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Special Feature: Lest We Forget.....

PUBLISHED

08:00 10th November 2013

Clive Smith's story

There have been many cheers and much applause at Molineux so far this season, as Kenny Jackett takes a fresh and revamped Wolves side into a new era.

And hopefully there will be many, many more to come.

But it is unlikely there will be another ovation packed with as much feeling and emotion as when Sapper Clive Smith delivered the matchball to the centre circle for last weekend’s game with Stevenage.

To mark Wolves’ annual Armed Forces fixture, lifelong fan Clive, for the second year in succession, was a special guest at Molineux to not only deliver the ball but also raise awareness of the Royal British Legion’s Poppy Appeal.

And if the applause which greeted his entrance and half time on-pitch interview was laced with the pride and admiration of the Wolves public, that was in stark contrast to the eerie quiet of the impeccably-observed minute’s silence, broken only by the sound of flags blowing against flagpoles in the Autumn wind.

One of those special Molineux moments, when thousands upon thousands come together to remember that there is indeed more to life than football.

“For me it was unbelievable to walk out at Molineux both last year and this,” says Clive.

“My Season Ticket was in the South Bank – I spent 15 years of my life there religiously, like a church!

“That’s where my heart lies – and to hear them shouting my name was unbelievable.

“I bleed gold and black, and that reception I received last weekend will stay with me forever.”

Players Applaud Clive Smith 091113 4x3

While a walking embodiment – quite literally - of the courage and commitment which typify Britain’s military, there is of course more to Clive’s story than purely serving his country, which included two tours of Afghanistan.

Because it was on his final tour, back in 2010, that whilst leading the search for IED’s (Improvised Explosive Devices), he did – in his own words – “find what I was looking for”.

Only problem was that he found the device, impossible to detect due to having been placed at a considerable depth some 18 months previously, by stepping on it.

As a result Clive is now a double leg amputee, continuing to receive rehabilitation at the Defence Medical Unit at Headley Court in Surrey.

It was not long after leaving Cannock Chase High School that Clive embarked on a military career.

A talented footballer, he completed some coaching badges before deciding that wasn’t really for him, and whilst working part-time at Pizza Hut in Cannock he visited the Recruitment Office in Stoke.

The pursuit of a career in which he could still “be sporty” and play football at a decent level offered up the Royal Engineers as the corps of choice, and after flying through the tests the real training began at the Gibraltar Barracks in Camberley.

Clive’s first posting came with the 9 Parachute Squadron at RAF Woodbridge in Suffolk, where his four years included pre-deployment training in Kenya.

And it was in 2008 that he embarked on his first trip to Afghanistan, deployed on a six-month mission which he labelled ‘the Call of Duty tour’.

“It was Operation Herrick 8, and we were infantry support going around with 2 Para (regiment),” he recalls.

“It was basically blowing up anything that moved, running around the desert in floppy hats and baseball caps and body armour looking like the guys from Call of Duty.”

On completing four years with the 9 Para, Clive changed his speciality and took a different path down the route of EOD (Explosive Ordnance Disposal) joining the 61 Field Squadron, part of the 33 Engineer Regiment.

After six further months of rigorous training there was further pre-deployment exercise before a second tour of Afghanistan soon came around.

On September 15th, 2010, Clive’s favourite football team were in between fixtures in Fulham and Tottenham as Mick McCarthy’s men tried to establish themselves in their second season in the Premier League.

For Clive himself, he was setting out on the tour that would change his life.

And only he can tell that story.

“We were the first EOD team to land as part of the battle group and were the lead team in Helmand at the time so were checking over all the equipment and making sure all the kit was serviceable for when the rest of the teams came over,” he says.

“We got the ‘intel’ from the Afghan National Army that there was an IED factory in Nahr-e-Saraj which had been narrowed down to a mile square.

“We were called in to find it basically and had the cordons out with the infantry to make sure we didn’t have any incoming fire while we were conducting searches.

“We were out about 4 o’clock in the morning and it was all routine – we had crossed over a river and done all the drills correctly.

“I was the lead man that day because I’d taken it on myself really to lead the way; I had cleared the route and gone through five hours or so unscathed but there were some local nationals acting suspiciously so we knew we were on the right track.

“We had narrowed it down to two compounds of where it was going to be.

“I spoke to my team commander and prepped to cross the river and avoid entering the compound via the front as it was likely to be booby-trapped.

“We were going through the area and leading through it with the search equipment and the device was just not detected.

“As it transpired that was no fault of the kit – it had been buried that deep and 18 months previously that there was no way search equipment could detect it.

“In that job you do rely a lot on your training and on your skills but there is always the involvement of luck as well.

“And that was the day that my luck ran out.....”

To outsiders it is impossible to imagine the scene after such an incident and the emotions and reactions of those involved.

To those on the field including Clive, who by this time had lost one leg above the knee and his other below – which was also unfortunately beyond saving – it was a case of getting on with the job.

He continues:  “So yes I’d gone out to find an IED and find it I did – I got blown 12 foot in the air and landed on my head, which is thick enough anyway.

“Fortunately I landed a foot away from the river we’d just crossed because if I’d ended up in there I’d have been swept away.

“As soon as I hit the deck the military instinct kicked in, and it was a case of finding out what had happened, who was injured and thinking about all the contact reports.

“I’d been leading and was trying to orchestrate what was going on and shouted: “Who’s been hit?”

“There was dust everywhere and no one could see anything.

“I remember trying to stand up and I just fell over and thought: ‘that’s odd’.

“And then one of the lads screamed, “It’s you, stay down!”

“I didn’t believe him really and then the dust started to settle and the adrenalin wore off and I looked down and thought ****.

“It kicked in as soon as I saw the extent of my injuries – that’s what made it real.

“I saw what had happened and realised this was pretty bad.

“I quickly went into standard operating procedure – I had tourniquets in both shoulder pockets which I self-applied along with morphine.

“I shouted to the others to double check everything and not come to me initially in case there was a secondary device.

“As soon as they got to me they were all over me like a rash, and at the end of the day those lads saved my life.

“I did as much as I could but I was bleeding out and they were straight on top of it.”

As an Apache helicopter circled nearby to serve as a deterrent against enemy forces it was on board a Chinook that Clive’s survival mission really stepped up.

But not before he had managed to land one final blow – on the doctor trying to treat him!

“My last memory of Afghanistan was of a 6ft 8in South African doctor saying he was going to put a massive needle in my chest!

“I told him if he came any nearer I would chin him – it’s fair to say the adrenalin was flowing and I was high as a kite off the morphine and felt I could take on the world, even after losing my legs.

“He came towards me with this needle and I put one on him, and so after that the rest of the lads had to lie on my arms.

“They injected me with something - to this day I don’t know what it was - straight through the breastbone, the first stage of inducing me into a coma.

“And that was the last knowledge I had of Afghanistan.

“Did I have time to think about everything else and my family when it happened?  I think I was probably swept up in the moment of trying to survive.

“When the rest of the lads were on top of it and I was on the stretcher there was a bit of time, not so much to reflect, but quickly wonder what was going to happen next.

“I do remember saying to my mate that my days of skipping contests and egg and spoon races were over.

“I couldn’t really allow myself to get too deep at that stage as I didn’t know what the next 40 minutes would hold, let alone an hour, two hours, four hours and beyond.”

There is of course another story to the men and women who serve their country in dangerous locations and troublesome situations – those family and friends they leave behind.

There is almost constant banter interspersed in this interview between Clive and his Dad Steve,  like all good father/son relationships, and clearly the support of family and friends has played a major part in his recovery.

However, for a family with a loved one out fighting in Afghanistan, the nagging fear of the very worst that can happen must surely never be far away.

And so it was that news was swiftly relayed back from Helmand Province on that October morning just over three years ago.

“On the day that it happened I was out and my partner Allison was at home getting ready to go into work in the afternoon,” Dad Steve explains.

“These two blokes came walking up the drive dressed in suits and she wouldn’t open the door, until they said they were from the British Army.

“Like me, Allison had worked in the Police, and also as a Family Liaison Officer, but they couldn’t tell her anything as she wasn’t the next of kin.

“The only concession was that they said it wasn’t the worst, and they had to come and find me, and when I saw Allison’s ashen face I knew it wasn’t good.

“The first thing I said was that I didn’t need to know who they were but I know what they were and I asked: “is he dead?”

“The reply was ‘no’, and then we were able to sit down and have a chat.

“The medical team did such a great job, and the average recovery time from an incident to the operating table in Camp Bastion is 45 minutes.

“That is inside the ‘golden hour’ which they talk about, and that is why they have saved as many soldiers as they have.

“In World War Two, the Falklands, and probably even Iraq, Clive wouldn’t have stood a chance with the combination of shock and blood loss.

“But with the surgeons getting to work within an hour, and then doing what they do with two hours of table time, they were able to stabilise him, and then he was back in the ‘Herc’ and to the UK where they could really spend some time on him.

“When we got to the QE (Birmingham’s Queen Elizabeth Hospital) and Clive was admitted, his captain was there to explain everything, still in his full desert fatigues with sand on his boots.

“He and his team were then straight back to Birmingham and on the plane back to Afghanistan.”

Clive’s recovery was swift, remarkably so.

For days he was kept in an induced coma, overall he was in the QE Hospital for five weeks, but even before Christmas arrived, he had already kicked off his rehabilitation.

Since 2010 that rehabilitation has continued with the long journeys to and from Headley, and recently he picked up his new Genium prosthetics.

The physical rehabilitation is one thing, mentally and psychologically is quite clearly another.

“Everyone has good days and bad days and days when you wake up and say I can’t be bothered with this and you have to write it off,” says Clive.

“It took me a while, longer than I thought it would, to get my head in gear and realise that no one else was going to do it for me.

“And then came one of those ‘Eureka’ moments, when I woke up one day and realised I had two choices.

“To spend the rest of my life in a chair doing little bits and pieces here and there or get on with it, ‘man up’ and just do as much as I can while I can.

“I’m not 30 yet – I might be going grey but I had a hard paper round – and have just got to think it could be worse.

“Yes, whenever anyone asks how I remain positive, I just say it could be worse.

“It could have been two legs and an arm, all four, a head injury, spinal injury, internal injury – I might not even have made it back.

“It could always have been worse, and you do get great support from family and friends.

“I’m still serving now and the banter between the lads keeps us all going.

“At Headley with the other amputees there’s plenty of mickey-taking and a single leg amputee will get told he’s got a flesh wound and a single amputee below the knee? Well that’s just a scratch.

“You bounce off each other and that’s the way you find to deal with it really.

“For me, the best way is to say. ‘what next’? What’s the next challenge?”

It is that positive attitude in the face of such adversity which not only drew such heartfelt applause from all sides of Molineux last weekend but has also helped Clive’s family and friends through some difficult days.

Clearly there will be further tough times ahead, many more good days and bad, but the response in the three years since sustaining the injury has inspired those closest to him as well as others from further afield.

“Clive’s attitude has made our dealing with it a lot easier,” says Steve.

“If we’d had to pick him up and keep on at him because he was sitting on his backside and doing nothing it would have been difficult.

“It sounds almost dismissive but I think everyone knows that in Clive’s situation, and he did too, right from the very start it is almost like it’s an occupational hazard.

“Everyone knows what they are getting themselves into, they put themselves in the Lion’s Den and it’s not like stepping out onto Waterloo Road and getting knocked over by a bus and it not being expected.

“I remember talking to him in the early says in the QE (hospital) and he said that when he looked at it, everything in the fullness of time will be ‘do-able’, except from playing football.

“And I told him that was debateable in the first place!
“You hear all these horror stories about the dark days and we’re told the average show time for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is 13 years.

“But we’ve not seen anything like that and while we try and help him along and we are always there he doesn’t want us fussing too much.

“The phrase we use together is that he needs to stand on his own two feet! And that’s what he wants to do as well.

“We’re always on hand though whether in person or at the other end of a phone, and I remember the one time I had to go and get him some shopping done in the morning because he’d forgotten to charge his legs up overnight!

“Of course we are very proud of him, and it was very emotional to see him walk out at Molineux and get that reception.

“I’m more of a Wolves follower than a fan, but my allegiance is here, and I know how much it meant to Clive.

“When the South Bank kicked up like they did it was a bit special.

“We’ve always said about Wolves fans though, whatever their feelings their hearts are all in the right place and I thought the minute’s silence was impeccable, and that the players and fans from both clubs did everyone proud.”

Stevenage3 Clive Smith 021113 4x3

As the ‘Face’ of the British Legion’s Poppy Appeal over the last year – “not sure why they’d want my ugly mug” is Clive’s typically self-effacing response – he has mingled with the great and the good at events both in London and at Headley Court.

The list of royalty includes – without the titles! - William, Kate, Harry (twice), Charles, Camilla and Anne, as well as celebrities and entertainers from Pixie Lott to Alesha Dixon, Katie Price to Barbara Windsor, and Christian Bale to Warwick Davis.

“I’d have to say a lot of that pales into significance compared to this place,” says Clive, with a nod towards the Molineux pitch.

“You could take everything away and as long as I’ve got this place I’d be happy.

“It has been a great experience working with the Legion though, and they have done so much for me.

“If what I have done with them manages to make a few more people remember to buy a poppy, or raise that awareness just a little bit more, then hopefully it will have helped.”

Oh it will Clive.  It most certainly will.

But what next for Sapper Smith?

Today he will stand with family and friends to mark the remembrance in his home town of Cannock, but tomorrow his battle goes on.

He has two further admissions at Headley Court and is due to be fitted with running blades in January.

Then, on March 31, he is – in his words – due to be “cut loose” from service when he is officially discharged from duty.

Time for a new chapter. At the age of 28, a new beginning. 

“Yes it’s off into the big, wide world to try and find a job,” he says with a smile.

“When I joined up I wouldn’t have anticipated this day coming for maybe another ten years or so and with what has happened my options at employment have been diminished somewhat!

“At the moment it’s a case of waiting and seeing, and maybe trial and error looking at different things because I literally have no idea what I am going to do.

“It’s a very competitive job market, so it’s a case of getting out there, trying to sell myself as best as possible and finding something that is suitable.

“I’ll have a pension so finance isn’t the big issue and I’ve spoken to my military liaison about different courses and qualifications I could go for.

“But whatever happens to me, and even with this attention, I ain’t gonna change!

“I am who I am, and I could be a billionaire, I could be skint on my backside, but I’d still be the same type of person.

“Things have changed for me physically but they will never change for me mentally – it’s your personality that defines who you are as a human being.

“What is it they call it? Positive mental attitude.  That’s what it is about for me now, staying focused, and just carrying on being a pain and doing what I’m doing.”

The man who first watched Wolves in the friendly game with Honved in 1993 and has since enjoyed and endured plenty of footballing ups and downs including the play-off final victory against Sheffield United, counts Steve Bull as his hero.

But when it comes to true heroes, both Bully himself and those Wolves and Stevenage players who broke away from their warm up to gather around -  and applaud Clive - at Molineux last weekend, would undoubtedly come up with a far different opinion.....

 

*Click here to view Clive Smith delivering the matchball at Molineux.

 

*The poppy shirts worn by Wolves players in the games with Stevenage and Oldham will be auctioned off via the club’s EBay site to raise money for the Royal British Legion. Keep an eye on the Official Website next week.

 

 

 

 

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