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Adam Stansfield remembered

11 August 10 11:58 GMT

By Gary Andrews

At 2130 BST on Tuesday, the most pressing matter for Exeter City fans was whether they could hold out for penalties in their Carling Cup tie against Ipswich Town.

Half an hour later, the Grecians' failure to secure their first League Cup win since 1993 was irrelevant, after it was announced that popular striker Adam Stansfield had lost his battle with cancer, aged just 31.

There is a profound sense of loss among City fans. As one email to me from a fellow Exeter supporter says: "I don't think I've ever been quite as upset as I am today about someone I didn't know personally."

It is a sentiment that has been echoed by fans of not just Exeter but also Yeovil and Hereford, his previous clubs.

At each of these teams he was admired for his wholehearted commitment on the pitch, covering every blade of grass. "I've never seen a player work so hard," was a frequent response of opposition fans.

Yet Stansfield was not a player who lapped up being the centre of attention. After scoring for Exeter against Yeovil last season, the striker refused to celebrate his goal. To those who knew him, this was no surprise.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Adam on a regular basis while working for local radio in Devon just after his move to his local team.

I say pleasure, because his answers were thoughtful and intelligent and he came across as a man who was delighted to be back home with his friends and family.

Stansfield had won promotion from the Conference with both Yeovil and Hereford and when I asked if he was ready to target a third promotion with the Grecians, his answer was not about how many goals he would score but about how he hoped to be a role model and use his experience to help the younger players at the club.

Many a modern footballer could have learned a lot from Adam. He was never one to be found sulking with headphones on at the back of the bus or spending his post-match celebrations in nightclubs.

Instead, it was a common sight to see him in the club's hospitality suite after the game, juggling the twin demands of speaking to the press and supporters while keeping an eye on his young family.

When news broke in April that Stansfield had been diagnosed with bowel cancer, the immediate reaction from Exeter supporters was "why Adam?"

But this was not an attitude the player himself took and despite his diagnosis, he continued to be upbeat and positive about his chances of survival.

Although he underwent gruelling chemotherapy sessions over the summer, Adam was determined to still be part of the team he was at the heart of and, despite being frail after treatment, he turned up to take part in the first day of Exeter's pre-season training.

Even though manager Paul Tisdale signed three new strikers over the summer, the number all Exeter fans were looking forward to seeing on the team sheet was Stansfield's nine. This may never appear again as there are already calls to retire his shirt.

In a sad twist, Stansfield was playing some of the best football of his career at Exeter. He had arrived at the game late, signing his first professional contract with Yeovil at 23, only to break his leg after finishing as their top scorer.

He then netted 20 in his first season at Hereford before slipping down the pecking order and making the decision to return to his hometown of Tiverton, a short drive from Exeter.

Despite never having played at League One before, he had become a key part of the squad, starting almost every game, frequently running himself into the ground and scoring eight goals last season despite unknowingly suffering the effects of the cancer.

In a month's time, Adam would have turned 32, a veteran in footballing terms but still a young man.

Exeter City may be embarking on another relegation battle in the third tier but you suspect they would happily pass up their survival fight if their number nine could have won his.

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