Sunday 03 February 2019, 23:27

Football Memories: A decade of fighting Alzheimer's

  • Football memories contributing to Alzheimer’s therapy

  • Match reminiscences helping improve the mood of sufferers

  • Scottish initiative going strong after ten years

There are some images that will forever be ingrained on our memories and, for many people, those images relate to football. Who could forget the day your team were crowned champions, or the derby game when your favourite player scored a hat-trick? Sadly, however, Alzheimer’s and other cognitive disorders gradually makes these and other treasured memories inaccessible.

This year sees the tenth anniversary of a Scottish initiative that harnessed the unique power of football as tool in combating the disease. The instigator was Falkirk’s club historian Michael White, whose efforts would go on to become the Football Memories Scotland project. Using photos and other footballing memorabilia, the initiative has succeeded in reconnecting patients to related memories and forgotten personal stories. This reminisce therapy has been shown to improve patients’ moods and combat the withdrawal from society so typical of the disease.

“One of the men in my group played for Celtic after the Second World War. Sadly, he is no longer alive, but I’ll never forget the last time I saw him. As he was leaving the meeting room in his wheelchair, he gave me a big thumbs-up and shouted: ‘Lad, this has been the best day of my life’. Moments like that make it all worthwhile for me. That's good enough for me,” he told

It all started with just four groups: one at the Scottish Football Museum in Hampden Park, and one each at Scottish clubs Aberdeen, Hibernian and Falkirk. They quickly received the support and expertise of the Scottish Alzheimer's Association and Glasgow’s Caledonian University. Today there are about 300 groups that meet in different parts of the United Kingdom each week.

“You’ll have someone come in - head down, seeming totally withdrawn - and then you’ll show him a picture and his face will just light up,” said White.

Each meeting requires a memory box, which might contain things like old images, soap and liniment, cards with player information, etc. Just last month, a series of card packs were launched that included profiles of iconic footballers like Kenny Dalglish and Gordon Banks, as well rugby legends Sandy Carmichael and Gavin Hastings, given that the project has now been extended to encompass other sports like rugby, cricket and golf.