Ten years ago this week, West Country football lost one of its most admired characters, writes Andrew Clayton.
Adam Stansfield was just 31 when he died following a short battle with colorectal cancer, leaving behind a legacy like no other at the clubs he represented.
A lively centre forward, Exeter-born Stansfield endeared himself to supporters and teammates alike at Yeovil Town, Hereford United and home club Exeter City with his charisma, demeanour and knack for scoring goals.
Starting out at Cullompton Rangers and Elmore in the Western League, the Devon youngster impressed Yeovil’s Gary Johnson and was an immediate hit, as he became the Glovers’ top goalscorer for the 2001-02 season and slotted once in a 2-0 win over Stevenage for the FA Trophy.
However, a leg break on the opening day of the following campaign ruled him out for a year, and in 2004 he made the switch to Hereford United. He hit the ground running to help his new side into the Conference play-offs, where they lost out in the semi-finals, but the Bulls came back in 2006 with Stansfield starting as they earned a place back in the Football League.
That year, the striker returned to his home city with the Grecians, who were then toiling in the Conference. His time at St James Park, which included back-to-back promotions into the English third tier, is now ingrained into the club’s history.
Now, Adam’s memory is upheld by all those involved with Exeter, whether they were old enough to remember him play or not. The club’s new grandstand bears his name, while his number nine shirt was retired by the club for nine seasons. After consulting with the Adam Stansfield Foundation, set up by his widow Marie, it was decided that Adam’s jersey would be brought back this year for a homegrown player, bestowed to academy striker Ben Seymour for 2020-21.
Grecians manager Matt Taylor played alongside Stansfield after signing in 2007. He said: “My main memories of him are of him as a person. I was new into the full-time professional football environment but Stanno welcomed me and was a great character to have in the changing room – someone for the younger players to look up to and admire, but also someone who went out of his way to make you welcome.
“You would walk past him, he would smile, he would say, ‘Hello’, you’d grab a beer with him and he’d smile, in training he would run after a ball and keep on smiling, it was just his attitude and personality. As a person he was second to none.”
For the supporters, Stansfield’s legacy means just as much. Tom Vickery and his brother Jack religiously follow the Grecians home and away, and some of Tom’s fondest match memories were of watching their number nine.
Last year, the pair took on the Great West half-marathon on behalf of the Adam Stansfield Foundation, but decided to keep raising funds through auctions on football shirts, going on to make more than £65,000 in donations.
Just this week, the Vickerys have taken bids on jerseys signed by the current Liverpool squad, Burnley goalkeeper Nick Pope and even Plymouth Argyle team members.
Speaking to The Independent, Tom Vickery explained just what it means to support the cause and celebrate an Exeter City legend.
“People are aware of Adam and they’re just brilliant, asking what they can do,” he said. “I think that sums Adam up really, that they know his name and his career.
“All you see is pure love for him, because I think he was just brilliant with the fans. It was just his work rate; we could be 4-0 down and he would still be giving absolutely everything.
“It does go a long way. I haven’t seen someone work as hard as him, it’s so hard to follow somebody’s footsteps. Adam was just astonishing and he has a legacy at every single club. The Yeovil fans love him, the Hereford fans do, and the Exeter fans sing his song every single game. The fact that Adam is still sung about after ten years, his name is still rung around the ground, says it all.
“Players move on and unfortunately lose their lives, but for his name to still be rung out ten years later, it’s quite special.”
Somebody who might be able to follow in Adam’s footsteps is his son, Jay. The talented 17-year-old came through the academy at Exeter before switching to Fulham, where has only impressed in lilywhite.
Vickery continued: “With Jay, now Fulham have gone up to the Premier League, it will show his quality. He had his chances before the lockdown, sneaking around the first team, but then Aleksandar Mitrovic came back from injury. Adam would be so proud of Jay. You watch him play and his work rate is just the same as his dad’s, it’s unbelievable.
“Legend is overused, but Adam really was a legend.”