Stacey Flounders was watching from the public gallery of a packed courtroom when her world came crashing down.
The man she’d built her life around was standing in the dock, just a few feet away – exposed to the world as a serial cheat and a paedophile who had groomed, kissed and sexually touched a 15-year-old schoolgirl.
Stacey had publicly stood by star footballer Adam Johnson, the father of their child. She’d believed his initial denials and was pictured at his side as they walked into Bradford Crown Court together.
Now her humiliation was complete.
Stacey Flounders (pictured) is the former partner and mother of disgraced footballer Adam Johnson’s child Ayla. She says her life ‘just fell apart’ following his conviction of sexual activity with a child
‘It was the moment I realised who Adam really was,’ says Stacey. ‘All I’d ever wanted was a normal family, a couple of kids and a nice life. It all just fell apart.
‘I watched the man I had been in love with – the man I wanted to marry – disappear.
‘I knew then that Adam was an arrogant man who had lied and lied. He’d known this girl’s age. He’d sent her hundreds of messages. It was horrific. The worst thing is this: one day we will have to tell our daughter what kind of man her father really is.’
If it was horrific to hear the man she loved admit such serious charges, Stacey’s ordeal was by no means over – and it was for the sake of her baby Ayla that she made a now-notorious decision.
Footballer Adam Johnson (left) leaving Bradford Crown Court with Stacey Flounders on day nine of his trial in 2016. She stood by his side during the trial believing he was to plead guilty to one count of sexual activity with a child – the kissing – but was hit by the bombshell of hearing him plead guilty to grooming his victim as well
Stacey has said that she and Johnson have agreed to tell daughter Ayla the truth about his crime when she turns 13. Stacey has said she is worried about her daughter’s future and will ‘have to cope with bullying and cruel remarks from other kids – and their parents’
Despite pleading guilty to two of the counts against him, Johnson still faced more serious charges. And with the trial continuing, Stacey stepped into the witness box in his defence – with evidence that helped partially clear the man who’d betrayed her so grotesquely.
A storm of criticism followed. Stacey was called a gold digger, a bitch and even a paedophile herself.
Today, 29-year-old Stacey is speaking for the first time about her life-changing ordeal and her desperate attempt to cling to some semblance of normality.
It is a full three years since the trial – when Johnson was handed a six-year jail term – yet she sobs and shakes at the memory of it all. Due to be released in just a few weeks, his prospects are uncertain to say the least. It is possible the 31-year-old will never play professionally again.
Stacey said she was attracted to Johnson as a person, rather than the ‘WAG lifestyle’. ‘He was clean-cut, with good manners. He would do things like open doors for me. I felt like he knew how to treat a girl,’ she said
Yet Johnson had been pursuing a glittering career with Manchester City and England when he and Stacey first met in 2011 at a pub gathering. That year he won the FA Cup with City, the following year the Premier League.
For all the wealth and professional success, Stacey insists she was attracted to the man rather than life as a WAG.
She says: ‘He was clean-cut, with good manners. He would do things like open doors for me. I felt like he knew how to treat a girl. He was also very confident, which I liked because I’m very shy. I fell in love with Adam’s personality, not because he was a footballer – he was interested and interesting,’
At the time, Stacey was working for her father’s recruitment firm, splitting her time between an office in Norway and her home in Hartlepool. She and Johnson hit it off, and soon they were living together in Manchester.
Stacey stepped into the witness box in his defence – with evidence that helped partially clear the man who’d betrayed her so grotesquely. A storm of criticism followed. Stacey was called a gold digger, a bitch and even a paedophile herself.
The monied lifestyle was no hardship, of course, and Stacey describes lavish holidays to Dubai and Tenerife and expensive presents including a ring with black and white diamonds for Valentine’s Day. But she says there was plenty of simple affection between them, too.
‘We weren’t flash,’ she insists. ‘Adam was good with money – I liked that. He was everything I’d ever wanted – the way he looked at me, cuddled me and constantly touched my hair.
‘We had a great social life and would go out with the other players. But Adam also loved nights in watching The X Factor or a box set. He was a normal, loving guy and we had a healthy personal life.
‘I could never have imagined he’d do what he did.’
Sunderland initially chose to suspend the winger who had joined them in 2012, but chose to reinstate him pending the court case and – incredible as it now seems – life for Stacey went back to something close to normal
In 2012 Johnson changed clubs, moving to Sunderland in a £10 million deal. The couple bought a £1.6 million home in Castle Eden, a picturesque village in County Durham, and when Stacey fell pregnant soon afterwards they looked forward to life as a family.
It was then, she says, that things started to change.
‘We did less together, he always wanted to be with the lads,’ she reflects. ‘At Manchester City we were encouraged to be part of the team. At Sunderland, Adam just wanted to go out without me. If Sunderland won he wanted to go out. If they lost he’d stay in with me. I started to wish they’d lose.
‘He went on a two-week end-of-season boys’ holiday to Los Angeles and I barely heard from him. If I’m honest, I hated him being a footballer. Everyone thinks it is a good life because of the money, but there were more cons than pros. I just wanted Adam, the normal guy. I wanted his affection and him being around.’
Stacey describes the lavish holidays to Dubai and Tenerife that filled the start of their relationship, with expensive presents including a ring with black and white diamonds for Valentine’s Day. But after joining Sunderland Johnson’s demeanor changed and became more distant to Stacey
Looking back, the warning signs were obvious: he became glued to his phone, for example. ‘I would say, “Who are you messaging?”, but he’d tell me to stop being nosy. There were times he would call me a psycho. I’d never had much confidence, I started to believe it.’
It was a classic case of ‘gaslighting’ – a term used to describe a form of emotional abuse that causes a victim to question their own sanity.
‘He’d laugh in my face, saying, “Have you seen yourself?” ‘
Then Johnson started going missing. ‘Some nights’, Stacey says, ‘he wouldn’t come home until 7am. I would ring his driver, crying and asking where he was, but the driver wouldn’t tell me anything’.
Stacey recalls how Johnson started going missing at night. ‘Some nights he wouldn’t come home until 7am and I would call his driver crying,’ said Stacey
‘One night I found lipstick on his shirt. He said a girl had cuddled him.
‘There was a different culture in the North East. I knew how easy it was for footballers to be with girls there. Women would throw themselves at them and get in their cars as they left bars, even when they weren’t invited. I was suspicious. I knew, deep down. But I was scared of losing Adam. I didn’t have the proof and I didn’t want it. I was pregnant.’
Ayla was born in January 2015 at Sunderland Hospital, and for a while at least, it seemed that Johnson had become a doting father, back to something like his former self. It was only when the police banged on the door two months later that the truth about him started to emerge.
‘I will never forget seeing Adam at the top of the stairs. He went white with fear,’ Stacey says.
‘Adam asked the police officers, “Is it about the girl with the shirt?” They said, “Why did you say that?”
‘Before they took him to the police station, he said to me, “It was a fan, I have only given her a shirt.”
Fifteen police officers then turned the house upside down looking for evidence.
The police went through the baby’s drawers, even her cot, so it was fortunate that Ayla had been staying with Johnson’s mother that night.
‘One woman officer watched over me,’ Stacey says. ‘I couldn’t use my phone or go to the toilet on my own. She watched me get dressed. I kept asking what was going on, but she wouldn’t tell me.’
Johnson didn’t return home until 11pm that night.
‘He was sobbing and apologising, he was in such a state,’ she says. ‘He said, “I thought she was 16.”
‘I asked him about other women and the times I’d been worried and he admitted them. There’d been at least a dozen others. He said he didn’t know why he’d cheated.’
When police came to the couple’s north-east home to question the footballer about the 15-year-old girl, Johnson admitted to ‘dozens’ of women he had cheated on Stacey with. ‘I think that he was a sex addict – he told me he was a sex addict,’ she said
Stacey quizzed Johnson further in the days to come – and realised she’d met his teenage victim.
‘Sunderland fans were allowed around the cars in the player’s car park,’ she says. ‘This girl was there so often I noticed when she wasn’t.
‘I asked Adam how she got the shirt. He said he dropped it off and had given her a kiss but he had believed she was 16.
‘This girl looked about 20 or 21. I had no reason to question what he was saying.
‘He had it all: career, money, girlfriend, a family. He apologised and said he would never do it again.’
Johnson last played for the England national team in 2012 in a 2-1 win over Italy at the Stade de Suisse, Bern before being dropped from the first squad, not to make a return
Following his arrest, Johnson initially denied the charges laid against him: two counts of sexual activity with the girl, one count of kissing and one count of grooming a child.
Sunderland suspended the winger, but chose to reinstate him pending the court case and – incredible as it now seems – life for Stacey went back to something close to normal. ‘He was still working and playing, we were still being invited to places by team-mates, so I didn’t think this was serious,’ she says.
‘I thought that if it had been so serious they wouldn’t have let him play and mix with the fans.
‘We shared a bed, our sex life returned. Looking back I do think what the hell was I doing, but it’s hard to get up and leave the life you’ve made.’
Prosecutors explained how Johnson had kissed the girl behind a Chinese takeaway just nine days after Ayla was born – and that he had also exchanged 834 flirtatious messages on WhatsApp with the underage teenager
Weeks later she realised she was ten weeks pregnant with their second child. But with the court case looming, and Johnson’s confession that he had cheated so many times, Stacey made the agonising decision to end the pregnancy.
‘I couldn’t bring another baby into this world with everything that was going on. It was heartbreaking but I felt I had no choice,’ she says.
Even so, she clung on to what remained of the relationship and, with Johnson’s family desperate for her support, she agreed to stand by him in public when, in February 2016, he came to trial.
When Johnson and Stacey were pictured together, the social media attacks were vicious. ‘People said I must be getting paid by Adam, that I was a gold digger and a stupid bitch,’ she says.
Stacey ended her relationship with Johnson after he pleaded guilty to kissing and grooming the underage girl, and moved out with their daughter days later
She had known that Johnson would plead guilty to one count of sexual activity with a child – the kissing. But then came the bombshell. As Stacey sat next to Johnson’s parents in court, she was horrified to hear him plead guilty to grooming his victim as well.
The prosecution explained how Johnson had kissed the girl behind a Chinese takeaway just nine days after Ayla was born – and that he had also exchanged 834 flirtatious messages on WhatsApp with the teenager. Devastatingly, it was clear that Johnson had known she was only 15.
‘I heard everything that day in court after being kept in the dark for a year,’ Stacey says. ‘I thought, “What am I doing here.” It felt like I was in a dream, but it was a nightmare and it destroyed me. I felt sick and wanted to get up and punch him.
‘The messages didn’t sound like Adam; they were flirty. He’d message her, then me, then someone else. He was probably texting other girls while I was in labour.
‘It makes me feel disgusted. How could he do that to someone who is going to be the mother of his child?’
When they got home that evening she ended their relationship for good, moving out with Ayla days later. ‘I kept asking him why,’ Stacey says. ‘He said, “I’m just stupid, I’m sorry, I didn’t know what I was doing.” I couldn’t believe a word he said.’
The trial was continuing, meanwhile. Although Johnson had pleaded guilty to two charges, he was denying two more serious counts of underage sexual activity. In relation to one of these, the teenager said that Johnson had shaved his pubic hair, a point of contention between the defence and prosecution. Johnson’s solicitor asked Stacey to take the stand and, she says, for the sake of the truth and her daughter, she agreed, telling the jury that the teenager had been wrong in her description.
‘I knew I had to step in because one day my daughter would know the truth,’ Stacey says. ‘It felt like the worst day of my life. But every day was a new worst day for me.’
Johnson was found guilty of sexually touching the schoolgirl, but not guilty on the charge relating to another, more extreme sexual act. He was handed a six-year prison sentence and ordered to sign the sex offenders register, and he will be on it for life. ‘What he did was wrong,’ says Stacey. ‘In the eyes of the law she was a child and he should have known better. Even so, the sentence was a shock. I thought it was extreme.’
Stacey and four-year-old daughter Ayla now live in a five-bedroom home in the North East which Johnson bought for Ayla. A new events business has kept Stacey busy
Believing it was important that Ayla stayed in touch with her father, Stacey and her 15-month old daughter began to make regular four-hour round trips to see Johnson in Moorland Prison, Doncaster – or at ‘work’, as she described it to the child.
‘I didn’t want Ayla to go into a prison full of sex offenders but she needed to see her dad,’ Stacey says. ‘She had to go through a metal detector and I had to hold her while a guard patted her down. It was a horrible experience.’
Adam, dressed in a prison-issue grey tracksuit, was apologetic, of course. ‘He knew the life he’d known was over, but he had destroyed the life we all had. You don’t realise what you have until you lose it,’ Stacey says.
When Ayla was a bit older she started to get upset and ask more questions. ‘One day we went to see Adam and she cried out, “Daddy why aren’t you coming home?” He said, “Soon, sweetheart.”
Johnson has received ‘regular’ visits from daughter Ayla at Moorland Prison, Doncaster who makes the four-hour round trip with mother Stacey
‘On the way home I would put on a brave face and say, “Wasn’t it nice to see Daddy?” But when she was tucked up in bed asleep, I would cry.’
Perhaps it is no surprise that Stacey struggled under the pressure of it all and turned to alcohol.
‘Ayla would get picked up by her grandparents on Friday. I would drink until Sunday and would sometimes get paralytic,’ she admits.
She pulled herself together last year, but says she still suffers from depression and anxiety.
‘Ayla has been my medication. She made me get up in the morning and put a smile on my face,’ Stacey says.
Stacey and Johnson plan to tell their daughter the truth about his crime when she is 13.
‘She’ll have to make her own mind up about her father. To be honest, I don’t see Adam as a paedophile. For me a paedophile is somebody who abuses tiny young children.
‘I think that he was a sex addict – he told me he was a sex addict.
‘But I do worry about Ayla for the future. She is the one who will have to cope with bullying and cruel remarks from other kids – and their parents.’
Stacey and Ayla now live in a five-bedroom home in the North East which Johnson bought for Ayla. He also pays maintenance.
A new events business has kept Stacey busy, but the past few weeks have been a whirl of planning for Johnson’s pending release.
The past few weeks have been a whirl of planning for Johnson’s pending release, who will have served three of his initial six-year sentence. Stacey says she is looking forward to her daughter having her father back but is ‘nervous about it as well’
‘I am looking forward to Ayla getting her dad back and I will be friends with him for her sake, but I am nervous about it as well,’ Stacey says. ‘I was so in love with him before. Now I feel like I don’t know him; like he’s been dead for three years.
‘If I didn’t have Ayla I would say that I regret ever meeting Adam. He’s ruined my life, but I don’t want to call him a monster because my little girl will read this one day. I know he adores Ayla, and will come out and be a good dad.
‘I’m not in love with him any more – I’m a lot stronger now. I won’t take him back. You can forgive but I will never forget what he has done. I would struggle to trust any man now.
‘He deserved to go to prison because he did something wrong. He needed to change from being an arrogant cheat, and I hope he has for Ayla’s sake.
‘Poor little thing, she never asked for any of this, did she? Now I just want to get on with my life.’