Football unites to help Alzheimer’s victims

FOOTBALL, particularly in Glasgow, can be a divisive sport, but it can also be a force for good and SFA chief executive Stewart Regan has first-hand experience of how the beautiful game can not only unite people but also bring occasional clarity to chaos.
SFA chief executive Stewart Regan helped launch the Football Memories project at Hampden yesterday. Picture: SNSSFA chief executive Stewart Regan helped launch the Football Memories project at Hampden yesterday. Picture: SNS
SFA chief executive Stewart Regan helped launch the Football Memories project at Hampden yesterday. Picture: SNS

On Thursday, the 51-year-old helped to launch the Uefa-funded version of Football Memories, a project designed to help people suffering from Alzheimer’s disease by discussing footballers, goals and matches and using the discussions to at least partially unlock the memories of those who are afflicted.

It is a personal crusade for Regan, who revealed that he has been able to achieve success with the scheme close to home.

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“It’s a cause close to my heart, one of personal interest to me because my dad is in the early stages of dementia, so I know how hard it is,” he said.

“It has a massive impact on your mood and your ability to recall things. Your relationship with your family changes over time: the circle of people you know gets smaller and smaller until you’re left with your wife and your immediate family – everybody else, you start to lose touch with.

“It’s heartbreaking to watch it change people’s lives so I’m a huge fan of anything, like Football Memories, which can make a difference. I’ve seen what it can do through the work of the Alzheimer Scotland team.

“You’re probably aware that they’ve run a series of programmes now across the country.

“There are currently 95 groups across Scotland – where people suffering from dementia and Alzheimer’s come together to use football memories to try and gain some recollection and break through some of the barriers they’ve been experiencing.

“Ladies use embroidery for the same purpose and they make quilts, using memories on the squares of the quilts to trigger recall of events which happened in their lives.

“It’s fantastic to see the impact that this can have and I’m delighted that Uefa have stepped up and invested €50,000 to help us run this project. It will help us make a difference to people’s lives in Scotland.”

Yet it is when he returns to his native north-east of England that Regan gets to see just how valuable that work can be during poignant discussions with his parent.

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“My dad is a football man – a Sunderland fanatic,” he said. “We’ve used football programmes with him.

“I have a huge collection, going back to when I was a foot high and it includes FA Cup finals from the 1950s through to the 1980s.

“My uncles and grandads gave me their programmes, too, and we utilise them with my dad, asking him: ‘Do you remember this game? Who was it who scored? What was the crowd? Do you remember the sixth round of the cup, when we beat Manchester City and then got to Wembley and beat Leeds in the final in 1973?’

“When we do that you can sometimes see the light coming on. Then it will go out again but you’ve just got to keep working at it. It is quite sad but it has worked in Scotland. It’s a terrible disease, but it’s one which more and more people are getting and we’re all coming to terms with it.

“A lot of footballing greats in Scotland are suffering from it now, some big names who I won’t identify because it’s not fair on their families to make it public unless they choose to do so.

“But there are legends of the game who are suffering from it. It’s not just football: this is a disease which is becoming increasingly prevalent.

“You hear about more and more people who have it and it seems to be affecting people at a younger age nowadays. It takes away certain parts of your life because, while you may have your physical health, you haven’t got your mental health or the ability to relate to your family.

“When you can’t recognise your sons, daughters and grandkids and nephews, that’s pretty depressing.”

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In a week when his SPFL neighbours have come under justifiable criticism for their cack-handed governance of the game, it is refreshing to discover the positive role the SFA can help to play in this regard.

“Things like this are personal. There are people out there suffering whose families are trying hard to make their last few years a bit more special and projects like this have the ability to help,” said Regan.

“Anything that can do that, and I’m speaking from personal experience, I’m delighted to help.”