Thursday, March 22, 2012
Victor Kasule: 'Vodka Vic'
"I can't stand vodka. If they'd called me Brandy Vic, now that would have been another matter..." Victor Kasule in 1996.
Despite his personal hatred for the alliterative moniker that followed him throughout his brief career, 'Vodka Vic' Kasule has been unable to escape the notoriety that his drinking had provided. Few players could have ruffled so many feathers in such a brief timeframe and yet be so unknown outside of the confines of Scottish football, and sleepy Shrewsbury.
Kasule was born in Glasgow in 1965 to a Scottish mother and a Ugandan father, the former a teacher and the latter a professor of zoology who died when he was 15. Not exactly the hard upbringing that many bad-boys of football would cite, but Kasule's impact on the game would be anything but conventional.
Arriving at Albion Rovers in 1984 as a raw 19-year-old, the winger was one of the first black footballers to break into the Scottish game and was regularly subjected to racist abuse. Playing in 132 games and scoring 18 goals ensured that his performances on the pitch were enough to silence the bigots and soon he was being talked about by other clubs.
His form in his formative years in Scotland saw Meadowbank Thistle pay a club record of £28,000 for him in 1987 and seven goals in his 35 games with the club saw English Second Division outfit Shrewsbury Town take an interest only a year later. When the Shrews came in with an offer of £35,000, it was too good to refuse and Kasule gave up a place at Glasgow University to follow his football dream south.
His first season in the English league saw him described in The Guardian as "an armoured car of a right winger with a cannon for a shot". Shrewsbury manager Ian McNeill revealed at the time: "The crowd love his exploits. People stop me in the street to ask if Victor will be playing in the next game" and, according to Geoff Tibballs in Football Greatest Characters, his strike that brought victory over Leeds in 1988 "was rated one of the most spectacular even seen at Gay Meadow".
The 7,369 fans who witnessed this effort - one of three from 14 games - were lucky indeed as they also caught a glimpse of his goal celebration: a flamboyant somersault (long before the likes of Lomana LuaLua and Faustino Asprilla) that also dislocated his toe. Kasule was forced to leave the pitch with his injury and missed the next two games, although upon his return he would further establish himself in the club's folklore.
Yes, for his next trick, Kasule was booked for singing a George Benson song to the referee during a 2-1 victory at Crystal Palace. "It was 'Give Me The Night'," he told Pete May in an interview with GOAL magazine in 1996. "I couldn't believe that we were beating Palace, who had [Ian] Wright and [Mark] Bright playing. The ref said I was time-wasting. I told him to chill. He said, 'One more of those and you're booked'. So off I went with the song."
The winger's hedonistic pursuits and odd behaviour had, for the most part, been kept under control when he sought to build himself a career in Scotland. Initially, he had been deemed 'a character'; however, his arrival at Shrewsbury coincided with an upturn in his off-pitch antics - and most notably his drinking.
Indeed, the alcohol-fuelled exploits of Kasule, midfielder Dougie Bell, full-back Steve Pittman ("I thought I was bad, but compared to me he was the devil incarnate," Kasule said) and former Liverpool winger Alan Irvine saw the Shrewsbury fanzine take the name A Large Scotch in tribute - although brandy was believed to be the players' drink of choice.
In 1989, hours ahead of a vital relegation six-pointer, a heavy drinking session that was made public persuaded local journalist Neil Sambrook to pen a poetic tribute in the Shrewsbury Chronicle: "Irvine, Kasule and Bell, they make the manager's life hell." Up until then, team-mates had accepted Kasule's antics, but an appalled Irvine immediately remonstrated with the author and said: "The rest of the stuff dinnae bother me. It was being associated with Victor."
The season had seen Kasule slip out of the side - playing only 11 full games, scoring only once - and it was clear that drink had become a distraction. "He was quite proud of his manhood and wasn't above sticking it in people's ears," Beacon Radio DJ Mike Jones told GOAL. "And when disorientated by alcohol he was known to relieve himself in some unexpected areas. Then, on the first day of all-day drinking, Shropshire Radio did a survey of pubs and found Victor drinking in the White Hart. He swore blind he was drinking orange juice, but nobody believed him."
Kasule himself later admitted: "I'll put my hands up. It was a nice family club and we did our best to ruin it. The minute these mad Jocks came down it got a reputation. But the local pubs made a lot of money out of us. I spent the whole summer getting Dave Linighan drunk trying to persuade him not to go to Ipswich."
As football began to take a back seat, Kasule - who did not own a valid driving licence - was involved in a car crash after he overturned team-mate John McGinlay's motor. Initially, he claimed that he had gone out to buy fruit juice, but revealed many years later: "We wanted a few beers so I went out to get them. I didn't realise the car was so powerful and when I came back I attempted to do a hand-brake turn and - bang - the car was over. It was a write-off. John wasn't too keen on the car anyway. Everyone was happy except me."
Ultimately, his antics persuaded his club that he was liability and, ahead of the new season, Shrewsbury chairman Ken Woodhouse insisted that he would never play for them again. Manager McNeill was left chasing his stars around and trying to instil some discipline, but it didn't work.
"I had to do my own investigating because people would tell me stories but wouldn't want to be involved after that," McNeill told the Shrewsbury Chronicle after transfer-listing Kasule and Irvine for breaking curfew. "When I signed him from Meadowbank, he was in Glasgow, where if you're not a Rangers or Celtic player, you're nothing. Then suddenly he's the king of Shrewsbury. He came down here when he was 22 and got hit with a bit of hero-worship and couldn't handle it. It has gone to his head and he has continued to be a jack-the-lad."
McNeill tried to send Kasule on loan to Darlington for a month, but he didn't even last that long. Darlo manager Brian Little commented: "There's nothing wrong with Victor the footballer, but his activities off the field have proved a disruptive factor. With his reputation and one or two things we decided it was too much of a gamble." The Shrewsbury Chronicle agreed: "Wild winger Vic Kasule is fast becoming football's most unwanted man."
Even in the face of his chairman's words, McNeill persevered with Kasule for the 1989-90 season. However, the winger lasted just five games before missing another curfew and was told to keep away from the club until a buyer could be found. "I believe it's always worth persevering with talent, but I just wish the boy would grow up a bit. He is not vicious, but he has been a bit irresponsible," McNeill stated. Within a month he was offloaded in a cut-price £15,000 deal to Hamilton Academical, although that in itself was a comedy of errors.
Ready to sign for the club, Kasule had travelled by train up to Glasgow but, when he arrived, he realised he had forgotten his registration forms. With no choice but to head back to Shropshire to get them, Accies secretary David Morrison said of his recruit: "Victor Kasule is now our player, unless he disappears between Shrewsbury and here, but we have sent a driver with him to make sure he comes back."
He would be back as, unbeknown to many, Kasule harboured dreams of playing for Scotland at the 1990 World Cup. "Vic told me to tell [Scotland boss] Andy Roxburgh that he was back and ready for Italy," Morrison said. The initial signs were encouraging as he came on as a sub with 20 minutes to go and the side down 2-0 against local rivals Airdrie. The winger set up three goals to seal an unlikely comeback, but his old demons would soon return to haunt him.
He played only 12 games before getting himself suspended after returning to Shrewsbury for a party thrown by his former neighbour; Kasule was arrested after becoming involved in an incident with a youth.
He recalled his side of the story in 1996: "I took my usual 24 cans of Red Stripe and bottle of brandy. I was just sitting there drinking with my friends when this guy took a can without asking. I said, 'You could at least ask,' and he threw the can at me. I thought, 'I'm not having this,' but I was frog-marched out. Then a fight started. I was sitting on the wall with a bottle of brandy watching it. One of the boys was knocked out. The police came and asked if I was involved. I said no, but out of spite the guy said I'd decked him. It was rubbish - if I'd decked him he wouldn't have got up. So the police asked me what I wanted to be charged with. They read out a list of offences and I went for breach of the peace. They could have kept me in the cells all weekend, but they gave me a lift to the station to get the next train out, which was pretty decent of them."
Upon his return to his club, Hamilton manager John Lambie fined him £4,000 and Kasule was allowed to join Portadown. One of the few players - and perhaps the only player - to have competed in the English, Scottish and Northern Irish Leagues in one season, the winger did not last much longer across the Irish Channel and his nomadic tendencies saw him try to settle in Finland and Malta.
Possibly the highlight of his career came while playing for Maltese side Ramrun Spartans as he made his first appearance in the European Cup, against Benfica, although did not manage to play in the return leg at the famous Stadium of Light. However, it was a steep decline and Bohemians of Dublin was his last club, before an Achilles problem (rather than anything alcohol related) ended his career early while still in his late 20s.
Turning to an honest job in a bank, Kasule was last to be found enjoying the odd pint and relaxing in Glasgow. "I do have loads of regrets," he admitted to GOAL. "Not a day goes by when I don't think I could have been playing in the Premiership. I've let down my family and friends. I wish I'd made more of the chances I had, but it went to my head. I thought I could walk on water. The minute I lost my confidence, the injuries came and I was chasing my form. But it was fun while it lasted."
With enough stories to fill a plethora of books, Kasule was voted the all-time cult hero of Albion Rovers by fans in 2005. In his own words, he told The Independent: "I'd like to be remembered just as a footballer but if I'm remembered as a footballer and a pisshead then that's better than not being remembered at all."