A paratrooper who was told his leg might have to be amputated after he was injured in Afghanistan has returned to the football pitch as the Army team's midfield dynamo.
Lance Corporal Tony Fitzpatrick, from 2nd Battalion The Parachute Regiment (2 PARA), was shot in the legs four times after his patrol was ambushed in Helmand province last December.
But after extensive surgery and treatment at the Defence Medical Rehabilitation Centre at Headley Court, LCpl Fitzpatrick is back to full fitness.
Earlier this month, the 30-year-old completed his recovery by pulling on the red shirt of the Army football team to play in a 5-0 win over Sussex FA in the Southern Counties Cup competition.
LCpl Fitzpatrick, from Leicester, said:
I really felt proud to get back on the pitch. I used to take my fitness for granted, but after being injured I know I can’t do that. My injury has given me a new view of life and I focus on what I can do and get on with it.
LCpl Fitzpatrick was first selected for the Army team in September 2009 and played four matches that season as well as for the 2 PARA team that won the Army FA Challenge Cup in April 2010.
In October 2010 he deployed on a six-month tour of Afghanistan and on 30 December 2010 was shot during a night operation in the Nahr-e Saraj (South) area. He said:
Our patrol base had been attacked from the same location several times and we went out to search the compounds. All of a sudden we came under heavy fire and I felt three rounds pass through my right thigh, and then another one through my left thigh.
Within 20 hours LCpl Fitzpatrick was back at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham where he had five operations before spending a month at Headley Court. The father-of-one said:
You’re told the worst in hospital, and that was that my right leg might be amputated. I can remember lying in bed and thinking that was the end of my Army career and playing football.
But I was determined to do my best and the treatment I had was brilliant, particularly at Headley Court. I worked really hard and the staff pushed me, both physically and psychologically.
LCpl Fitzpatrick went back to 2 PARA in June this year and immediately returned as a tough, tackling centre midfielder for the battalion football team. He was then selected for the infantry team and called up to train with the Army.
Major Richie Bell, manager of the Army football team, said:
From his first trial LCpl Fitzpatrick stood out as a tenacious midfielder who was extremely fit with good technical abilities. In his first season he played well and we were looking to him to take on a bigger role on his return from Afghanistan.
When I heard about his injury I though that was the end of his football career, but then he was back playing and I invited him to come down for training. He impressed so much that we put him straight into the starting eleven and he more than justified his selection.
LCpl Fitzpatrick, who is married to Kerry-Marie and has a four-year-old son called Joshua, said:
I know I’ve been lucky and the surgeons can’t believe the recovery I’ve made. It’s brilliant to play football again at a high level, but what means the most to me is that I’ll be able to have a kick-around in the park with Joshua.
Lieutenant Colonel Adam Dawson, Commanding Officer of 2 PARA, said:
LCpl Fitzpatrick’s recovery is a prime example of the formidable spirit and character of the paratrooper. The determination and grit he has shown to get over his injuries and back on the football field is a credit to himself, the Parachute Regiment and the Army.