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Monday, March 20, 2006

Phil Stant interviewed by the Times

Former Hereford United player Phil Stant has been the subject of an article in this morning's Times.

There are no winners in this shooting match by Rick Broadbent

A veteran of the Falkands conflict is building bridges

A FADED, stained photograph is the only item that survives from Phil Stant's Army days. That and the indelible memories of severed legs, the bombing of the Sir Galahad and bizarre football matches with the SAS.

"War is a horrible, dirty, nasty business," he said. "You're freezing cold, living in a hole in the ground, turning into a zombie. I remember one guy walking around in a daze, covered in someone else's skin. The stench. There are no winners. It's always 1-1 going into extra time."

Now Stant, 43, wants to go back. Next year will be the 25th anniversary of the Falklands conflict and the former Reading, Fulham, Cardiff City and Notts County player wants to take a high-profile player with him and revisit the cliffs that he last saw covered in human excrement and the site where he dug his trench.

He hopes to meet islanders, squaddies and Argentinians, make a film and ensure that the horrors of "the forgotten war" endure. If football, a trivial bond, can play a small, humanising role in the project, all the better.

Stant had a successful career in the lower leagues, playing at 17 clubs from Blackpool to Dover Athletic, but it was his spell in a war zone that made him stand out. He would not be here to tell the story had he not been ordered to leave the Sir Tristram for the Port Pleasant shore on June 7, 1982. "I was p****d off because I had to share a trench with a guy I thought was really stuck up," he said.

"The next day a 1,000lb bomb struck the arse-end of Sir Tristram, which is where I'd been. Everyone was killed. I will never forget watching Galahad and Tristram under attack."

It was the day that he grew up and his recollections of what followed are vivid and distressing. "The door on a chopper opened and out on a stretcher came a lad with his leg blown off just above the knee, with stringy bits hanging off. I could look right down it. There were dead bodies everywhere. You don't act like a human any more. Suddenly, it's not an adventure any more, it's not a game."

In the numbing chaos, Stant's mind would drift. He was upset that he would miss the start of the World Cup, could not get the image of the severed leg out his head and would say "Maradona" to Argentine prisoners of war. His experiences mean that he can understand, if not condone, the mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners.

"It is easy to criticise when you have not been in that position," he said. "But people do not act normally in a war and who are you to judge? I hated Argentinians back then. It was all part of the process. Now they call it post-traumatic stress syndrome. You're angry all the time. It changes you. You never return to the person you used to be."

Stant is good at explaining the difficulties of soldiers in returning to civilian life. He says that you want to talk to the people in the pavement caf├ęs and explain the reality. "They hear ten people have been killed in a car bomb in Baghdad and then go back to worrying about who Man United are playing on Saturday," he said. "Then there are bomb attacks in London and that brings it into people's lives. That's an outrage, but squaddies driving over a landmine is chip paper."

After the Falklands conflict, Stant worked for the bomb-disposal unit alongside the SAS. He played up front for the SAS football team, who adopted an assumed name, in the local league. "We won everything and decided to have a team photo," he said. Stant noticed that three players were missing, whereupon a helicopter began circling and three men in black jumped out. They parachuted down, ripped off the black uniform and unveiled their full kit. "Sorry we're late, lads," they said.

Hereford United bought Stant out of the Army for £600 and sold him to Notts County for £175,000. He would spend 15 years in league football, including a short, ill-fated spell as manager of Lincoln City. He has applied for another 50 jobs, to no avail. Instead, he works as a youth development monitor for the Football League and has just written his memoirs - Ooh, Ah Stantona (John Blake, £17.99). Unusually, in the molly-coddled world of professional sport, he wrote them himself in several A4 folders; he wanted to lay ghosts, not pay them.

Understandably, he believes that some players need a reality check. "The thing that irritates me is when young players think they have made it," he said. "The bad attitudes. A lot of kids come through the system and have never done a day's work. I want to show them the other side of the coin."

Hence, the plan to go back. His ultimate aim would be to meet Diego Maradona. When Argentina beat England at the 1986 World Cup, Maradona said: "Although we had said before the game that football had nothing to do with the Malvinas (Falklands) war, we knew they had killed a lot of Argentine boys there, killed them like little birds. And this was revenge."

If Stant can get his film made, preserve the memory of the dead of both sides and build some bridges via Maradona and football, he will need to buy a new folder and write a postcript to a remarkable story.

A little about Stant from Hereford United's decision to sign Phil Stant out of the army paid off as three years later, they sold him to Notts County for a whopping £175,000. Originally a striker with Reading after returning from the Falklands, Stant was located in Hereford as a member of the bomb disposal squad. He was scoring plenty in the Herefordshire League so United moved quickly to buy him out of the army. Since leaving Hereford, Stant has featured for the likes of Fulham, Cardiff and Lincoln, where he was manager for a period.

Whilst at Hereford he scored 38 goals and made 102 appearances for the club.