THE HOUSE OF THE BEAUTIFUL SLEEPING ATHLETE
Born in Dakar, Senegal, he was the oldest child of a very large family. Football was in the family blood and his uncle Alexandre Diadhiou played for Jeanne d’Arc, Senegal’s top team.
As a boy, Jean-Pierre always had a football at his feet. The family were devout Catholics, so he was not allowed to play football on Sundays.
His parents insisted he reach expected grades in school. If he fell below, he was stopped from playing.
Then his parents sent him to France to increase his educational opportunities. He was fostered by a family called Jourdain, in Loiret, a suburb south of Paris.
But he found it very difficult growing up in a largely white France. He began to go off the tracks – only his football saved him, and he was noted for his physical prowess. His college nickname was ‘White Wolf’.
After school he worked in a factory whilst still playing amateur football. He initially played for Montgaris before moving to EBFN (l’Entente Bagneaux-Fontainbleau-Nemours). There he got a serious injury that threatened his career.
He was also involved in a serious car crash. He escaped with just cuts and bruises, but his best friend Guy Beaudot was killed.
Then two things happened which saved him.
Firstly, he had to do his military service. He thrived on the discipline this gave him. Recovering from his injury he made it to the Armed Forces football team (he was still playing for EBFN when not on duty).
He also met, and fell in love with Bernadette – a diminutive, blonde, blue-eyed white woman. When they became engaged her mother refused to accept that she wanted to marry a black man. She objected to the subsequent marriage.
EBFN got to the ‘Championnat de France’ amateurs final three successive years – and lost each one of them.
Then he was invited for a trial by Nimes. Bernadette drove him north for the game. As he came off the pitch, Nimes coach, the highly respected Kader Firoud (later to be French coach of the year 1971) offered him a professional contract on the spot.
Jean Pierre played his professional debut in September 1970, in the number 4 shirt, verses Reims. He immediately became a regular fixture in the Nimes side. They were nicknamed ‘Les Crocodiles’.
Nimes fans still regard this team as their best side ever.
Jean Pierre quickly became noted for his athletic prowess and power. Angel Marcos of Nantes (also the captain of Argentina) said, “I always dreaded the two annual confrontations with Adams.”
Adams was selected for France to play in a tournament in Brazil, against an African Selection. He came on as a substitute to replace Marius Tresor (ironically, as they later became partners). It did not officially count as an international cap.
However, he got his cap against Colombia, where he conceded a penalty. His next game for the national side was against Argentina, where he was outstanding. He was the first West African to represent France (later to be followed by the likes of Marcel Desailly and Patrick Viera).
His first international game in France was played at the Parc-des-Princes, Paris – a World Cup qualifier against the USSR. Jean Pierre had previously lost every game he had played there. The press called it his personal ‘Stade de Desespoir (Stadium of Despair). But he was brilliant – and France won. He became a national hero.
He went on to win 22 caps, most of them partnering Tresor. Despite subsequently winning the World Cup twice, French fans consider Adams and Tresor the greatest central defensive partnership they ever had.
Jean Pierre was transferred to Nice in the summer of 1973. They had recently been promoted back to the French First Division. He was part of a team that knocked Barcelona out of the UEFA Cup (3-2), but got a red card in the next tie against Fenerbache and missed the tie against Koln, where Nice got knocked out. They missed him!
Nice finished 5th but shortly afterwards Coach Jean Snella was sacked. The replacement coach Vlatko Markovic, didn’t believe in exciting football – “Go to a circus if you want entertainment.” He didn’t ‘fancy’ Adams, so he dropped him. Nice finished second that year but the fans hated Markovic.
In 1975, Jean Pierre got another serious injury – and never played for France again.
In 1977 he was transferred to the newly-formed club Paris St Germain (PSG). After two mid-table seasons, his contract was not renewed. He moved to Mulhouse in the top division, again with no success.
So, he decided to call it a day on his playing career and become a coach.
He signed up for a weeklong, top level, coaching course in Dijon. On the second day he tore the tendons in his knee.
Luckily, there was a surgeon present who suggested an immediate operation.
He agreed. Bernadette was a bit worried, but he said to her, “It’s all fine. I’m in great shape.”. The operation was on the 17th March 1982.
Bernadette waited by the phone for hours to hear how the operation had gone, but nobody phoned her. In the end she drove to the hospital – to be met by a doctor with a very grim face.
The operation had gone horribly wrong.
The anesthetist had been working on eight operations at once, including a very difficult one on a child, which was taking most of his attention. A trainee administered anesthetic to Jean Pierre but got the bed numbers wrong – and gave him the wrong dose. He lapsed into a coma.
He was moved to a hospital in Chalon to be closer to home. Bernadette was by his bedside constantly, looking after him. Because she was tending to him, the hospital staff abandoned his care. This led to a major clash between Bernadette and the hospital authorities (and an outpouring of outrage from the French public).
After he contracted an infected bed sore which led to another emergency operation, the hospital authorities informed her his care was too complex for them and she would have to take him home.
But their house was not suitable for permanent care. So, Paris St Germain and Nimes, two of his former clubs, paid for a new house to be built. She called it the ‘Mas Du Bel Athlete Dormant’ (the House of the Beautiful Sleeping Athlete’. Both clubs paid her a large lump sum and a regular, hefty, weekly sum – which they have kept paying for 39 years. The French Football authorities have also given her regular amounts of money.
There were regular charity football games to raise money too, starring the likes of Zinedane Zidane, Michel Platini and Jean-Pierre Papin.
She took the hospital to court. Her case was led by the PSG lawyer – and took seven years to come to a decision. It was decided the doctors were guilty of “involuntary injury”. It took another four years before Bernadette got any compensation.
She said about Jean Pierre, “He feels, smells, hears and jumps when a dog barks – but he cannot see.”
She also noted he never seemed to age, but reluctantly admitted looking after him had left her exhausted. “I have the feeling that time stopped on the 17th of March, 1982.”
Euthanasia was suggested to her. “It’s unthinkable. He cannot speak – and it’s not for me to decide for him.”
His son Laurent joined Nimes in 1996.
By 2021, he was a grandfather.
Nevertheless, it was a surprise when he died suddenly.
Jean Pierre was relatively unknown outside France – but was a national icon in his homeland.
RIP – Revered In Paris