No-one will ever forget the impact Adam Stansfield made on Hereford culminating in the Conference Play-off final against Halifax at the Walkers Stadium on May 20th, 2006. I can still see him racing down the right wing before dispatching a beautiful cross for Andy Williams to head home an equaliser. But Stansfield was no one-match wonder.
“Stanno” was a tireless striker, the commitment he showed to every club he played for was unbelievable. A forward who throughout his career would never give up, as no cause was ever a lost cause. A model professional and gentleman both on and off the pitch. Stansfield was a technically gifted marksman and clinical finisher. It was incredibly sad news when I heard he had lost his battle with colon cancer at the age of 31, on 10 August 2010.
Adam was born in Plymouth on 10 September 1978, but first came to attention as a centre-forward in Worcestershire, playing for Evesham Colts U-10s. He went on to gain schoolboy county honours for Devon too after his family moved back to the south-west of the country. In youth football he scored 84 goals in 54 matches for Twyford Spartans and had a spell at Tiverton Town, before featuring for his first senior club Cullompton Rangers.
He later linked up with Elmore and was offered trials at Exeter City, Wolverhampton Wanderers and Torquay United, before Yeovil Town moved in to offer him his first professional contract in October 2001 at the age of 23. He made his debut in the Conference a month later away at Southport but had to wait until 1st December for his first goal for the Glovers in a 3-1 win at Northwich Victoria. Adam was an instant success, finishing as Yeovil’s top-scorer with 16 goals in all competitions, including eight in the FA Trophy. Indeed, he scored in the final at the Millennium Stadium in a 2-0 victory over Stevenage Borough.
Disaster struck on the opening day of the following season as he broke a tibula and fibula in a 2-2 home draw with Gravesend & Northfleet which meant he missed the entire campaign as Yeovil won the Conference and were promoted to the Football League for the first time.
He recovered to make his Football League debut on 16 August 2003 as a substitute in a 3-0 win over Carlisle, before going on to score six goals in a stop-start season with his first league strike in a 2-0 home victory over Swansea City. At the end of the campiagn Graham Turner moved quickly to sign the striker from Yeovil as a replacement for Steve Guinan who had linked up with Cheltenham Town.
Prior to the strikers’ arrival at Edgar Street, Hereford had scored 103 goals in the 2003/4 season, finishing one point behind champions Chester, but lost to Aldershot on penalties in the play-offs. However, Stansfield was an immediate hit with the fans scoring six times in the Bulls opening ten matches.
His debut for Hereford arose on 14 August 2004 in a comfortable 3-1 home win over Farnborough, scoring his first Conference goal for the club three days later in a 1-1 draw at Crawley, heading home a Simon Travis cross. Fans were to witness his killer streak in an entertaining 4-3 away win at Leigh RMI. Behind at 2-3 the Railwaymen thought they had grabbed a point with a last minute equaliser, only to see Stansfield race upfield to grab an injury time winner – his second goal of the game.
He bagged another brace in arguably the Bulls best performance of the season on 20 November 2004, beating Canvey Island 4-0 away from home. In another scintillating away performance “Stanno” scored twice as a substitute in a 6-0 thrashing of Farnborough in March, and further doubles against both Northwich at Edgar Street (4-0) and Forest Green Rovers (3-1) at the Lawn in April. He was to finish the campaign as the club’s top-scorer with 22 goals from 38 starts, missing out on the Player-of-the-Year award which was picked up by Tamika Mkandawire. Heartbreak followed in the play-offs for the second season in a row as the Bulls lost 1-2 on aggregate to Stevenage Borough.
Stansfield won two of his 5 England ‘C’ international caps whilst with Hereford during the summer of 2005, helping England win the Four Nations Trophy in Ireland.
The Bulls attack was strengthened with the arrival of Guy Ipoua and the emergence of a young Andy Williams and another promotion bid highly anticipated. And yet, Stanno struggled to score in his only barren spell with the club in the opening months of the 2005/6 season. A hernia injury held him back and apart from a goal in a 2-0 LDV Vans Trophy win over Scunthorpe, Adam failed to hit the back of the net until 10 December. This the winner in the 69th minute as a substitute against York City at Edgar Street, taking a Craig Stanley pass in the box before spinning sharply to fire home.
With Stansfield back in the team, Hereford once again found the consistency of the previous two campaigns. The Bulls lost only one Conference game in their last 24 matches, finishing in 2nd place behind Accrington Stanley. However, his worse moment with Hereford took place at Canvey Island on 18 February 2006 when his cheekbone was fractured by a horrid aerial John Kennedy challenge. Stansfield returned quickly and was back well before the unforgettable play-off matches against Morecambe, whom the Bulls defeated 4-3 on aggregate, prior to the majestic 3-2 win over Halifax Town at the Walkers Stadium on 20th May 2006. In all Stansfield scored 27 goals for the Bulls chalking up 76 appearances along the way.
Adam decided to remain in the Conference, signing for Exeter City in June 2006 aiming to not only achieve promotion to the Football League with his third club, but also to influence younger players. He was to score nine times in 40 games in his first season with City, including two in a 2-1 home win over relegated Southport on 28 April 2007 in order to seal a play-off place. Eleven days later, in the second leg of the play-off semi-final at Oxford, he scored a goal to take the match into extra-time, and eventually a penalty shoot-out which the Grecians won. In the final at Wembley Stadium on 20 May 2007 “Stanno” was to come on as a 36th minute substitute in a 2-1 defeat to Morecambe.
Exeter had to wait another season for a return to the Football League, but Stansfield was instrumental in the achievement. Notably scoring in a 4-4 draw at Burton Albion on 26 April 2008 which qualified his side for the play-off’s once again. This time the Grecians were successful, beating Cambridge United 1-0 at Wembley, with Adam in the starting line-up.
He scored 10 goals in 37 Football League games as Exeter won a second successive promotion into League One in the 2008/9 season, and despite never having played at that level he was a regular for City in the 3rd tier until the diagnosis of his cancer in March 2010.
Stansfield continues to be remembered by fans from all of his former clubs. Hereford FC supporters stood to recognise him a minute’s applause in the 9th minute of the FA Vase Final at Wembley in 2016.
Gone, but never to be forgotten, Stansfield continues to benefit football locally. The Adam Stansfield Foundation has raised over £250,000 to raise awareness of bowel cancer and to help give young people in Devon, Herefordshire and Somerset the unique opportunity to develop life skills through the power of football, and to assist them in their goals of living the dream, as Adam did by playing football.
He will be fondly remembered, not just because of his goal-scoring prowess, but as a result of a thoroughly professional attitude to life and to the sport. On the pitch his style of play ensured his colleagues always had an outlet, and away from the action he was a delight to talk to. As a football reporter I always found him extremely approachable, extremely engaging, and always a willing listener.
By Keith Hall