There were plenty of talking points following a goalless draw at Molineux yesterday that was destined to be last on Match of the Day. The oppressive conditions didn’t make for great football but a game that was largely devoid of quality burst into life as time ticked away. Wolves would have won if they had a poacher up to speed with the Premier League, whilst Fulham probably should have seized all three points themselves once they were given an 81st minute penalty. Aleksandar Mitrovic’s spot-kick was shoddy and, after he took out his frustrations on Morgan Gibbs-White, the Serbian was lucky to avoid a sending off. Those would be the headlines, but from a personal point of view, the highlight was seeing Jay Stansfield step off the bench for a richly deserved Premier League debut.
I’ve written relatively recently about how fortunate I was to get to know Jay’s late father, Adam, whilst I was a student at the University of Exeter. This site’s productivity suffered whilst I was scrambling to get a degree alongside completing my coaching qualifications and going to watch Exeter City when I couldn’t battle ‘Worst Great Western’ (as we called it) to follow Fulham all the way from the south west. Adam Stansfield, already a non-league striker very much in the Mitrovic mould, entirely bought in the ethos of fan-owned Exeter as a community club and was a regular at charity events, supporting initiatives for disabled children often in his own time and from his own pocket.
Rather memorably when I decided to help out coaching the University’s women’s side as well as fielding a halls’ team in the university intra-mural league, Adam insisted that I couldn’t be trusted with coaching the forwards. It was drily delivered as a joke, but we both knew it was true. He turned up at several training sessions to show the strikers how to find the net and then organised a delivery of Exeter City kit – which I later discovered he had paid for himself – to ensure that the cash-strapped side could make it through to the end of the season. The stories of Adam’s generosity go far beyond Exeter and explain why was loved by everyone as much more than a mere goalscorer wherever he played.
I don’t wish to dwell on the fact that Adam passed away sadly from colon cancer in 2010, but the solidarity shown by the football family was a testament to the man he was. The fact that the Adam Stansfield Foundation, that sprung from an idea that came to his widow Marie during his emotional funeral at Exeter Cathedral where more than a thousand people turned out to pay their respects, has been able to support so many people throughout the south west and still thrives today is wonderful. Peter Rutzler’s wonderful write-up for the charity’s commendable work – and the volunteers behind it – in the Athletic earlier this year is well worth a read.
Stansfield’s memory endures at all of his former clubs. Followers of Cullompton Rangers remain regular donors to the foundation, whilst Yeovil Town – where fanatical Fulham fan Gary Johnson gave Adam his first professional contract – regularly applause in the ninth minute of matches, marking the shirt number he wore whilst leading the line as the Glovers won the FA Trophy and the Conference in consecutive seasons. He went on to score 24 goals in his first season with Hereford United, helping them win promotion the following year via the play-offs, before coming a cult hero at St. James’ Park, where his four years saw the Grecians win successive promotions before Stansfield became a regular in League One, scoring eight goals before cancer cruelly cut short his career just as he was impressing at his highest level. City fans still ‘sing a song for Stanno’ today, which tells you special the relationship was between the supporters and their much-missed number one.
By quirk of fate as well as the inequities of the Elite Player Performance Plan, I am lucky to watch Jay, who was already a promising youth footballer when his Dad died, play for Fulham. He has inherited all of Adam’s professional, character and consciousness. Jay’s development since arriving at Motspur Park has been sensational and it is a testament to his tenacity that the young striker has not been adversely affected by two serious injuries that interrupted his remarkable goalscoring feats in the club’s category one academy. He has bulked up noticeably this season – as if determined to make his mark on the Premier League – and impressed Marco Silva over the summer, having featured in a number of positions for Steve Wigley’s under 23 winning machine after coming back from injury last year.
That he came on in the closing stages of a tight game with Fulham’s resources stretched both by injury and a tough transfer market was not a surprise. Seeing him slot seamlessly on the right flank shows just how eagerly he has embraced the challenge of breaking into the first team and the stepover that bought him half a yard to drive to get a cross past Rayan Alt Nouri underlined his confidence. We’ve all already seen what he can do within sight of goal after his stunning first strike in senior football at Birmingham last season, but his footballing intelligence marks him out already as much more than a goal getter.
You don’t often get what you deserve in elite sport. There’s no space for sentiment when winning is all that matters. But sometimes it is nice to reflect on great people doing well. After all the Stansfield family has been through and all they continue to do for others, Jay’s Premier League debut was a lovely moment. I’m not ashamed to tell you I quietly shed a tear as he sprinted along the touchline in front of the travelling fans in the Steve Bull Lower yesterday afternoon. In the words of the song with which Exeter’s fans still serenade Adam:
We sing a song for our Stanno
And we will never let you go
Cos you’ll always be
At City with meHow the Exeter City fans remember Adam Stansfield with great gusto at every game