Published 24 March 2022 6 min read
England Men's Senior Team

The importance of football after a dementia diagnosis

Written by:

Nicholas Veevers

Football is more than a game. If you needed convincing, ask Steve Freer who continues to enjoy sport and watching his beloved Leicester City despite a dementia diagnosis
England's match with Switzerland at Wembley Stadium on Saturday 26 March is dedicated to the FA's charity partnership with Alzheimer’s Society which spans two seasons.
 
This partnership will provide a prominent platform to use the power of football as a force for good to change lives for the better in the football community, from fans to former players. There are 9000,000 people living with dementia in the UK, which could fill Wembley Stadium ten times over – and they have never needed our help more, having been worst hit by coronavirus. 
 
Together, we will raise over £500,000 to fund vital dementia support services, as well as aiming to increase the number of fans who we can refer to these services if they are affected by dementia. Alzheimer’s Society is the UK’s leading dementia charity. They campaign for change, fund research to find a cure and support people living with dementia today.

Find more information or call 0333 150 3456 for advice and support.

Ahead of the game, you can read the story of Steve Freer below. Steve is a huge football fan whose life was turned upside down when he was diagnosed with Alzheimer's.
Steve still watches football both locally and at his beloved Leicester City FC
Steve still watches football both locally and at his beloved Leicester City FC
What's your story? This is your opportunity to tell us what’s been happening. Please give us an overview of your experience so we can fully understand what you’ve been through...
 
Everything was going fine in my life until 2012...there was quite a lot of changes at work, I was a senior management accountant, able to travel the world, I loved my job. One Friday morning I came into work and saw lots of people being made redundant and unbeknown to me I was one of them!

It really shook me up and knocked me for six, I was concerned about the future and how I would get through this. I looked for jobs but wasn’t really finding anything right for me as my confidence had gone completely. I ended up in a driving job, driving all over the country, I was exhausted after each day. My wife had to help me with my expenses and all the paperwork, as I was struggling to do it. I gave up that job and went to work for a financial advisor but was struggling with any new tasks. At that time something wasn’t right, I wasn’t sure what it was, but I knew something was wrong. 
 
In the end I went to the doctors, and they told me I had stress, anxiety and depression, but I knew it was more than that. I persisted and went back to be told to ‘pull myself together’. After that encounter I struggled to go back to the doctors, even though I felt something was still wrong, on hindsight I should have gone with my wife, who could have explained things more clearly for me.

In November 2017 we watched Alan Shearer’s documentary “Dementia, Football and Me” and it was like a lightbulb went off, finally I recognised everything they were saying. I eventually did go back to the doctors and after four years of not knowing what this was, I was finally given my dementia diagnosis and referred to the memory clinic, where early onset Alzheimer’s was diagnosed – I was 57 years of age.
 
When I first found out it just hit me, it was the biggest shock. Although I’d recognised the signs after watching the documentary, you just don’t expect to hear those words and at such a relatively young age. It turned our lives upside down and has been difficult for all of us in different ways.
FIND OUT MORE ABOUT ALZHEIMER'S
I’m a lifelong Leicester City supporter and have had a season ticket for most of my adult life. The first time I attended a match at Filbert Street, was in 1967 when I was seven years old, it was a little bit scary because we were playing Man City and at the time the fans would all mix together.
 
I will never forget one of the best moments of my life was when Leicester won the Premier League in 2016, against all the odds. Me and my son went to 95 per cent of the games and at that time I knew something wasn’t right, but we didn’t have the diagnosis then.
 
At one of the matches in Birmingham we went to the pub beforehand, I went to the bar as usual but for the first time I lost all my thoughts on how to order drinks, I just couldn’t get my words out, it was really frightening, I was just glad my youngest son was with me. I still go to as many home games as I can but am always with someone. We have sat with the same group of people for over 15 years, so they know me well and they keep an eye on me, as I do sometimes tend to wander or go the wrong way! 
 
Sadly, I could not attend the Emirates FA Cup Final, when Leicester beat Chelsea, as I was on crutches and in a lot of pain. But we had all the family around and watched it on the TV. 
 
What's the biggest misconception about people with dementia?
 
The biggest misconception is that people will talk over you as if you do not exist or do not have an opinion. Even though we forget we can still participate in things, but just in a different way - don’t exclude us or right us off because we have dementia.
 
Perhaps people need a better understanding of dementia to help those living with it. It’s good to speak to people who acknowledge that people living with dementia are still themselves, just living life differently to how they used to. I have to learn to adapt with dementia all the time, as my mind plays tricks on me everyday!!