Putting The Spark Back Into Remembering

By, Sergio Burns

Something is stirring down at Rugby Park, home of Kilmarnock Football Club. Memories. ‘Football Memories’ to be exact and not just of Kilmarnock FC, but memories of great players from the past, great Scotland sides, World Cups, European games and much more.

In collaboration with Alzheimer Scotland and the Scottish Football Association (SFA) museum at Hampden Park, Glasgow, Kilmarnock Community Sports Trust (KCST) operate a Football Memories project which is dementia friendly and open to anyone.

“It started maybe three… or four years ago,” Former Kilmarnock player, and Football Memories volunteer Ross Mathie told AM. “I was approached by Paul Di Giacomo, KFC Community Engagement Manager, who operates KCST, he is head of this organisation. He approached me and said : ‘Would I come?’ I wasn’t sure. I said look ‘I’ll come but…Is there a course I can go on?’ So, that’s what happened I came for two weeks and I have been here ever since.”

Ross laughs at his early reservations, and, by contrast, tells me how much he now enjoys his role. An unassuming man, he was quick to tell me about the roots of the idea.

“I think a lot of credit has to go to Richard McBrearty (Project Director of Football Memories) the curator up at the SFA, the Scottish Football museum,” Mathie told me. “They had a wall in the museum that had black and white photographs. They had something like maybe 90 photographs that were taken of players…and…they had people coming in with loss of memory. They would give them a piece of paper and their carer would sit with them and they would look at the pictures. Number one was say, for example, Frank Beattie of Kilmarnock or George Young of Rangers, Bobby Evans of Celtic, and they had to write them down and see how many they could get and it was amazing. It created a spark that lit up memories of players they had watched in their youth. They were maybe a Celtic supporter or a Motherwell supporter and all of a sudden they see this player and they write it down.”

As we chatted, we often strayed into some of Ross’s own football memories. He spoke about players he knew, played with and against, and then, after retiring as a player, he spoke of his work with the SFA. In his ‘new life’, beyond playing the game, he worked in various roles including : assistant director of coaching, senior staff coach and head of youth teams development with former Scotland managers Andy Roxburgh, Craig Brown and Berti Vogts respectively. The combined experience of a playing career and coaching roles has proved invaluable in his present incarnation.

“I like doing power points,” Ross Mathie spoke of his approach to Football Memories. “I do feel a little picture is worth a thousand words when I am presenting at the group meeting. I think I have learned from working with them you need to show a picture, and you can say a few lines about the picture because they click onto it.”

Ross also spoke of a period known as the Golden era in the club’s history. Predominantly the 1960’s, when Kilmarnock won the Scottish League Championship (1964/5) and played regularly in Europe. An era when Kilmarnock hosted teams like Everton, Leeds United, Eintracht Frankfurt and Real Madrid at Rugby Park in European competition. The club going all the way to the semi-finals of the Inter-City Fairs Cup (the forerunner of the UEFA Cup, now the UEFA Europa League) in season 1966/7, losing 4-2 to the aforementioned Leeds United on aggregate over two games.

“We were showing videos, and there was a gentleman who had been brought by his wife,” Ross began again. “I mean the thing is open to..anyone who is interested in football and wanted to come…we wouldn’t stop them, (though) generally for those who have dementia. This gentleman, hadn’t said anything, (but) as soon as the Kilmarnock versus Real Madrid game came on I heard him saying to his wife : ‘I was there’. The spark ignited past memories.”

The light going on as Ross Mathie explains it, is important, because dementia can be a terrible and debilitating illness that affects many.

It might surprise you to learn, for example, that in 2017 (according to statistics from Alzheimers Scotland) there were 92,282 people in Scotland diagnosed with…

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