Football clubs are like your family – you stick with them no matter what. As a result your relationship with the team and ultimately the players changes as you progress through life.
Blissful ignorance as a child means anyone, and I do mean anyone, obtains 'hero' status just because they are good enough to get paid to play football in front of a couple of thousand every week. They don't even have to be very good. As a nine year old Yeovil Town fan, I remember getting my picture taken with a bit part player on the pitch after our last ever game at the famous sloping pitch at Huish. I usually have a ridiculous memory for all sorts of crap to do with football but I haven't got a clue who the guy was, apart from the fact he looked a bit like our star defender at the time, Mark Shail. It was most definitely not him. That didn't stop me treasuring the picture of me and him to such an extent that I carried it everywhere and eventually ended up losing it. He played for my team (albeit occasionally) and was thus a legend in my eyes.
A few years later a more prominent player, Andy Wallace, became friends with my dad. He'd give him tickets and the like and the matchday experience felt all the more exciting picking up the little brown envelope with the comp tickets in. I remember going to his bar in town and once we even ended up at his house one evening. Being non-league football in the early 90s meant it was not going to be featured in any glossy magazines, but I remember being totally dumbstruck that I was in THE Andy Wallace’s house.
Like any 14/15 year old though, you soon realise that it's a big world out there and there are more famous people than Yeovil Town footballers. The Gallagher brothers burst into my life, and the lives of many other young lads, in the mid 90s. I even remember being one of the devoted fans/sad twats who sat outside Supernova Heights for hours hoping to catch a glimpse of a man who I'd never met but who wrote the songs that would dominate the rest of my life.
Still, football was always on the agenda particularly when away days graduated from fizzy pop and a mars bar with my Grandad to train journeys and alcohol with my mates. As I grew older outright devotion was no longer a prerequisite, exactly the opposite. In your late teens when you think you know it all and have less respect for your elders, footballers are the perfect target for abuse. Anyone in green and white who was shite would get a mouthful.
My time at uni and the move into the 20s coincided with what all Yeovil fans will forever look back on as THE golden era. Gary Johnson arrived in Somerset and about the only thing people could say about him was 'he used to manage Latvia'. However, he made such an impact in these parts he's still know as ‘Sir Gary’. He built up a side of young hungry and determined lads who saw Yeovil Town as a chance to prove the clubs that had released them wrong. GJ insisted on a style of passing attacking football that at the time was an absolute joy to watch and ultimately hugely successful.
The many high moments I experienced following the Glovers during that time were thanks to lads on the pitch who were around the same age as me and somehow this felt right. I wasn't blinded by devotion like those days in my youth, these guys were of the age that they could have been me or my mates in the pub. Funnily enough, after clinching our historic promotion to the football league, I found myself in the towns 'premier' nightclub drinking pints and sharing rounds and cigars with my heroes. To me though they were just ordinary lads who for 90 minutes every Saturday saw me and many others trek up and down the country.
"Blissful ignorance as a child means anyone, and I do mean anyone, obtains 'hero' status just because they are good enough to get paid to play football in front of a couple of thousand every week."
As you get older and the players who you pay a fortune to watch every week get younger and richer the inevitable grumpiness kicks in; they are all pampered kids who need a kick up the arse. There also comes a point when the guys doing it on the pitch actually end up being younger than you. When the young local lad makes his debut you start to feel very old when a) you realise he looks like he should still be at school and b) you inadvertently shout things like 'well done son' or 'get stuck in lad' in a mildly patronising way, since you happen to be that little bit older than him.
Looking at, shall I say, the more mature members of the fans around me, this process only continues and you only get grumpier with age. I’m sure Saturday afternoons of the future will mostly be about harking back to the good old days.
These thoughts have come to the fore in recent days because one of the lads who played an integral part of the GJ era passed away - bowel cancer taking the life of Adam Stansfield, aged just 31. This hit home because he was a player who joined from a local village side to score the winning goal in the FA Trophy final, an event which kick stated the GJ era. It hit home because his infectious and engaging personality saw him get carried away with it all and inadvertently swear on Sky Sports in the post match interview. It hit home because his Yeovil career was cruelly halted when he broke his leg in the first game of the very next season, missing what many fans would consider the best ever.
It hit home because he came back from that horrific injury and subsequently helped Hereford then Exeter into the Football League. It hit home because like the class act he was he refused to celebrate when he scored for Exeter against Yeovil at Huish Park last season. It hit home because fans of every club he has played for only have good things to say about his tireless determination on the pitch and his cracking attitude off it. But for me it mainly hit home because the guy was thirty fuckin one.
I would consider myself extremely fortunate to have reached the stage in my life where all of my nearest and dearest are still with me. However Adam’s death, although I never exchanged more than the odd word with him, really made me think. It could’ve been me or one of my mates and yet at such a young age that's it. I got married the other week and I'm 30 next month, I'd like to think I've got the rest of my life to look forward to. Sadly, ever so sadly, for Adam Stansfield and his friends and family there isn’t that luxury.
Me and my mates should be sat in a pub in our seventies reminiscing about the good old days because we've heard that one of the boys of 2002 has passed away. We shouldn't be doing it eight years on from those heady days about a guy who was previously a fit and professional sportsman and that's the tragedy in this whole story.
You may never have heard of Adam Stansfield until recently, bar inadvertently hearing Jeff Stelling making the occasional joke about 'Lisa’s Brother' scoring again on Soccer Saturday. It was a busy week last week in the run up to the start of the Premier League, yet more transfer gossip (or more often than not bullshit) and England nonsense. However, amongst all that, Adam’s death has seen plenty of respectful coverage from the likes of the BBC, Four Four Two and the Guardian. He deserved that as he was certainly one of the good guys and was taken far too soon. Needless to say when Yeovil Town conceded in the fourth minute of injury time to lose 2-1 to local rivals Bristol Rovers at the weekend the disappointment was certainly put into perspective. Adam Stansfield RIP.
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