Pierre Bolangi: Losing Your Life for a Game of Football

In July 2000 a group of kids in their late teens returned to pre-season at their professional football club in the pursuit of earning a career. They went to an army camp where they were over trained and pushed beyond their limits physically and emotionally.

it’s the 8th August 2000, around 20:00 the players were taken from the army camp to a nearby forest in a truck and told to get out. The players were told they can either walk back to the base which would take multiple hours or spend the night in the forest relying on each other’s body heat for warmth. The truck drove off. The players were stranded in the forest, it was dark, not knowing what to do the players began to curse their coach who left in the truck with the army instructor. While some were trying to figure out what they were going to do, others lay with each other trying to keep warm in hope that sleep will bring them away from the forest quicker.

Crackle…..crackle…..the crackling of leaves were happening in a walking rhythm. CRACKLE, CRACKLE, CRACKLE… the crackling gets louder, faster and closer. The senses of the players heighten as panic kicks in, who is it? What is it? “AAAAAAAAH”, that was Pierre screeching. Pierre, they’ve taken. Pierre.

What the players didn’t know is that the army instructor and the coach were watching them all along. It was a team building exercise. Pierre was safe and tried to explain how he felt in his normal Tasmanian devil like tone and energy that made people laugh.

It’s now 07:00 on 9th August 2000. Bang! Bang! “Get up”, the army instructor and football coach wake the players up earlier than their usual wake up call, after their unusual evening in the forest the night before. “No training kit! Put on your army overalls” as the instructions rang throughout the corridor the players half asleep pulled on their overalls and lined up outside the building in the blistering sun and told they are going for a run. Fuming but with preseason being a place of not knowing when things go too far, the players did as they were told.

Running along the streets for ten minutes the army instructor takes a detour into the mountains, with the players following his lead. They go further and further up the mountain, the instructor then deveats from the pathway and dives into the lake. Swimming across the instructor looks back at the players and shouts at them to get in, the players froze at the bank of the river looking at each other bemused. “Get in!” The instructor yells, the players get in and begin to swim across, all except two that couldn’t swim. The players were not informed about swimming nor were they asked if they could swim before the run.

The players that began swimming across the river were slowing down at a great rate, whilst the speed of their body increased rapidly with panic, there were going nowhere. They’re drowning! Up for a few seconds of air and pulled down by the weight of the overalls, that multiplied by five when wet. Up, down, up, down. The army instructor is by the other bank whilst the other adult with the teenagers was amongst the pack of players, it’s the education officer of the football club, Phil Gallagher. Phil was pulling the players one by one back to the bank they had just exited, there was one player that was blinded by the panic when he came up for air but remembers seeing the calm face of Pierre. Seeing how things panned out, he’s not sure if the Pierre was calm or if it was the fact that he saw his face for point five of a second. “Whooosh”, Phil grabs the player and pulls him to the bank. The players are laying there, coughing up water, the army instructor has made it across and is doing a count up. “There’s one missing!” The army instructor dives back into the river to search for the missing player but cannot find him.

The player Phil saved just after he saw Pierre’s face is beginning to calm down, get his energy back and become aware of what is going on. As sits up he hears “It’s Pierre! Where’s Pierre?!”, there’s a silence. “Crash!” Realising that the Pierre is gone, the stress of that moment takes the remaining bit of energy in the player as he smashes his head on the floor behind him.

The player was told not to speak to the media, the player saw Counsellor’s that he could not build rapport with him, the player struggled to manage the impact of that day, was angry that the court came to the conclusion that the punishment the army instructor was to receive for the loss of Pierre’s life was a £1500.

That player was me.

The papers reported that we were playing in the water. I have been wanting to tell the truth of what happened on that day since it happened. I felt that my book would of been the perfect place to do so but it wasn’t, my emotion was trying to force it there. Today marks 18 years to the day that we lost Pierre, he was the most positive person I have ever met and brought a smile to everyone within his presence. Those who have been to the Charlton Athletic training ground would of seen the memorial of him (before its removal)  and now will have the truth that goes with it.

kevin George sociologa pierre bolangi Charlton Athletic fc.jpg