LUCKY TO BE ALIVE

Cult hero Ka­sule on sur­viv­ing the Clutha tragedy

Scottish Daily Mail - - Rugby - by Stephen McGowan

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

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