Adam Stansfield: The Legacy Of A Legend

By Tom Barker & James Cunningham

‘Sing a song for our Stano,

We will never let you go,

You’ll will always be,

At City with me’

The impact that Adam Stansfield has had on Exeter City Football Club is astonishing. Overwhelming, in fact. Last November, at an away match in Plymouth, I was unknown to the Grecian fever just yet, so when asking who ‘Stano’ was, an Exeter City fan turned around: ‘Adam Stansfield’, he said. Asking what the rest of the lyrics were, the City fan happily explained the words before re-joining his other Grecians to sing about Adam Stansfield again. The Exeter City fans, excited to be 2-0 up after half-time, continued to praise their ‘Stano’, switching between their Stansfield song and club favourite Ryan Harley, consequently the scorer of both goals that day. Exeter City went on to win that match in Plymouth, and it is fair to say Adam Stansfield was with them the whole way.

Born in Plymouth, Stansfield began his career at Yeovil Town at the age of 23. He subsequently moved to Hereford Town, and finally to Exeter City Football Club (hereafter referred to as ‘Exeter City’ or ‘City’). Here, he made 150 appearances and scored a total of 39 goals. He died on the 10th August 2010 of bowel cancer, aged 31 years old. Hundreds of fans lined the streets of Exeter in order to say their final goodbyes to him at the funeral procession.[1] The city’s main streets were closed off on the day of the service, with tributes to Stansfield pouring in from all corners of the football world.[2] Exeter City Football Club retired his number 9 jersey for nine seasons on 2010, as a mark of respect for the player, whose impact on the Devonshire community continues to be as poignant today as it was before he died.[3] Furthermore, following Stansfield’s death, his wife Marie and the couple’s close family set up the Adam Stansfield Foundation, a local charity helping young people in Devon through sport and raising awareness for bowel cancer.[4] Due to a number of factors, ‘Stano’s’ legacy continues to live on in a contemporary setting, despite the fact that he was a football player for a mere eight years, and spent his entire career in lower-league football. Why is it then that fans remember him so fondly? How has ‘Stano’ become a symbol that defines Exeter City, and continues to be remembered every time Grecian players grace the pitch?

In the twenty-first century, male football players have acquired unprecedented amounts of wealth, influence, and power. They have become success symbols, masculine ideals that both boys and men aspire to become and imitate in order to share that success. Tributes to ‘Stano’ highlighted his human nature, the moral values he held, and the type of person that he was rather than his footballing talent. The current Director of Football at City, club legend Steve Perryman, praised Stansfield’s work ethic, saying that Stansfield ‘worked hard, he earned his money every day’.[5] Sky Sports Soccer Saturday presenter Jeff Stelling remarked: ‘I didn’t know him, but I felt like I did,’ before he stressed the fact that Stansfield had only received seven yellow cards throughout his career, and had never been sent off.[6] To people that knew him and those who did not, Stansfield embodied an ideal of masculinity and humanity that football fans believe is becoming scarcer in the world of big-money football, where certain players are more famous for their off-field antics or their social media posts, than their involvement with the sport.[7]

Stansfield was a family man.[8] He regularly attended City matches with his family, even if he was not in the team.[9] He was a role model to fathers off the pitch as well as he was to their sons on it. He used his social status as a professional football player to engage the local community and to highlight that although football is incredibly popular and influential in society today, it is not the be-all-end-all of life. For example, while coaching at a children’s holiday camp in Tiverton, Stansfield bought a boy a new pair of football boots because the boy had told him that his family could not afford them.[10] The fact that he was a local boy from Devon mean that people in the local community could (and still can) relate to ‘Stano’, his life, his struggles, and his surroundings. The local communitarian aspect of Stansfield’s life played a huge role in why he is so popular even after his death, and so fondly remembered in the local community today. Stansfield managed to give football in Devon a local hero, whose legacy has been well maintained and managed by both Exeter City and the Adam Stansfield Foundation.

Little more needs to be said of the man Adam Stansfield was. He was a class outfit both on and off the pitch, the perfect example of modern professionalism that many high-profile footballers could learn from. He was a footballer that not only loved his support but also loved the sport he played, and above all else he was a family man. Stano’s philosophy was remarkable, and it was this way of life that has become imbued within the Adam Stansfield Foundation today.

The Adam Stansfield Foundation was officially set up in September 2010 following the wish of those impacted by Adam’s passing to create a charitable organisation that offered young people the chance to take part in fundraising activities. Since then, the organisation has grown from strength to strength, now assisting children up to the age of 16 across Devon, Herefordshire and Somerset in a healthy, recreational environment. One of the key motivations behind the Foundation was to raise awareness for Bowel Cancer. Andy Cole, Chairman of the Foundation, spoke to Exeter Echo Express in 2014 reminding readers ‘we cannot forget why we are here in the first place’ – to raise awareness for Bowel Cancer.[11] But providing young children with the opportunity to play and learn about football is a huge part of the Adam Stansfield Foundation too. Playing or coaching the game, or just enjoying the game against the odds, Adam Stansfield is helping kids achieve their dreams.[12]

Trustee and events coordinator Shaun Parkin, also the husband of Stano’s sister, told Western Morning News (WMN) in August 2015 that since they started the Foundation, they have helped over 5,000 children through supporting PowerChair football in Devon, Downs Syndrome football in Devon and FA Junior Football Leaders Awards in Devon, Somerset and Herefordshire.[13] Not only that, but the Foundation has worked in partnership with ‘Know the Score’ to raise awareness for Bowel Cancer. Perkin told WMN that £150,000 had been raised and that much more was being done to celebrate the memory of Stano.[14] This marking the sixth year since his passing, the legacy of terrace hero Adam Stansfield remains far from a fading one.[15]

Stano’s popularity has barely waned and his memory lives on through the Foundation. No doubt, developing life skills and helping children in need through the sport of football is something Adam Stansfield would value greatly. He himself defied the odds before making it into professional football – and helping kids fulfil their dreams is at the core of Stano’s legacy and the Adam Stansfield Foundation. These are exciting times for the Foundation and we all look forward to seeing what’s in store.

Stansfield is, in many ways, the ultimate tragic hero. He was diagnosed with bowel cancer while enjoying a hugely successful period in his career, he was a renowned family man, and he never gave up fighting the illness that eventually killed him.[16] He is Exeter City’s version of Bobby Moore. An idol that embodied the values that City aim to represent. His legacy is one that the football club and the community as a whole seek to build upon, both on the pitch and off, mainly through the Adam Stansfield Foundation. The respect that the name ‘Adam Stansfield’ receives when uttered in Exeter and beyond is unmatched. While fundraising for the Foundation on Friday 26th February on a cold, windy day, one is struck by the amount of people who remember Adam due to the legacy that his life left behind. It is conceivable that his memory will live on for decades to come, as Exeter City and the Adam Stansfield Foundation continue to promote his image and develop his status as a club legend.

[1] ‘Adam Stansfield – BBC Spotlight – 11th August 2010’, insideout101 YouTube account https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ep7emC_3tsQ (Last accessed 8 March 2016); ‘AdamStansfield’s Funeral – ITV West Country Tonight – 25th August 2010’, insideout101 YouTube account https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7DMRONtmpAQ (Last accessed 8 March 2016).

[2] ‘Adam Stansfield 1978 2010 14 8 10 Soccer Saturday’ AS9FOUNDATION YouTube account https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d7JG9AY4P0s (Last accessed 8 March 2016); J. Healey, ‘OPENING FIXTURE TO MARK ADAM STANSFIELD ANNIVERSARY’ in ytfc.net (29th June 2015) http://www.ytfc.net/news/article/opening-fixture-to-mark-adam-stansfield-anniversary-2510334.aspx (Last accessed 8 March 2016).

[3] ‘Adam Stansfield: Exeter City and Yeovil prepare to remember striker’, BBC Sport http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/football/33817196 (Last accessed 8 March 2016).

[4] ‘Welcome to the Adam Stansfield Foundation Website.’, The Adam Stansfield Foundation http://www.adamstansfieldfoundation.com (Last accessed 8 March 2016).

[5] ‘Adam Stansfield – BBC Spotlight – 11th August 2010’, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ep7emC_3tsQ (Last accessed 8 March 2016).

[6] ‘Adam Stansfield 1978 2010 14 8 10 Soccer Saturday’ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d7JG9AY4P0s (Last accessed 8 March 2016).

[7] ‘Joleon Lescott tweet: Aston Villa player claims car picture was “tweeted by accident” as fans rage’, The Independent http://www.independent.co.uk/sport/football/premier-league/joleon-lescott-tweet-aston-villa-player-claims-car-picture-was-tweeted-by-accident-as-fans-fume-a6874611.html (Last accessed 8 March 2016).

[8] ‘Biography – Outside of Football’, The Adam Stansfield Foundation http://www.adamstansfieldfoundation.com/outside-of-football/ (Last accessed 8 March 2016).

[9] Adam Stansfield – BBC Spotlight – 11th August 2010’, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ep7emC_3tsQ (Last accessed 8 March 2016).

[10] Shaun Parkin, Events Coordinator at the Adam Stansfield Foundation, 11th March 2016.

[11] Exeter Express and Echo, ‘Adam Stansfield Foundation continues to grow four years on from Exeter City striker’s death’ (August 11 2014)

[12] Stuart James, ‘Exeter City and Yeovil Town to remember Adam Stansfield’, Western Morning News (August 4 2015)

[13] Stuart James, ‘Exeter City and Yeovil Town to remember Adam Stansfield’, Western Morning News (August 4 2015)

[14] Stuart James, ‘Exeter City and Yeovil Town to remember Adam Stansfield’, Western Morning News (August 4 2015)

[15] Exeter Express and Echo, ‘Adam Stansfield Foundation continues to grow four years on from Exeter City striker’s death’ (August 11 2014)

[16] J. Healey, ‘OPENING FIXTURE TO MARK ADAM STANSFIELD ANNIVERSARY’ http://www.ytfc.net/news/article/opening-fixture-to-mark-adam-stansfield-anniversary-2510334.aspx (Last accessed 8 March 2016); ‘Exeter City embraces the Exeter Pound’, Exeter City Supporters Trust http://ecfcst.org.uk/2015/09/18/exeter-city-embraces-the-exeter-pound/ (Last accessed 8 March 2016).

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