probably assigned to them in reference to a famous brigade of West African and black Moroccan soldiers who were renowned for their bravery and loyalty to the King of Morocco from the 17th century and right through the time of French colonization of north-west Africa.

Trésor himself did not actually hail directly from Africa. He was born on the French-ruled island of Guadeloupe in the Caribbean. His club career was more prominent than that of Adams, having an eight year spell with Olympique Marseille, where he won a French Cup in 1976, and a four year stay with Girondins Bordeaux where he concluded his 15 years as a professional with a Ligue 1 winners medal in 1984. His international career was also more notable than his friend’s. Trésor was the first black player to captain France, which he did on 24 occasions from 1976 to 1979; the first time coming in a World Cup qualifier against Bulgaria in Sofia. The game finished in a 2-2 draw.

He was also a key member of the exciting France side of the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. Famously, he scored France’s second goal early in extra-time of the epic World Cup semi-final defeat to West Germany in 1982. The French, possibly just eclipsed by the brilliant Brazilians, were the moral victors of the tournament playing with a joie de vivre that would invigorate them at the European Championships on home soil just two years later. By the time of that Michel Platini-inspired success, Trésor had hung up his boots.

Sadly for Adams, retirement was not a self-determined career move.

Although remembered as one half of ‘The Black Guard’, his international appearances dried up after 1976 and once he left Paris St.Germain in 1979, Adams gradually wound down his time in French football; firstly with FC Mulhouse and finally with amateur club, FC Chalon.

Having suffered a knee ligament injury, Adams was admitted to the Édouard Herriot Hospital in Lyon. What should have been a straightforward procedure went catastrophically wrong when a mistake in the administration of anaesthesia resulted in Adams suffering a bronchospasm – starving his brain of oxygen.  On March 17th, 1982 Jean-Pierre Adams lapsed into a coma; a state in which, incredibly, he remains today. A court hearing after the tragedy concluded that an error by hospital staff was critical to Adams’ condition.

He now ‘lives’ permanently comatose, tended to by his faithful wife Bernadette, who has been at his bedside at his home just outside Nîmes, for those 32 lost years. He has two sons, Laurent and Frédéric, who were 12 and 6-years-old respectively at the time of their father’s misfortune. They have grown up and become dads themselves; introducing Adams to his grandchildren as soon as they were born.

The family has survived financially on a settlement payment and handouts from famous players, including Adams’ great friend, Trésor. They still haven’t given up hope that one day something can be done to bring him out of his 32-year coma, knowing that medical science continues to unearth significant new discoveries and that people sometimes awaken from their condition after decades.

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