Meet the dementia fighting support group with the power of soccer

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Among a group of friends – and strangers – a good-natured debate takes place. It’s a ping-pong verbal match between soccer fans.

The merits of Franz Beckenbauer and Bobby Moore are being debated by Joe FitzPatrick, the Minister of Public Health, Sport and Wellbeing. Former Clyde, Alloa Athletic and East Stirlingshire winger Arthur Grant is his sparring partner. Listening to the conversation, a number of interested parties sit around the table.

Grant is tasked with explaining why the former captain of England is a better central defender than his counterpart from Germany. He does so convincingly, claiming that Moore was the best defender he had ever faced, no less a figure than the great Pelé claimed. “Aye, but Pele never played against Beckenbauer”Aye, but Pele never played against Beckenbauer. There is laughter before a devilish forehand is sent back across the table by the minister, “But Beckenbauer scored 14 international goals and could also play in midfield.”

There’s a vote taken. Two hands are raised for Moore, four for Beckenbauer, including Grant’s, who was supposed to line up for the captain of England. Now the belly laughs are loud.

‘A very convincing plea was made by the minister,’ grins Grant, his eyes full of mischief.

A reminiscence session on soccer is in full swing here. The occasion was the launch of a set of playing cards commissioned in partnership with Football Memories Scotland as part of Glasgow’s hosting status for Euro 2020, a project that has sought to enrich the lives of people with dementia and their caregivers for the past decade. The Football Memories project has never been more relevant at the end of a week in which Scottish soccer debates have once again focused on the links between head games and dementia.

When Glasgow offered to host the finals this summer, provisions for a lasting legacy had to be included in the bid document, and the initiative was an obvious place to start for Richard McBrearty, manager of the Scottish Football Museum and project director of Football Memories.

McBrearty says, “The first few pages are about Hampden, its history, Glasgow as the soccer capital of the world,” We had to build on a strong heritage. When the offer was successful, and from a museum perspective, we began to look at legacy programs, because we ran so much of the Football Memories project, it was natural to create a resource beyond what we already had.

“We’ve got a lot of great pictures, thousands of pictures of Scottish soccer because it’s the Scottish National Soccer Museum, but very few pictures of Beckenbauer or Platini or any of those guys in European soccer. So this was an opportunity for us to get resources that we wouldn’t have gotten otherwise – through the influence of UEFA.

As a result, in the coming weeks, the cards featuring 60 Euro legends will be sent to more than 130 care homes, day centers and NHS hospitals throughout Scotland working with Football Memories. This will further enhance the reputation of the project as a force for good. Memory sessions are such a powerful tool that they have been recognized as being as effective as any of the four medicines offered

After giving Ally MacLeod a tour of the museum in the hope of triggering a memory not long after the legendary former Scottish executive made his fight with dementia public, McBrearty recalls experiencing the transformative effects firsthand.

As McBrearty recalls, “He could not remember anything about his career as a manager.” That part of his memory was completely gone, and my back was against the wall thinking, “What am I doing now?” What saved the day was that items from his playing career were also loaned to us by the family. Ally was a great Hibs and Third Lanark player, but he also played with Blackburn Rovers in England, and the museum has a section of Ally’s jersey from the 1960 FA Cup final on display. Blackburn lost, but Ally had a brilliant game and he was a match man, so I took him to look at the jersey, and he came back to life as soon as he saw it, his personality was back, and he began talking about the game. The whole team, from the goalkeeper to the left winger, could even be listed without even taking a breath.

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