Hammers players surprise ex-serviceman ahead of Blesma awareness game
Over the last five years West Ham United have partnered with Blesma, The Limbless Veterans charity, which aims to assist limbless and injured veterans to lead independent and fulfilling lives by providing their members, both young and old, with the latest advice on prosthetics and benefits; as well as practical, emotional and financial support.
In the lead-up to the armed forces charity’s awareness fixture tomorrow and as part of West Ham United’s Players’ Project, earlier this week Blesma member, veteran and season ticket holder, Matthew Weston, was surprised on a video call by Ryan Fredericks and Pablo Fornals.
Matt thought he was having a catch-up with his manager at Barclays and a representative from Blesma, when the Hammers players jumped on the call; “I wasn’t expecting this, c’mon, I’m not even wearing a team shirt!” commented the shocked ex-serviceman, adding: “My dad’s not going to believe this.”
At 16-years-old, Matt’s childhood fascination with cars and planes is partly to thank for the reason he signed up for a bomb disposal role within the Royal Engineers.
Whilst British Troops were serving in Afghanistan, Improvised Explosive Devices (IED) were a huge threat and in 2009, Matt headed to Afghanistan as part of a team which disposed of over 100 IEDs in just four months.
At just 20-years-old, Matt’s life changed forever when a bomb exploded and caused the loss of both his legs and right arm below the elbow.
The now 31-year-old told the players: “My regiment actually dealt with a few bombs when they were building London Stadium and then in 2008 we re-rolled to a broader thing where we could deploy overseas so I got sent to Afghanistan and that’s where I got injured.
“So that was Summer 2009; got blown up by an IED in a notoriously bad place in Afghanistan. They told my family I wasn’t going to survive.”
His recovery has been long, slow and difficult and Matt has already had more than 50 operations. His first introduction to Blesma was when he was at Selly Oak Military Hospital.
“After my injury, the support officer I had was my lifeline. Blesma helps you move back into civilian life, but its people are ex-military, so they completely understand you.
“Like many people with these injuries, they focus on what they lost and it is mostly a physical thing, like ‘I lost my limbs’. But I realised after several years that essentially I lost my job and I need to start thinking about additional careers.”
Matt’s recovery officer at Blesma recommended he consider Barclays’ employment opportunities for ex-servicemen and women.
In February 2013, Matt swapped his Military uniform for a suit, as he underwent training to become an accessibility analyst at Barclays as part of the Armed Forces Transition Employment Resettlement (AFTER) programme to help injured soldiers into work. Two years later, Matt was employed full-time at Barclays and he is now Manager of the AFTER programme, helping to get ex-servicemen and women into the right civilian jobs when they leave the forces.
When asked by the players what the last year has been for him, Matt remarked: “We’ve actually employed more people [ex-servicemen and women] in 2020 than we did the year before, so it’s going good but obviously I can’t wait to get back to normal and I can get back to the Stadium again – I can’t wait for that.”
Reflecting on Matt’s journey, Fredericks told the veteran: “It’s an inspiration to all of us. Knowing that we’ve got fans out there like that can only be a good thing, and hopefully we can see you and get you down to a game when all of this is over.”
“Blesma’s been there front the start for Matt and we’ve been doing everything we can. As Matt said, limb-loss doesn’t really shorten anybody’s life – you can see him now, he’s thriving, employing other people,” said Blesma’s Corporate Partnerships Manager, Mike Allen.
Summing up the service provided to him, Matt stated: “I know that Blesma will always be there for me, right through my life.”
As well as supporting younger generations through complex trauma, Blesma are still caring for our World War II veterans and providing this vital support to their members is where your contribution can really make a difference.
If you want to help support their limbless and injured veterans, visit blesma.org/support or text WHFC to 70085 to donate £3 today.