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March 8, 2013

Memory, collective memory and football today

Guest contribution by Geoff Hare (Newcastle University, retired, now living in Edinburgh – geoff.hare[à] Geoff is the author of Football in France. A Cultural History (2003) and France and the 1998 World Cup (1998, co-authored with Hugh Dauncey).

When Professor Wolfram Pyta spoke to me in Besançon about the FREE conference on collective memory and European football to be held in Stuttgart, I immediately thought of the first European Cup Final I had seen, live on TV in full, in 1960. Real Madrid had beaten Eintracht Frankfurt by 7 goals to 3, a remarkable score by current standards. In my own memory it was a remarkable match and had an important effect in Britain at the time. Was this a false memory in view of the subsequent, and indeed still current status of Real as one of the great clubs of European football? I decided to investigate further before replying to the call for papers.

I was about to move to Edinburgh and the match had been played in nearby Glasgow, I soon re-discovered. I had forgotten that. I headed for the National Library of Scotland. The librarian dealing with my request for newspapers of the 1960s recalled his father telling him, as part of Scottish football’s folk memory, about the exceptional match he had seen at Hampden long before, far better than the football of the 1980s that the son had been brought up on.

Then, a very fortuitous coincidence. I heard a related story on the BBC Radio 4 morning news show which alerted me to a Scottish medical research project looking for new therapies to treat Alzheimer’s and dementia sufferers experiencing memory loss. A brief part of the news item was an interview with an Alzheimer’s sufferer in the Scottish Football Museum in Hampden Park. They asked if he remembered the European Cup Final played at Hampden Park, showing him, I think, a photograph or a match programme.  I was glued to the set. He could remember the goal scorers in that very match, over 50 years before. He could say which clubs were involved and, when prompted, who scored (“di Stefano got a hat-trick”) and “Who else scored ? – Puskas”. I found this very moving. I then knew that this match really was an important part of Scottish football history and of Scottish cultural history and collective memory.

My research in the newspapers of the period showed me that this match did indeed have enormous influence. It was the first time that European club football and the European Cup especially really mattered in Britain. It set the standard for European Cup football, gave us a model of what it was all about and convinced us that the inventors of the game needed to play a different way if we were to catch up the best club teams on the “Continent”.

But what I have learned about the Glasgow medical research on football and memory has opened up a whole new exciting aspect which puts my own simple research interest in one football match into perspective. Here are further details of this fascinating new therapy for Alzheimer’s with links to the web for follow-up information.

Directed Reminiscence Therapy and football

For the last two years impressive medical research carried out in Glasgow shows that the strongest memories of sufferers from dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease, especially in Scottish males, are memories of football. A new treatment called ‘Directed Reminiscence Therapy’ is being used to treat Alzheimer’s and dementia. It allows men, especially, to recapture long-term deeply embedded memories, enabling them to talk about these remembered events and feelings, and thereby regain self-esteem, which, of course, commonly disappears when short-term memory begins to fail. These  ‘Directed Reminiscence Groups’ have been held for sufferers and their carers in the Hampden Park Museum around football artefacts and memorabilia (photos, programmes, etc.) in order to trigger memories.  On the radio Andrew Lowndes, of Glasgow Caledonian University, also a mental health nurse, described what happens:

“220 guys with their families and carers [were] there today. … and the recall from these guys is absolutely fantastic, people who are probably struggling day to day with their memories, but when you show them players from the 1950s and 60s they can rhyme the whole team off and tell you quite complicated facts about games and times when they went to matches. (Note 4 below)”

Other than telling us that long-term-memory function is still there in people with dementia, this therapy helps patients, importantly, with their self-esteem and recapturing a sense of identity, as Lowndes explained:

“One of the most understated effects of dementia is the depression that accompanies it. If you are constantly being asked questions about things that you don’t have an answer for it can become very hard to cope with. Most times sufferers know that they don’t have the answer to something simple and that can bring on the depression. (Note 3 below)”

Directed reminiscence therapy has beneficial effects in this area:

“It allows them to become a person again, feeling full and feeling they’ve got a connection with other people again with similar memories – this idea of everybody having a collective memory that they shared once upon a time on the terracing perhaps or in the pub after a match, they are able to re-engage with that. And the way that these men begin to engage with each other and the banter that flies around when they begin to do this, is fantastic and you see a glint in their eye; and family members tell us after the events that this was like having their man back again and it’s really very rewarding. (Note 4 below)”

Coda in relation to the Europeanization theme of the FREE project: I have since discovered that there is a European aspect to this medical research. A similar Spanish project is underway mirroring the Scottish one. The Spanish model is focused on helping players with dementia, involving ex-players from Valencia FC and Real Madrid. (Note 3 below)

The Glasgow research – some information sources to text and video:

1. See the Facebook site for the Scottish Football Reminiscence Partnership Project at – the memoriesfc project and the overall initiative has an interdisciplinary team, scientists, cultural studies academics, football clubs and authorities

2. See some reflections on the Scottish Football Partnership Knowledge Exchange Project conference

It includes Professor John Starr, Scottish Dementia Clinical Research Centre, talking about non-drug therapies in dementia, see #memoriesfc . Starr suggests dementia has several standard, alternative and brief psychotherapies. Reminiscence therapy has positive evidence #memoriesfc

Also Professor Debbie Tolson @CaledonianNews talks about the #memoriesfc project, a “unique knowledge exchange venture”, on

3. An STV video clip on “Memories FC gives dementia sufferers the chance to be football fans again” [It may take some time to load]. Includes a film clip of a Reminiscence Group and the text of an interview with Andrew Lowndes.

4. See BBC Radio “Good Morning Scotland” programme, with Gary Robertson interviewing  Andrew Lowndes at  This recording seems no longer available on the web.

Press release for a reminiscence event at Hampden Park in November 2011

Report on a similar reminiscence event at Aberdeen FC  in May 2012

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