Beating the Traffic: Heart Stopper
Olly Wicken talks to Larry Brooks, who had a better reason than most to leave a game
One way to beat the traffic after a Watford game is to have a cardiac arrest and be rushed away in an ambulance with the blue lights flashing. It certainly worked for Larry Brooks at the home game against Chelsea in December 2021.
Larry, who has fully recovered, tells YBR!: “I physically died for eight minutes. It gives me a lovely feeling to think what everyone did for me.”
You may remember the incident. The Watford Observer’s live blog reported it like this:
7:39pm: 9 minutes: Masina goes down clutching his left thigh… There’s also something going on in the Graham Taylor Stand. Medics being rushed over…
7:42pm: Both sets of players make their way down the tunnel, there’ll be a break in play…
7:48pm: The Chelsea medics have left the stand, they’re being applauded for their quick reactions in getting across to the fan, who is still being seen to by paramedics…
8:03pm: The fan is lifted up and carried out on a stretcher – an ambulance is here to take them on to hospital. Players expected to return for a five minute warm up shortly.
8:07pm: Club have confirmed that the fan had had a cardiac arrest, was stabilised by medics and has been taken to hospital to get further treatment.
8:14pm: Game to resume now.
Larry is a Watford fan of more than 64 years’ standing. His first game was at home to Port Vale in August 1958 in the days when we wore blue. His favourite Watford player of all time is Troy Deeney. His favourite game is the play-off semi-final against Leicester.
“I’ve been a season ticket holder for 26 years,” he says. “I sit with a group of friends – Neil, James, Dave, Stuart, Mark, Tony. I’ve had a few stents put in my heart over the years, and that night, when I got to the ground, Mark said I looked a bit grey. I’d walked a bit further than usual, but I felt OK.
“Then, just after Masina got injured, I collapsed onto Neil’s shoulder. He thought I was pretending to be asleep because the game had been a bit boring! I fell into the walkway. Stuart gave me CPR straight away and the kiss of life – which saved my life. Luckily, there was a consultant cardiologist a few seats away – Rob Smith – who came over. Then the club medics arrived with a defibrillator. When I woke up, I was on a stretcher and everyone in the ground was applauding. Rob Smith came with me in the ambulance, and I was taken to Harefield Hospital.”
People talk about the community of Watford Football Club, and this was a time when it really came to the fore.
“My mates helped save my life,” Larry says. “If it had happened to me anywhere else, I might have been dead. Only one in ten people survive having a cardiac arrest outside of a hospital. And the club was great. Scott Duxbury emailed me, and Luther got in touch and became a friend. When I was well again, I was a guest in the Chairman’s Suite and they gave me Sissoko’s shirt signed by all the players.
“The club were lovely. It shows someone’s thinking about the fans,” he says. He mentions that Chelsea were asked for a signed shirt to mark what happened and they sent a junior-sized shirt signed by just one player. “Maybe Abramovich was short of money,” he jokes.
Larry’s return to the Vic was at the Leeds game, five months later. “It was good to be back. Especially with the mates who saved my life. There’s not a lot different now. I’ve been told I can’t play for the team, but that’s about it!”
Larry has had a pacemaker and defibrillator fitted which means that doctors can monitor his heart rate remotely and let him know if things aren’t right. You can perhaps judge how exciting the football has been at Vicarage Road this season when he says: “They’ve never had to contact me during a game!”
Since the incident, people have asked if he remembers anything from the eight minutes when he wasn’t with us, but he doesn’t remember anything at all. He tells YBR!: “I don’t remember being in Hornet Heaven for those eight minutes so I can’t confirm or deny whether it exists, but I still like to think it does.”
Looking back, Larry is upbeat about what happened to him. “I’m grateful for the experience, really. If something like that is going to happen to you, Vicarage Road is a good place to be. And, if they hadn’t been able to save me, there would have been no better place.”
It was great talking to Larry. Overall, YBR! feels that, as a way of ‘beating the traffic’, his approach was fairly extreme and we wouldn’t recommend it to others. But the story tells us something about the friendships we make through football – and about our community and club.
Also, on a practical basis, it tells us the value of knowing how to give CPR – which is something we should all do so that we can help each other in an emergency if required. You can learn online, free, at the British Heart Foundation’s website.