LUCKY TO BE ALIVE
Cult hero Kasule on surviving the Clutha tragedy
The night a police helicopter dropped through the roof of Glasgow’s Clutha Vaults pub, Vic Kasule was adopting a pose which he had perfected during a colourful playing career at Albion Rovers, Shrewsbury Town and hamilton. he was propping up the bar.
A brush with death began innocuously enough. With emails to friends and a loose arrangement to start the weekend chatting about coaching opportunities over a pint.
Remembering that Jason Good, a football acquaintance, was playing drums for the band esperanza in the Clutha that night, the venue for a sociable night of live entertainment was settled.
A little after 10.30pm — the date was November 29, 2013 — events took a tragic turn.
‘I was in the same corner as the helicopter came through the roof,’ recalls Kasule now, arms folded tightly as we meet in a hostelry in Glasgow’s west end.
‘I’m told my pal was no more than a few yards from me before he died. From here to that table over there.
‘We never did have that conversation about coaching...’
Ten people perished — including seven Clutha customers, helicopter pilot David Traill and the two police officers who were on board — while 32 were left injured.
Speaking of that night for the first time, Kasule asks Sportsmail to leave out the name of his friend, whose family — like him — crave the chance to move on. To consign the deep, lasting, physical and mental scars of that night to the past.
Known as ‘Vodka Vic’ in his playing days, he recalls: ‘I was knocked out cold. The crash happened on the Friday and I didn’t wake up until the Sunday. I had no recollection of what had happened.
‘I remember waking up in the Royal Infirmary thinking: “how the f*** did this happen?”.
‘My mate, Julian, came up to see me that Monday. he had been in the pub with me and I said: “Right, Julian, run every second by me…”.
‘he had gone to the toilet, thought the band’s speaker had blown, opened the door and came back out to carnage.
‘Dust, noise, metal, everything. he got out and was trying to phone me. It was chaos, people shouting names and so on.
‘Julian didn’t see what actually happened. he just remembered the panic taking over.
‘he called the hospitals and eventually got to my wife who told him: “he’s in the Royal Infirmary”.’
Kasule spent three weeks in hospital care. he had 62 stitches inserted in his back and remains shattered and fragile. Once described as ‘an armoured car of a winger’, he can no longer run, do sit-ups or kick a ball around a park with his sons, aged nine and 14.
‘My back has gone. It hasn’t recovered,’ he reveals.
‘I lost my teeth and have pins in various parts of my body holding things together.’
he appreciates he is lucky to be here at all. In the Clutha that night, a person’s life expectancy could be measured in inches.
‘On the first anniversary of the accident, I spoke to the fireman Frank McKeown, who was the captain of Stranraer at the time.
‘he said: “We found you in the basement of the pub”. It took me a year to find that out.’
Amidst the tales of heroism, Kasule was startled to learn of his own unwitting role in saving a couple of lives.
‘At that first anniversary service, a couple of women came to me and said: “You saved us”.’
‘I had no recollection of them at all. They told me they were there that night, standing next to me.
‘They didn’t want to be too close to the band — but there were no seats and I said to a couple of guys at the bar: “Guys, lift your f ****** rucksacks and let these two ladies sit down”.’
‘They worked out later that if they had been standing beside me rather than sitting in those seats they would probably have died.’
Twelve months after the disaster, life was proving tough for Kasule. he always liked a drink as a player, but the struggle to ascertain how or why a helicopter ploughed through a pub roof on a Friday night before Christmas sent him to a dark place.
‘You can’t rationalise that stuff. Looking back now, I suffered post-traumatic stress. I’m not religious really. I was born a Catholic, I will die a Catholic. That’s it. What I do know is that what happened altered my outlook on life. Things that used to bother me don’t bother me at all now.
‘I was insufferable with the bevvy and all that stuff for a while afterwards. I struggled.
‘eventually I realised: “I need help. I can’t go on like this”.’ ‘I became a ticking time bomb.’ The physical pain and ailments were one thing. The mental duress was almost unbearable. Consumed by anger and resentment, he rejected his GP’s offer of psychiatric help, but saw potential in hypnotherapy and mindfulness techniques, learning to overcome anger by taking respite in a darkened room and moderating his breathing.
‘I don’t know when it’s going to hit me,’ he says now. ‘The best way to describe it is a feeling of hopelessness.
‘I feel angry. I don’t care if I live or die. It builds up and I know it’s coming. If I feel I’m going there, I don’t allow it to happen.
‘I think happy thoughts and do my breathing exercises.’
he also rejects the conclusions reached by the Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) following the Clutha disaster.
‘I’ve read the report compiled by the AAIB and to me it’s a f ****** whitewash,’ claims Kasule.
‘There was a fault in that helicopter. They have tried to pin the blame on the pilot for ignoring the fuel gauge.
‘I don’t believe it was the pilot’s fault. They are not going to accept culpability, are they?’
Kasule is pursuing damages from the helicopter company. his pain and suffering can’t be quantified in financial terms, but a first offer was
I woke up and thought: ‘‘How the f*** did this happen?’’
rejected outright. ‘I look good on the outside, but the engine is badly banged up. I have been made an offer and I have just knocked it back.
‘How much is enough? How do you quantify the losses suffered when you are in that pub?’
Julian Donnelly, his other surviving friend, came to his house for Christmas. There are few who can comprehend what happened in the Clutha that night and those who can stick together.
‘Julian actually saw the carnage. He saw the whole horror. I was out of it, I didn’t.
‘Was that lucky? I don’t know if you call it luck when you are in a pub and a helicopter comes through the roof.
‘But I suppose I was lucky in the sense I didn’t actually witness the carnage. And survived.
‘How did I survive? Who knows?
‘Honestly, I don’t know how or why I am alive when others died. My friend was a few yards away. He died. We were moving in the same circles and he would help me out with kids’ training, travelling up from Paisley where he lived.
‘The working relationship was coming along nicely .... ’
He recognises the cliche in the statement but, at 51, Kasule believes the Clutha disaster has offered him a fresh sense of perspective.
A way of coming to terms with a squandered career in professional football.
‘If I had been a success at football I would have married a Page 3 model and done cocaine by the bucket .... ’
An all-time cult hero of Albion Rovers supporters, Kasule was a rarity in Scottish football in the 1980s because he was black. He further distinguished himself by studying accountancy at Glasgow University to satisfy hi s Ugandan father, a lecturer in zoology.
‘I had a very lovely Albion Rovers chairman, Tom Fagan, who was good to me.
‘He paid me £12 a week and a £20 win bonus. Studying at uni was basically a tax dodge — you got paid less if you were a student. We didn’t win a lot of games, mind, but if you did well he was good for £50 in your back Fresh start: Kasule (left) and during his playing days at Rovers (below) is desperate to take his ‘second chance’ after the crash pocket, no questions asked. Listen, he was Fagan by name, Fagan by nature. But he was good to me.’ He moved to Meadowbank Thistle then on to Shrewsbury where the Vodka Vic nickname was earned in boozing sessions with fellow Scots Dougie Bell, Steve Pittman and Alan Irvine.
‘I would be in my local in Shrewsbury on a Friday night before a game. But I’d be playing darts and drinking nothing stronger than Coke. Rumours started, but I didn’t give a f***.’
Neither was he unduly concerned by a £500 fine and points on his driving licence for overturning team-mate John McGinlay’s high-performance car after a night on the tiles.
‘I took John’s car for a spin the morning after a Monday night at the grab-a-granny pub and decided to do a handbrake turn on the way back. The car literally flipped over a hedge. The cops came to breathalyse me and — unbelievably — it showed up clean. I started laughing.
‘I laughed when the magistrate gave me a £500 fine as well. Just for that he upped the fine to £2,000.’
He can laugh about these things now. Since the Clutha tragedy, Kasule has adopted a laid-back approach to the kind of life which even a Martin Scorsese film would find hard to match.
‘I have survived everything. I could have lost my family, I am alive, I still have a family and two kids. It’s been a great life. You couldn’t write my script. When it comes down to the bottom line, I’m just a lucky b ****** to be alive.’
Kasule quit his job with BT to take up a community coaching role with Lowland League club BSC Glasgow last year, and believes a return to football has been his salvation. Before Albion Rovers’ Scottish Cup clash with Celtic on Sunday, he will continue his recovery with a charity walk from Glasgow to the Excelsior Stadium in Airdrie to raise cash for the Parent Community Sports Trust. ‘I would rather the accident hadn’t happened but football is a form of therapy for the trauma,’ he says. ‘The Broomhill under-16s won their first game on Sunday and I take so much satisfaction from that. I am more serious about football now than I ever was as a player — because when you have come close to death you appreciate what you have. You see players earning £50,000 a week and good for them. ‘But I want to teach kids to enjoy what we had when we put some coats down for goalposts in a park and played football. ‘I was working for BT when the Clutha accident happened. Now I tour round schools in Glasgow and try to educate kids in how to play the game. I coach and act as a PE teacher. I have a second chance and I want to take it.’ l VIC Kasule will do a 15k walk from Glasgow to the excelsior stadium in airdrie before albion Rovers face Celtic in the fourth round of the scottish Cup. Donate at www.justgiving.com
The bottom line is that I’m a lucky b ****** to still be alive