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Football helping our Armed Forces heroes

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Paul Fletcher | 06:00 UK time, Wednesday, 11 November 2009

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.

philstantkerrydixon595335ge.jpgPhil Stant in army uniform with team-mate Kerry Dixon during his season at Reading in November 1982

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."

You can follow me throughout the season at twitter.com/Paul__Fletcher

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    Hi,
    Good story.
    One minor point and you are going to hate me for being a pedantic so and so. That is not a 'machine gun'. It is a 7.62mm SLR (self loading rifle). It was the weapon used by all of the services before the current rifle, the SA80, was introduced. Semi-automatic and single shot only if I remember correctly.

  • Comment number 2.

    This is a good story, especially as I was not aware that the Help for Heroes charity was this seasons chosen charity so thanks for filling me in on that. I have to laugh though, that usually the comments boards after a football blog article are filled with vitriolic arguing so glad to see the only argument here is going to be about the model of gun in the photo.

  • Comment number 3.

    I think the story has more relevance than what rifle is being used in the picture.... I for one am very happy that help for heroes is the chosen charity as i have family and friends in the armed forces and am ex forces myself... I cant begin to imagine what those guys see on a daily basis and am so proud of every single one of them.. Keep going lads and ladies you are amazing.

  • Comment number 4.

    #1 Thanks for the comment, and point noted re model of gun

  • Comment number 5.

    Enjoyed the article.

    Is good to hear a real hero story and appreciate our lads and girls who have been fantastic. People like me just don't know what they must endure and it is very humbling when reminded of this. Also good to get away from the over-financed, over-dramatized theatre of the current football world.

    Thanks.

    ps: DM, pointless and trivial fact?

  • Comment number 6.

    It's not a gun, it's a rifle. It's a 7.62mm L1A1 SLR. Where the SLR stands for self loading rifle.

  • Comment number 7.

    As a Falklands veteran myself its nice to see Mr Stant doing such a good
    job and he is so right with the parallels of forces life and sport with
    his experience teaching the youth of today.I have no doubt he will say
    that he's had a good life and so have I,but we must always remember those
    lads who never had that chance.

    Keep up the good work
    yours GN

  • Comment number 8.

    Good Luck to Stant - and Good luck to all our troops/servicemen/women currently serving.

    I am not service/ex-service myself... i couldn't think of anything worse to be honest - but I am extremely grateful and proud of the guys that do the job and think the charity is fantastic and very worthy!

    6. Originalprideoflions - Please forgive those of us who don't refer to things in such specific terms, i think most "civvies" would call it a "gun" as it looks like what most people would descrivbe as "a gun".

  • Comment number 9.

    I disagree with help for heroes being the chosen charity. These people chose to go in the army. There are much more worthwhile causes out there, where people have not had a choice about what has happened to them.

  • Comment number 10.

    Phil Stant = Legend!
    One of my all time favourite Cardiff players, heart and soul into every game!
    Also, his book is a great read. 100 times better than anything these premier league stars come out with!

    Keep up the good work Phil, always welcome in Cardiff

  • Comment number 11.

    I'll never forget Seargeant Stant's goals for Bury including 4 away at Mansfield in a 5-1 win. What a guy.

  • Comment number 12.

    Off subject but in defense of the author... a well placed match stick will convert that into a machine gun no problem.

  • Comment number 13.

    I remember watching Stanty and dixon in their first, only and worst FA cup match for Reading when the lowly non league opposition beat them at Elm park 2-1, to win their first FA Cup tie against league opposition. The team was Bishops Stortford (gods that year) who reached the 3rd round and drew with Malcolm Allisons Boro at Arysome Park (we were 2-0 down at half time but scored twice in 5 minutes after the restart)before losing in the reply. Phil was a credit in the army as a soldier and as a professional footballer. I bet Bury didn't pay that much to buy him out either!!

    I'm glad that someone pointed out the rifle, BBC journalists should be the guardians of correct English and correct terminology. A minute on google would have highlighted the weapon that Phil was holding. Over 10 pounds of shoulder bruising recoil in my memory!!

  • Comment number 14.

    I'd just like to say as a now ex serviceman that comment that was written at no 9 by simon that has been sent for referal, well done BBC Sport it was a well mistimed tackle (keep it in the football theme) can i just say yes there are other charities out there correct but in the same right in the current climate ( talking about Afghan and Iraq of which both i have served ) many a man has been left unaided in his fight for life on the outside world or for rehabillitation and it took over 100 deaths for this country to stand up and make serviceman finally count dont blame the charity i have lost seven members of my family to cancer, a brother to cot death, and both grandads to heart problems but let me say something i donate to each and everyone of the supporting charities to these treacherous illnesses but most of all i donate to the Royal British Legion ( yes the one we all forget about till today rememberance day )who literally struggle year on year for support And Help For Heroes because it is the 'New Age' forces charity but all the work they have done has made many an injured serviceman happy in the belief they can do it again men returning to theatres with prosthetic limbs Men just walking again or men just being able to live life i personally having someone like stantona fronting this campaign is awesome there are no big names there although i personally know a few who donate heavily!!! My big point to you simon is you dont see help for heroes shops like you do marie curie, cancer research, Brit heart foundation etc they rely on people doing something for there countrys serviceman walks, runs, fancy dress or in the forces mentality something randomly bonkers!!!! So lay off mate and respect the work people put in to keep your backside in its beloved frontroom it isnt ideal and we would all ove to see them back here now, just like we did in both World Wars,The Falklands, Northern Ireland, Bosnia, Iraq and Afghan they do sign the dotted line but there are rules you abide by and amongst them is the greatest Selfless Commitment, to the queen, to your country and mostly to your Oppo ( Rant Over ) Brilliant article some brilliant comments, many a forces man has stepped on to the various playing fields in years past and long may that last Phil your an inspiration keep up the good work.

  • Comment number 15.

    Probably the best blog on the BBC Sport site, another good read.
    Interesting to hear Phil draw the comparison between lfe in the services and professional sport. Not sure how much of that translates to some of the prima donnas in the Premiership though.
    In support of comment #14, it is a wider issue about how the memory of people seems to dim with every passing year, but if anything the Help for Heroes charity should help to keep the very real and overwhelming sacrifice that servicemen and women make across the globe in people's minds. A proper charity highlighting a very important issue will always draw support from real football fans.

  • Comment number 16.

    Now then,

    Thanks for the comments - and yes, I really must be more diligent when researching weapons in future. Outside of AK47s I am all at sea.

    Phil was a great bloke to interview, really up front with his answers but very down to earth.

    I think Help for Heroes is a pretty appropriate charity for the Football League to support, but then again I guess it is pretty difficult to really say with any degree of accuracy which charity is more worthy of support than another. it is all very subjective.

  • Comment number 17.

    It really annoys me when people hijack a really good article with pedantic little points. Gun, rifle whatever, to most of us it's something that fires bullets.

    Good article though about something outside the usual football areas.

  • Comment number 18.

    i do believe that help for heroes was perhaps not the best choice for the football league charity of season, but i wouldnt go as far as poster no.9 and say that it was underserving! i believe the way soldiers injured in the battlefront are poorly treated by this and previous governments is shocking, especially with a lack of psychological help - but i dont feel that it is the right charity for the league to put its full might behind, especially considering that so many high profile organisations are already heavily backing help for heroes!

  • Comment number 19.

    I was Phil Stant's Platoon Sergeant who guided him through his basic training with Gibraltar Platoon, Training Battalion RAOC 1979/80. Even at the age of 19, he was a brilliant young footballer, far too good for the level at which he intially played within the Army. I must admit to trying to influence him to play Rugby! Mad he said, you lot are mad!

    I also have to say that he was a very good soldier who performed his duties with due diligence and with an easy going nature. I was not suprised at his subsequent success as a professional solder nor that he has been chosen to represent the Football League in its relationship with Help the Heroes.

    I have kept a weather eye on Phil's career and his activities since he retired from playing. He deserves all of the success and the accolades that have fallen his way. I also suspect however that he will find the attention very embarrasing. He is a credit to all those who have influenced him down the years, I am very proud to have played a very small part in that process.

    Good luck Phil from your old Platoon Sergeant!

  • Comment number 20.

    I don't think it's been mentioned, but Stant was a mini goal machine, scoring an amazing 172 league goals in 447 league appearances. That kind of quality is up there with your Defoes and Shearers now, and i'm positive if he had've played into todays game he'd have won the chance to play in the English top league as he deserved to, and made a fair old impact.
    Don't anyone underestimate the stats this former footballer has behind him.

  • Comment number 21.

    Great article Fletch! Really good to see not only a good mention of our forces, but of one who wore the beautiful Blue Hoops.

    Any chance you could add a mention of the Help for Heroes Charity match taking part tomorrow at the Madejski Stadium? The Heroes Cup where an England XI is taking on a World XI? Seems quite fitting as it is at Stant's old Teams new ground???

    And to #14 Liam Round, well said mate. It is true that service men do have choice whether or not to sign up, but if no one did, who'd protect us? #9, you'd rather we had no armed force in this country? You'd say the same to WWII vets? Or do you have a different stance on the old guard? No service man I have ever come across (and my brother is a vet of Iraq and Afghan and I'm a soon to be Navy Officer (pilot with luck)) has ever asked for any charity, but they accept it with the same grace and dignity which they seek to retain in dealing with their injuries. You can;t give limbs back, but you can give dignity back, and whether it is lost limbs, or severe mental trauma (something the government single handedly fails to address or recognise), I don;t see why you would want to be the one to deny them that help?

  • Comment number 22.

    A pedant continues... and only because, probably like the other pedants who have served in the forces, used the SLr and been to the Falklands...

    It's a rifle. A self-loading rifle.

    A well placed matchstick??!! would not turn it into a machine gun, merely, and not for long, enable it's fully-automatic mode: an assault rifle.

    Sorry for the pedantry, but for an ex military guy and a current football fan, the mistake on the weapon would be to a football fan, as if you said he'd played for Hartlepool and played at right-back...

  • Comment number 23.

    Brilliant article and you know what fellas i need to come on here more often no.21 thanks for the support and best of luck in your career i am an ex royal navy engineer, you cant support the right charity no one ever could, and in the same sentence can i say guy whittingham is another ex vet ( ex villa (not real claret and blue though) ) but no. 18 can i also state that with friends personally involved ( heavily ) in top flight clubs there are actually none that outright heavily support help for heroes it is purely people like me and you and other great guys that fund this charity as well as many other charities some really class comments and hope we all keep the faith in the men out and about for big liz and mostly us!!! As he navy saying goes splice the main brace and god bless

  • Comment number 24.

    A Cardiff Great.

    One of the hardest working footballers I have ever seen. It was a priviledge to see Phil Stant in a Cardiff shirt.

    Congratulations of what you have already achieved Phil and all the best for the future.

  • Comment number 25.

    Help For Heroes

    Congratulations to Phil Stant both for his work as a soldier and as a footballer now working to further both causes. I remember seeing Phil at Elm Park and, yes, I remember that awful Cup Game!
    For all those interested in supporting this great cause, please go along to Reading's Madejski Stadium TONIGHT (12th November) to see what promises to be a great event as an England Team take on the rest of the World with some truly great names from the world of football, entertainment AND THE ARMED FORCES play out a fund raising game. Selected international players from all three services wil be amongst those playing and the match forms part of Reading's week of tribute to all those serving our Country and all those who have given their lives or suffered injury in the service of their country.
    At the Reading vs Ipswich game last Saturday, 6 serving soldiers from Afghanistan led out the teams, proudly bearing their flag and stood proudly in the middle of the pitch as all the fans - without exception - clapped their presence and then immaculately observed the minute's silence - well done to all concerned.

  • Comment number 26.

    I remember Phil Stamp when he was at middelsbrough. he was a great rotund midfieldser. like a gazza but with less ability and more chin. i thought he went to play in scotland and he must have been very young when he was in the falklands

  • Comment number 27.

    tomefcca, (26), One can only assume, or perhaps hope, that your comment is an attempt at humour. We are talking StanT, not StamP.

  • Comment number 28.

    rooneysdad - Many thanks for posting. I really do like it when someone who knew the subject of a blog years previously gives us a little insight.

    Have you seen Phil recently, at any reunions or anything? I get the feeling that he is still very much the same, straight talking, down to earth bloke.

  • Comment number 29.

    touche paul. surely any mention of phil stamp is humour in it's own right?

    but yeah seriously, i'm sure a military experience would perhaps make a lot of the pampered superstars out there wake up and smell the coffee.

  • Comment number 30.

    Hi again,
    I think if you read my previous post I did start with 'good story'. As an ex-serviceman (28yrs) I am fully on board with the Help for Heroes charity. As for hi-jacking this blog with pedantic comments. Well, I'm not sure how to react to that. I think you'll find it was supposed to be humorous as is reflected in my 'you're going to hate me for being a pedantic so and so' comment.

    Cheers

    Don

 

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