At least 30 years after I last watched a game at Aggborough, I was supporting Kidderminster Harriers again this weekend. The club is partnering with the Dementia Action Alliance to make the ground dementia friendly and Saturday’s game against Telford had been chosen to celebrate the partnership.
The power of sport to connect with people living with dementia is now widely understood, thanks, in part, to the wonderful work of sportingmemoriesnetwork.com. The relationship with sport, like the relationship with music, is largely emotional. I first went to a professional football match 44 years ago this month, and I can still see the vivid green of the pitch as I walked out on to the terrace and, somehow, I can still recall the smell – a heady mix of tobacco and hot dogs. That smell has little to recommend it away from a football ground and to be honest, t he match that January day in 1973 had little to recommend it either. The occasion was, and remains, everything to me.
I remember, too, my first visit to watch a county cricket match at Edgbaston. As with the football, the team I had gone to support put in an underwhelming performance (some would say good preparation for the life of a West Midlands sports fan), but I can still see so many images from that day. Most of all, I remember being there with Mum. In her younger days, she had regularly gone to the Edgbaston county ground on her way home from school. She loved it there. Much of my love for sport comes from her. It’s a debt I can never repay.
I’ve tried very hard to use sporting memories with Mum, from test cricket home and abroad to her last visit to Wembley for an FA Cup semi-final shortly before dementia started to take over. Sadly, it seems Mum can’t hook on to those memories. For many, though, sport remains a precious link with the past.
I went to see Mum after Saturday’s game at Aggborough and told her all about it. I’d watched the game in the company of a former turnstile operator at the ground who is now living with dementia. Thanks to the Alzheimer’s Society’s Side by Side initiative, he and other fans can still go to games with a volunteer companion. Harriers have gone a step further – there is now an area of the ground reserved for people living with dementia and their carers. It’s a wonderful initiative, one that other sports clubs could, and hopefully, will follow. Oh, and by the way, Harriers won 1-0. It was a deserved victory, in more ways than one.