The beautiful game

By David Jolley

Wolverhampton Wanders beat Tottenham Hotspur 3-1 at Wembley Stadium this weekend. Sue and I had bravely listened to the game on our newly set up DAB radio. The radio is a gift, given to us a while ago but we had not investigated its powers until our old Roberts radio began to cough so much that it was a struggle to listen, especially when the volume was turned down low. The DAB requires time and patience in tuning, though Sue has now discovered how to set particular stations (a mystery still to me).

The combination of tuning and a famous and fabulous football match took me back to a Saturday afternoon in the 1950s when I was tuned to the Light Programme for the game between England and Scotland. In those days there were many fewer internationals and the competition between the Home Nations was all-important. Wolves (Wolverhampton Wanders as the commentators on this Saturday kept calling them) provided several players for England – always including Billy Wright as captain and Bert Williams as goalie. But the day belonged to Dennis Wilshaw, number 10 for Wolves and number 10 for England. He put the ball into the Scots’ net four times during the afternoon. Every goal gave be a surge of pleasure and pride of belonging and sharing in the success. I thought I might burst. Salvation was time in the small back garden with a ball after the final whistle.

There may be similar memories and experiences for the rugby tribe, but these are not know to me. Football memories have been found by others to be useful as reminiscence topics which will engage otherwise grumpy old men. I have seen several life-stories of former professional soccer players amongst the good work of residential homes. Such projects are great for the individual and for his family. They can also be used to link with shared memories of contemporaries who are now sharing difficulties and are in need of care. One of our firsts was a former Manchester City fullback. The club was interested and supportive. In recent years a number of clubs have recognised that former players have developed dementia and have reached out to their families and become a focus for support for people with dementia in the town. There are a number of examples of this: ,

There has been concern for some time that playing football might increase the likelihood of developing dementia. The focus has been on players who are known to be frequent headers of the ball. It may be that the heavier balls used in the 1950s and previous seasons were more dangerous than the more recent lightweight balls. Comparisons have been drawn with the dementia associated with boxing – Here it is the lighter weight boxers, who often have their heads knocked backwards by punches, who are most at risk of developing Alzheimer changes. The shearing rotation of the brain is believed to be the cause of the damage, rather than the weight of the blows. The situation is complicated. Professional footballers are exposed to repeat head injuries not linked to heading, and some experience repeated episodes of unconsciousness. There is interest in researching the issues in soccer and other contact sports such as rugby and American Football.

Now this has reminded me that we have promised to review the relationship between head trauma and the development of dementia for our next meeting of Dementia Conversations at Bowdon Vale.

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