This Saturday, September 10, would be Adam Stansfield’s 44th birthday. Stansfield died of bowel cancer at the age of 31 while contracted in Exeter City, but he never feels too far away. Exeter has renamed a grandstand at St James Park in his honor and in an artery at the Cliff Hill club’s training base is a sort of sanctuary for the former forward: a red and white striped home shirt. ” Stansfield 9 “on a bust over a pair of shoes, alongside photos, a schedule, team cards and shirts from his three professional clubs: Yeovil, Hereford and Exeter. Since his tragic death, Exeter staff can’t remember a game where fans didn’t proudly chant Stansfield’s name.
These days they have another Stansfield to cheer and love. Stansfield’s name and legacy survives through the Adam Stansfield Foundation and in the game through his eldest son, Jay, also a striker, who last week rejoined his boys’ club on loan from Fulham, for whom he signed at 16 years. His new manager, Matt Taylor, played alongside Jay’s father for three years at Exeter, who saw fit to take the number 9 jersey out of retirement for Jay to wear. The video of the transfer announcement went viral, attracting more than 3.2 million views. Jay is still receiving support messages from around the world. “My phone kept ringing,” says the 19-year-old. “It’s polite to answer and say thank you.”
Related: Dilan Markanday Leads the Way to Blackburn’s Inclusion Campaign | Ben Fisher
His debut last weekend inevitably sparked memories and a tearful Jay later cheered as fans watched from his father’s grandstand. His family was a guest in the meeting room. “He was thrilling,” says Jay. “He hit me when I got out of the car with my two brothers. The next thing I hear are people singing as I walk underground. All they were singing was: “Sing a song for Stanno”. To enter and be able to hear them and see the people waiting [for me], set the tone for the day. He was crazy. I knew it would be a great thing to come back and take the No. 9, but I didn’t really think it would explode that much. “
He moved home with his mother, Marie, stepfather, Oran, and his younger brothers, Taylor and Cody, both play soccer, the former for Elmore, for which he played Adam, the latter for Twyford Spartans, the former. Jay’s club for which his father also played. “I have a funny story,” says Jay, smiling. “There was a soccer tournament in Twyford, the last one with my teammates, probably three weeks after my trial at Fulham. My whole family told me not to play in case I got injured, but I told a little pig and said I would go watch and help manage. I ended up playing and we won the tournament. I didn’t think about it but my uncle was over there watching my cousin and my brothers. My grandfather was there too. They approached me, saw me playing and immediately called my mother. My mother went crazy with me. I wouldn’t do it again. “
Jay made his Premier League debut at Wolves last month and his first top flight start a week later in victory over Brentford. “They say I got an assist… I hit the crossbar, it bounced off Bobby [Decordova-Reid] and he scored, but I’ll get him, ”Jay smiles. But at 10:30 pm on deadline day he was putting the finishing touches on a homecoming. “I was thinking: ‘I’ll take the no. 9, right? ‘ Do I want to live in his footsteps or create a story for myself? ‘ But whatever number I took, I knew that I would live in the shadows and that the pressure would always be on me. Even though I have “Stansfield” and the number 9 on my back, I am who I am and that won’t change. I thought it would be a nice touch if I took the number 9. To be able to wear it and race in front of that grandstand means a lot to me and is something I will always remember.
When Jay came off the bench against MK Dons for his debut, the emotions were raw. Adam’s brother-in-law, Shaun Parkin, with a cracked voice, says, “When fans sing the song ‘They’re’, ‘We’ll never let you go’ when Jay ran … and everyone sang his name … bring it all back. back. “They’re, they’re, they’re.” It’s magical, it’s weird, it’s weird. It was pretty stuffy, really. Adam would laugh out loud at what’s going on down here. He’d love what happened to Jay, but all these people sing songs about him 12 years after his death “. Parkin’s voice rings out again. “People who raise funds in his name; his sister [Andrea] jumping out of a plane, Roger, his father, running his first half marathon at, I think, 65 with Andrea … it’s very special.
Jay has another shirt to frame and add to his collection. He has his father’s T-shirts on his hallway wall along with his at home in London, but he stumbled upon another treasure at home in Tiverton. “When it was the block I was out in the garden playing with my brothers and I found a pair of boots under the bed,” says Jay. “They were old [Nike] Tiempo 90s. I asked Mom: ‘Can I wear them?’ I went out into the garden and put them on and in my head I would wear them in the next game. I thought it would be a nice touch but they didn’t last, the bottom fell. I have several of her boots in glass boxes. It’s nice to have things around. Mom gave me her watch to wear to prom when I finished school. I love looking at photos but it obviously makes me angry, and I don’t want to be angry all the time. There are positives in life that I can draw from it. I try to be as strong as possible and to seem like I’m okay when sometimes I’m not.
Jay remembers watching his father play at Wembley in 2008 when Rob Edwards scored for Exeter to seal promotion to the Football League, and for years past he has searched YouTube for clips of his father in action. “I get a little emotional if I hear his name from commentators or something, so I try to stay calm and not look at him or talk too much about him,” he says. “My mom was telling me a story about her when she didn’t have a clue that she was going to start, but she showed up and scored the win against Oxford. I sat down and watched that game. “
Father and son share many traits: from their gait (“I always run with my hands in and thumb up, which he did too”) to their work ethic and, of course, their urge to score (Jay scored four hat-tricks in three games for the Fulham Under 18 team). “When he first ran down the wing, oh my God, it was deja vu,” says Julian Tagg, longtime president of Exeter. Jay adopted Adam’s pre-game meal – a ham and cheese omelette – but since he’s teetotal it’s not another ritual his dad kept him away from his league days. Steve Tully, Adam’s roommate traveling with Exeter, remembers the familiar knock on the door when room service delivered a pint of Stella Artois after the 9pm curfew. “Sometimes we would ask them to put him under a cover or put a coke on him,” Tully says. “We will find a way. He said: “He makes Me sleep, and then tomorrow I’ll be able to run all day”. In half an hour he would be asleep and snoring.
Paul Tisdale, the former manager of Exeter, has enlisted a psychiatrist to help the team cope with the tragedy. Adam was very much missed. “You know when a friend isn’t there because the phone stops ringing,” says Tully, who briefly coached Jay as an under 16 in Exeter. “He wanted to be a physio and I remember him reading his books, learning the science, the parts of the body – sometimes I had to test him – and I aspired to become a coach. He was saying, ‘Well, you want to be a manager, I’m a physio…’ We had these visions of what we wanted to do when we retired. When I see Jay on the pitch I just think: ‘We should watch that game together, have a beer, laugh and joke’ ”.
At Yeovil’s Huish Park a photo of Adam stands in their memory garden. Adam’s former teammates are shocked by the loss of him and blown away by his pace of work. “He To date he is the most selfless player he has ever played with,” says Liam Sercombe. “You could play him a bad pass, but somehow it would end up making him look like a ‘world’ pass.” Sercombe recalls that Adam joined Exeter on their pre-season trip to Saunton Sands about a month before his death and helped his team win points on a quiz night. He remembers the thousands of people who lined the streets and gathered outside Exeter Cathedral on the day of Adam’s funeral, when Tisdale described him as “the engine of our train”. “He loved being with the kids,” says Sercombe. “When I saw Jay’s interview the other day, tears came to him.”