Soldiering on for charity

Discussion in 'The Intelligence Cell' started by Barrack Room Lawyer, Nov 16, 2009.

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  1. Very good piece from Paul Fletchers Blog at BBC Sport:

    "Phil Stant was dug-in on Port Pleasant on the East Falklands as he watched Argentine aircraft attack the British landing ships Sir Galahad and Sir Tristram.

    Unusually, there had been no air-raid warning and Stant, then 19 and a member of 5th Infantry Brigade, was powerless as he watched the grisly and depressing events unfolding 200-300 metres away from him.

    "It is difficult to talk about it even now," Stant told me. "Some of the sights that you see live with you forever."

    Within months of the Falklands War ending in June 1982 Stant made his Football League debut for Reading.

    Publicity shots at the time show the young Bolton-born soldier posing alongside Kerry Dixon. Stant is wearing his fatigues and brandishing a machine gun while Dixon is in his Royals kit.

    The Armed Services and football are the two themes that have run through Stant's life, which explains why the 47-year-old is delighted that Help for Heroes is the Football League's official charity for the current season.

    Help for Heroes was founded in 2007 and aims to raise funds for members of the Armed Forces injured during the service of their country.

    It was chosen after the Football League held a vote on their website with five shortlisted charities. Help for Heroes and Marie Curie came out on top after more than 25,000 fans voted and the former was eventually selected by the Football League board.

    You might have seen advertising hoardings for Help for Heroes at grounds you have visited this season or read articles in a matchday programme. Several clubs are running discounted ticket prices for the Armed Forces.

    Leyton Orient, for example, have a long association with the services, dating back to World War One, when more than 40 players and staff from the club, then known as Clapton Orient, enlisted in the Footballers' Battalion. The O's have extended their concessionary category to include members of the Armed Forces.

    Last season there were truly moving scenes at Wembley as members of the Armed Forces paraded around the stadium before each play-off final. You could feel the genuine feeling of goodwill emanating from the stands.

    The Football League also plans to appoint a team of ambassadors to act as spokesmen for the partnership. Stant is the first of these.

    "People don't realise what soldiers go through in serving their country - not just the physical side but the psychological aspect," said Stant.

    "The scars stay with you forever."

    To underline his point, Stant points out that the British forces lost 255 men during the Falklands conflict but more than that number of the men and women who served there have since committed suicide.

    Stant, who now works for the Football League as a regional monitor for its youth development programme, has had a remarkable life - and believes that football played a key role in ensuring his successful transition to life after the army.

    "I was bought out of the army and that helped me to focus on a different career," he said. "You get people leaving who have nothing to look forward to. I was very, very lucky."

    He is a forthright individual, answering questions with an honesty and frankness in his strong Lancashire accent. An easy laugh follows most of his answers, though when discussing some of the things he has seen and done I wonder whether it is in part a defence mechanism.

    At one point in our conversation he talked about the Argentine air raids. After saying that they really weren't very nice he laughed, but it was a sad laugh and, I thought, underlined the point he had been making about a soldier being unable to forget what they have witnessed in war.

    Stant had joined the army straight after leaving school and, after the Falklands, worked in bomb disposal.

    The Bolton-born striker was bought out of the army by Hereford United in 1984 after impressing in the Bulls reserve team. By my reckoning he played for 12 lower division sides - including a short spell as manager of Lincoln City - and remained in professional football until the age of 38, when he moved into the non-leagues.

    He won eight promotions, two golden boot awards and played in the Uefa Cup Winners' Cup for Cardiff City at Standard Liege.

    Stant wrote a book about his experiences, ' Ooh Ah Stantona', and travelled back to the Falklands in 2007 to make a television documentary about the island and the role it has played in his life.

    And he is in no doubt that there are strong parallels to be drawn between the forces and football.

    "The Football League youth development programme is trying to develop elite players but it is also trying to develop people," he said.

    "Life skills, communication, discipline - all the things that you need to be a good citizen - and these are all attributes that you pick up while serving for your country."

    Then there is the sense of camaraderie common to both the barracks and the dressing-room, the high levels of physical fitness, the reliance on team-mates and the recognition that the whole can be greater than the sum of its parts.

    It is the reason why Stant feels Help for Heroes is such an appropriate charity for the Football League.

    And with the conflict in Afghanistan still claiming the lives of British soldiers, Stant believes that Remembrance Sunday and Armistice Day is a good opportunity for everyone to take stock of the dead, the injured and the legacy of fighting for your country.

    "War is a nasty, dirty business," he said. "People who see their mates being killed have to deal with that every day of their lives."

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