Memories of ’66 helping to beat Alzheimer’s

While memories can be fleeting things, a moment of agony or ecstasy can stick with you for a lifetime. Whether emotionally invested or not, you will likely remember where you were when Andres Iniesta or Mario Gotze grabbed their dramatic FIFA World Cup™-winning goals. Large scale sporting competitions leave an imprint on your consciousness like few other life events. Friends made, disappointment suffered, elation experienced – those watching can go through the full range of the emotional spectrum, as can those sportsmen and women taking part.

Almost half a century has passed since Martin Peters, Nobby Stiles and Ray Wilson danced in jubilation on the Wembley Stadium turf after helping England to World Cup glory as the hosts. Unfortunately, all three have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, and their own memories of their part in one of their country’s greatest sporting achievements are fading. However, a British charity has been using the emotional attachment felt by thousands to the World Cup as a way to help alleviate the symptoms of the disease, meaning a sporting legacy that goes far beyond the Trophy and the medals handed out to the victors.

The Sporting Memories Foundation uses ‘sports reminiscence’ to help alleviate the impact of dementia, depression and loneliness. The charity is using the anniversary of England’s 1966 World Cup victory as a signpost to ask people to share their memories from 50 years ago.

“The 50th anniversary comes at a time when sadly, it has been revealed that a number of that England squad are now struggling with memory problems and diagnoses of Alzheimer’s Disease,” said Tony Jameson-Allen, Co-founder and Director of the Sporting Memories Foundation. “Images, memorabilia and memories are used to trigger memories and discussions at our weekly groups for older sports fans, who meet across the UK.”

Sharing memories Some of those memorabilia and memories were shared in Sunderland, where fans were asked to join together at an event to reminisce about 1966 in a city which hosted three group games and a quarter-final. People like Malcolm Bramley, who worked behind the scenes at the tournament as Sunderland AFC’s assistant secretary back in 1966, Ken Dodds, who was a long-time football scout and James Goodings, an erstwhile season ticket holder at Sunderland, all came together to share their memories of ’66.

“I had to be the intermediary between the ground and the media centre,” Bramley remembers. “I remember that the Russians were at Roker Park, language was a huge issue. We used to have numerous conversations in sign language more than anything else! Everybody was excited about the World Cup coming to town. There was a huge number of Italian fans, and quite a number of Italian restaurants in the city centre, they would’ve felt quite at home.”

Dodds and Goodings were one of the fortunate few to secure a ticket for what has so far been a once-in-a-lifetime event: England in a World Cup Final.

“I drove down to Wembley from Sunderland,” Dodds remembers. “I was in the end with mostly Germans and had a marvellous time with them, no problems whatsoever. It was a very friendly atmosphere. We had one or two drinks with them after the game.”

“We went to Trafalgar Square afterwards, we were there for hours, just jumping up and down like daft kids,” Goodings recalls of his post-Final experience. “It’s something you’ll never forget. It was absolute magic. The vivid memory for me is when Geoff Hurst scored the last goal, just pure relief.”

You have to learn to be extremely patient.

Memories such as these are shared with groups set up by the Sporting Memories Foundation, which take place weekly across the country, where those who suffer from Alzheimer’s disease come together to alleviate the symptoms by reminiscing of days gone by. These groups are not just helpful for those suffering from the illness though, with partners also invited to join and discuss how best to care for their loved ones.

John Larder was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease two years ago and Beryl, his wife of 48 years, spotted the symptoms early, thanks to decades working as a nurse.

“He’s always had a lovely and friendly personality,” Beryl said. “But conversation is now very limited, and that’s a bit frustrating for me because I’m a chatterbox. You have to learn to be extremely patient and I think I’ve been kind and tolerant and helpful but patience is something I’m improving with.”

Caring for the carers Beryl was working as a nurse in 1966, darting in and out of the only room in the hospital which had a TV to keep up with the score in the Final. Her memories, and the recollections of others from ’66, are helping spark her husband’s own recollections.

“People who don’t live with [someone with Alzheimer’s] are always very keen to give you advice,” Beryl said of caring for John. “They really don’t know. You have to live it to understand it. The people at the group are all living with the same things. At the group, I’ve learned that there are three or four of us, the wives who share these stories, and we can have a laugh about it and realise that you’re not the only one. It’s not that they don’t love you, they love you as much as you love them, but they just don’t show it or say it.”

Pat Robinson’s husband Allan was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s four years ago.

“I know it’s going to get worse,” Pat said. “I’d stopped a lot of activities that I used to do, that I don’t have time for now. I daren’t go off for the day and leave him.”

She found the Sporting Memories groups earlier this year.

“Allan’s not a man that has joined any sort of groups like that before,” Pat said. “He likes going to this one every week though, the friendly and chatty atmosphere that everybody has. They welcome us there. It enlightens us and you come back feeling a lot better. Their life is the talk of old times, that’s what they usually remember. Places they’ve visited, things like that. To bring up the past, like we do at the sessions, is a big help.”

Landmark sporting moments that make memories may indeed last just a few seconds, but those major events, and remembering them even half a century on, can clearly have a huge impact on improving the lives of many. The Wembley heroes who created those memories of ’66 can be proud of the legacy they leave for future generations.