MEMORY MATCHES

PIC: Bo'ness. Boundary Street. Boness Baptist Church. Football memories project. Pictures for feature with old football fans, alzheimers sufferers and carers. Back L-R: Michael White  Kevin McKay. Back L-R: Walter Scouler, Andrew McBlain & Jackie Howie.
PIC: Bo'ness. Boundary Street. Boness Baptist Church. Football memories project. Pictures for feature with old football fans, alzheimers sufferers and carers. Back L-R: Michael White Kevin McKay. Back L-R: Walter Scouler, Andrew McBlain & Jackie Howie.

u Remember Zinedine Zidane? That volley at Hampden? The double in the World Cup final or the head-butt eight years later?

He’s created many great memories for football supporters across the world – and now he’s lent his support and memory to a project that began in Falkirk.

PIC: Bo'ness. Boundary Street. Boness Baptist Church. Football memories project. Pictures for feature with old football fans, alzheimers sufferers and carers.

PIC: Bo'ness. Boundary Street. Boness Baptist Church. Football memories project. Pictures for feature with old football fans, alzheimers sufferers and carers.

Zizou recalls his goal in the 2002 Champions League final for Football Memories, a project run by dementia charity Alzheimer Scotland.

It is collating a website of football memories, from regular fans to world-wide superstars, and using them to help support people with dementia through reminiscence therapy.

“The feedback we have received has been overwhelming,” Michael White told The Falkirk Herald. He’s the Falkirk club historian and a published author, but he also volunteered with Alzheimer Scotland, before he discovered the benefits football memories brought to the people he worked with.

“Carers and children of the people we’ve worked with have been astonished – I can’t count the number of people who’ve said ‘He’s just back to his old-self again’ after a chat about football from their youth.

“Reminiscence work has been done for years, but no-one has ever homed in on one specific area, as we’ve done with football.”

The success of a local project in Bo’ness, which still meets with Michael on the last Wednesday of every month, has evolved and is branching out world-wide and across sporting divides.

Barcelona are even interested in starting their own Catalan take on the benefits of reminiscence, and it’s also being investigated by ice hockey management in Canada.

The history of St Louis Cardinals in baseball could also be another source for a parallel project to the football one honed in Scotland.

It seems so obvious – engaging people with memories of what was, at the time, the highlight of the week, being on the slopes at 3 p.m. on a Saturday.

“You can take out newspaper cuttings and look at the buildings, the shops, the prices, the fashions and the hairstyles – but although some that might hold the women’s interest, it rarely retained the male attention.

“Bring football into it and it is like a light switching on – the vivid images some of the old guys can recollect is just amazing, and you notice they brighten up.”

The project which was just recently backed by Sir Alex Ferguson is amassing memories online at www.footballmemories.org.uk but they also use anything that could evoke reminiscence. “Football cards, programmes, memorabilia, photographs –anything,” says Michael.

“We’re hoping to compile virtual replicas of the stadiums as they were through the ages – football fans will remember certain areas of the pitch, where they stood, the walk to the ground as it would have been.

“It can all help and experts have been amazed at the results of the project early on.”

Those results, harking back to a time before the subjects developed dementia, appear to show them being temporarily transported back to a time when they didn’t exhibit the signs and symptoms of the disease.

“We’re in the early stages with regard to dementia and treating it,” says Michael.

The project is now looking to expand, and take up office-space at Hampden and use the National Stadium as a base.

“We’ve been given access to the archive of the Scottish Football Museum,” he added, “which is a wonderful facility for the project.

“We’re looking at an expansion where support and therapy can be accessible anywhere in the world through photographs on a Flicker website.

“They can prompt discussion and therapy and any number can be accessed until it fits with the individual – that’s how powerful and unique the project can become.”

Clubs with significant histories and followings – like Hibs, Aberdeen, and Michael’s own passion, Falkirk – are working with the scheme, which isn’t just for supporters.

For ex-players suffering from the illness, memories can restore their self-esteem, taking them back to a time when they were at their physical peak and height of their sporting prowess.

“The project can work for anyone who has dementia, and a connection to football, but it’s not just limited to one sport – it can work on anything, it’s just there’s such an opportunity there for football.

“Some guys can rhyme off teams from 50 or 60 years ago, but ask them something short-term, like what they had for lunch and might struggle.

“Remembering something as simple as the enjoyment of a Saturday afternoon at the football, can help them forget about their dementia and their illness for a while – and the results can last for several hours. It helps the carers too, seeing them ‘come alive again’ as one put it to me.”

Following the successful pilot, which involved analysis from Glasgow Caledonian University, the Football Memories project expansion also includes training new volunteers to roll out the project with the internet and to individuals wherever they are, and whichever team they followed.

It’s also looking for more memories in the online project, to which anyone can add. John Collins submitted his 1998 memoirs against Brazil and celebrities like James Allen of Glasvegas, broadcaster Dougie Donnelly and actor Dougray Scott have also contributed.

Former Falkirk Herald reporter Brian Marjoribanks has also submitted a memory of Simon Stainrod.

And Zidane? He’s submitted his memory to the project and the one that stands out for him took place, appropriately, in Scotland, at the prospective project base of Hampden. THAT volley in 2002.

“Whatever else passed me by that night,” the Frenchman writes, “I remember what happened in those moments.”

Anyone who witnessed it, at the national stadium, or on television, will do too.