Yeovil Town 2 Exeter City 1 – Saturday 23rd January 2010
In January 2010, Huish Park hosted Exeter City for the first time ever in a League fixture. Yeovil’s rise to League One had coincided with a period in the doldrums for Exeter, who were relegated to the Conference the same year that Yeovil were promoted, and remained there until 2008.
Yeovil lined up in a new 4-3-3 formation with Williams, Bowditch and Obika up front. It was a scrappy affair, with Yeovil taking the lead through their first attack. The front line of Exeter had a very familiar look to it, as lining up for them were former Glovers Marcus Stewart and Adam Stansfield. Stansfield scored the equaliser, but Yeovil went ahead before half time through Spurs loanee Ryan Mason and the Grecians seemed to tire in the second half as both strikers were replaced and Yeovil cruised to victory in front of 6,282.
Adam Stansfield showed a lot of class in not celebrating his goal, although a common gesture now it was less common then. Especially given what a committed and whole-hearted player he was, and if anything he might have felt entitled to celebrate in front of the club who let him go in 2004. He did not get much of a chance for Yeovil in League Two, and here he was showing he could still score in League One. But his gesture showed how much of a place Yeovil had in his heart, as even though he played more games for Hereford and Exeter, Yeovil are a big part of Adam Stansfield’s story, and he is a big part of ours.
Adam arrived at Huish Park in November 2001, a couple of months into Gary Johnson’s first season. It was probably the lowest point of that season, as his debut came in a best-forgotten 3-0 drubbing at Southport which saw the Glovers 2-0 down inside the first ten minutes and Lee Johnson sent off. After the game Yeovil lay in 10th with some even questioning whether Gary Johnson was up to the job. However it was all improvement from there – the following week, Yeovil scrapped their way to a 1-0 win at Margate which began an unbeaten run of 20 league and cup games. It was taking time to build a side as Gary Johnson had inherited a team which had lost several of its best players over the summer, and he was facing the need to re-build. He took his time finding the right players to fill the two obvious gaps at right back and up front, which he eventually did with the two Adams, Lockwood and Stansfield. Although he had Carl Alford, Chris Giles, Scott Ramsay and later on Kim Grant, they were all of a similar build – he had a lot of big men up front, but no little man. Adam Stansfield was that little man. He had come seemingly from nowhere, after having signed at the age of 23 from Elmore, a Western League side based in Tiverton who played at the same level as Yeovil’s reserves. But even though it took him time to adjust, the fans took to him straight away due to his effort and commitment, he was the kind of player fans love with his constant running, and he always played with a smile on his face.
He came straight into the first team, and started every game he was available for except one, when he was rested at the end of the season against upcoming Trophy Final opponents Stevenage. His first goal came away at Northwich in his fourth game, and after taking a while to adjust to Conference football he went on an incredible run of 13 goals in 13 games, he could not stop scoring. He had gone from an unknown in Devon non-league to one of the first names on Yeovil’s team sheet in just a couple of months. He would end up scoring 16 goals in 30 starts, comfortably eclipsing his more experienced strike partner Carl Alford, although he arguably had a more productive partnership with Kim Grant. He was quick, would chase down defenders and could score with either foot. The obvious comparison at the time might have been Michael Owen, but he seemed more similar to Craig Bellamy, the way he hassled defenders and made a nuisance of himself. He also got his share of assists, grabbing ten to go with his 16 goals including a hat-trick in the 5-1 win at Morecambe.
Of course most will always associate Adam Stansfield with the 2002 FA Trophy run, where he scored 8 of his 16 goals including the memorable one in the Final, from a sublime first touch that left the defender in his dust. The run began back on his old turf, scoring twice in a 3-1 win at Tiverton. In the next round he scored a late equaliser to force a replay against Doncaster, and the two goals that would complete the comeback at Belle Vue in the replay. His incredible strike from distance to put Yeovil 4-3 up was even better, and from further out, than Terry Skiverton’s late winner. He would score in every round except the semi-final, and certainly had plenty of chances in the televised game against Burton, but with the tie already dead at 4-0 up, he did not appear to have his shooting boots on that day. One of his most memorable moments that season came after the final whistle, as he accidentally swore in the post-match interview after the FA Trophy Final, while excitably giving a ‘Shout to to the Elmore boys!’
Sadly Adam suffered a serious leg break just minutes into the historic 2002/03 campaign and he missed the entire season. Who knows how many goals he would have scored being supplied chances from Johnson, Crittenden, Williams and McIndoe for 50-odd games.
Thankfully he made a return in Yeovil’s first league season in 2003/04, although he was not first choice. Even though Yeovil struggled a little bit up front in their first season, the first choice was generally Kirk Jackson, and later Jake Edwards, partnered by Kevin Gall and although it seemed like the manager was often not very happy with his strikers (with Edwards and Gall both scoring ten, very few of which were after Christmas), Adam’s chances remained very limited. When given chances he was effective, scoring 6 goals in only 7 starts. In his first start against Swansea in September, he got a goal and an assist in a 2-0 win, and despite being dropped again, scored from the bench against York in the next game, but still didn’t start another game until the end of December. Later in the season he was given starts against Cambridge and Boston, scoring in both, but was not given runs in the team and was dropped again. From a personal point of view this seemed very unfair as when he played, he scored, but he was never given a run in the team even when other strikers weren’t delivering. His last appearance typified what must have been a frustrating year – on the last day of the season, Yeovil needed a win away at Lincoln to have a chance of the play-offs. Gall was played up front on his own, but with the game 0-0 at half time, Edwards and Stansfield were introduced at half time and both scored, Stansfield taking just two minutes to have an impact. He was released at the end of the season, and in my view slightly prematurely as he had done nothing to suggest he couldn’t make it at league level.
He spent the next two years at Hereford which we’ll forgive him for, scoring 24 goals in 2004/05, and 11 more in an injury-hit 2005/06. He helped Hereford to promotion from the Conference in 2006, and then did the same again for Exeter in 2008, achieving the unusual feat of being promoted from the Conference three times with different clubs. Managed by another former Glover in Paul Tisdale, Exeter went straight through League Two and were promoted automatically in 2009, which finally brought them to the same level as Yeovil from 2009 to 2012. Although not as prolific at Exeter, Adam remained a consistent performer, scoring 39 goals in 160 appearances through the Conference and up to League One. He scored eight goals in 30 games of what would turn out to be his final season.
Sadly, shortly after the game against Yeovil in January, Adam was diagnosed with bowel cancer in March of the same year. Although initial treatment was successful and he did report for pre-season training, his condition deteriorated and he died on 10th August 2010 at the very young age of 31. He was well liked by everyone and will be remembered by every club he played for. Exeter retired his No. 9 shirt for nine years, and he has stands named after him at Exeter and Elmore.
Adam was married to Marie just before he joined Yeovil and they had three children. His son Jay came through the Exeter Academy before signing for Championship side Fulham in 2019. He has just recently started appearing for Fulham’s first team, scoring his first goal in the League Cup against Birmingham on 24 August 2021, at the age of 20.
Team that day: Alex McCarthy, Craig Alcock, Nathan Jones, Stefan Stam, Steven Caulker, Jean-Paul Kalala, Shaun MacDonald, Ryan Mason (sub. Keiran Murtagh 60), Jonathan Obika (sub. Andy Welsh 67), Sam Williams, Dean Bowditch (sub. Nathan Smith 90). Subs not used: Ben Roberts, Terrell Forbes, Scott Murray, Aidan Downes