Remembering Adam Stansfield

Fans of Yeovil, Hereford and Exeter all trudged home on Tuesday night having seen their sides fall at the first hurdle in the Carling Cup. Yeovil suffered stoppage-time heartache against Crystal Palace, Hereford were comfortably dealt with by Colchester and Exeter fell after extra time to Roy Keane’s Ipswich.

However, sour grapes were to quickly turn to shock and sadness as news came through that a favourite son of all three clubs had cruelly passed away at the tragically young age of 31.

Exeter City striker Adam Stansfield was diagnosed with bowel cancer in April after being admitted to hospital with an abdominal complaint.

But the forward was thought to be on the road to recovery just last month, as he put back the start of his six-month chemotherapy treatment so he could join his team-mates on the first day of pre-season training with the Grecians. News of his sudden and tragic demise has hit fans and friends not privy to his recent condition for six.

A model professional and gentleman both on and off the pitch, Stansfield was not only a technically gifted goal-getter and clinical finisher, but a tireless worker that never gave up a lost cause.

It’s these traits that enabled him to become one of the most consistently successful players over the past decade: he is still, and is likely to remain, the only ever player to appear in three successive Conference Play-Off Finals.

Having joined Yeovil in 2001, Stansfield top-scored for the Glovers in his first season at Huish Park, netting three times in the club’s winning FA Trophy run, including one in the final at Villa Park.

Cruelly, he broke his leg on the opening day of the following campaign, forcing him to watch from the sidelines as Gary Johnson’s free-flowing side cruised to the Conference title before struggling to regain his place as Yeovil made their Football League bow.

In need of a fresh start, Stansfield joined the Glovers’ rivals Hereford in 2004, scoring 20 times as the Bulls reached the Conference Play-Off semi-finals. The following season, after sustaining a fractured cheekbone in a horrid aerial clash at Canvey Island in February, Adam recovered in time for another play-off tilt in May, sending over the most sublime of crosses for strike partner Andy Williams to equalise in the promotion showdown with Halifax Town at the Walkers Stadium (below).

With the Bulls back in the Football League, Tiverton-born Stansfield headed home to Exeter, where he would enjoy similar levels of success. And his two goals on the final day of the season paved Exeter’s path to the Conference Play-Offs, with Stansfield appearing as a substitute at Wembley as Paul Tisdale’s team endured misery against Morecambe.

Twelve months later, Exeter – and Stansfield – were back at Wembley against Cambridge. This time, Stansfield started, and this time, the Grecians won to end their exile from the Football League.

Not content with two promotions in three seasons, Stansfield made it three in four as City made light work of League Two in 2008/09 – the Grecians clinching the second automatic promotion spot, thanks in part to his 10 goals.

And he played no small part in helping the club retain their third-tier status last term, scoring seven league goals before his season was curtailed at the end of March with a mystery stomach illness that tests would reveal to be cancer.

Gone, but never to be forgotten, Stansfield will be remembered fondly for his part in one of the most bizarre goals in football history – for Exeter against Halifax in 2006 (below).

Team-mate Jamie Mackie burst through and calmly slotted the ball into the far corner, only for it to squirt out through a hole in the net.

As confusion reigned, Stansfield stepped in to ensure the goal stood by latching on to the loose ball and smashing it home. The goal was eventually awarded to Mackie, despite Stansfield’s best efforts to claim it.

Rest in peace, Adam.

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