Memories Clubs

Since the historic first shout of ‘Gerremonside!’ in the 19th century, Rugby League has possessed a fantastic ability to forge lasting memories for everyone involved at every level of the sport.

Few people ever forget the feeling of their first game, either as a player or a spectator, and most fans treasure their own special moment from their association with Rugby League, be it the joy of a Cup final win at Wembley, the relief felt on the day a team avoided relegation or a flash of brilliance from a favourite player.

It is these magical moments that provide much of the glue that holds the Rugby League family together, because so many personal memories come from the shared experience of enjoying the greatest game of all.

Many clubs are now harnessing the power of Rugby League by running Memories Clubs which are having a transformational impact on the lives of older supporters and their families.

Memories Clubs bring together fans and their families to share stories about what makes the game, a club or its player so special: open to all ages, the clubs help bring history to life, are combatting loneliness and realising dramatic changes in the lives of those suffering from dementia.

There are currently around 850,000 people in the UK suffering from dementia, a figure that is set to increase to 2 million by 2051 as an ageing population expands. This year, 225,000 will develop dementia, 60 per cent of whom will be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, for which there is no cure.

Rugby League Cares has recently been working with supporters of Dewsbury Rams to establish a Memories Club which meets at Shaw Cross Sharks ARLFC on the second Wednesday of each month.

Run entirely by volunteers, the club provides a focal point for fans to meet up with fellow Dewsbury supporters and ‘guest’ supporters of other local clubs and talk about times past and present.  Allan Agar, a member of the Dewsbury team that defeated Leeds in the 1972 Championship final, made a special appearance to help guests reminisce about what was a golden period for the West Yorkshire club.

For Allison Simpson, the Dewsbury Memories Club is having a profoundly positive influence on her family through its impact on her father, Tony Boothroyd.

Tony, 74, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease two and a half years ago, since when the symptoms of a condition which causes memory loss and confusion have accelerated.

“Dad has been a Dewsbury fan all his life and the whole family are huge supporters of the club,” said Allison, who has been one of the driving forces behind the setting up of the Memories Club.

“Sport is one of the few things that captivates dad, be it sport on TV, being at the match, or talking about old times. He can clearly remember so many sporting occasions: of his own, those he’s watched from the terraces and those he’s watched his grandchildren participate in.

“Sadly, because of Alzheimer’s, he can’t recall what we did earlier today or tie his own shoelaces. It’s an unspeakably awful condition which can only get worse.

“But when he’s at the match, or attending a meeting of the Memories Club, we get him back because he loves to tell the stories about Dewsbury and listen to the memories of other fans.

“The club is also a great way to get to really know people you’ve seen at the games over many years and never really had a chance to speak to.”

Prior to the setting up of the Dewsbury Memories Club, Allison and Tony visited the Memories Clubs at Rochdale Hornets, Batley Bulldogs and Hunslet, where they received a warm welcome.

The Dewsbury club was set up with strong support from Hunslet chief executive Martin Flynn, who believes every club should have its own Memories Club.

“It’s such a simple concept and one that is very effective in tackling social isolation and helping people with dementia, which are challenges faced by supporters of every club in every sport,” said Martin.

“We are more than happy to share best practice with anyone and were delighted to help Dewsbury set up their Memories Club, not least because of the strong connections that exist between us.

“Bernard Shoeman, who is involved in our heritage group and is very active in our Memories Club, was secretary at Dewsbury for seven years, for example, and he was able to share lot of memories.”

Fans and players of all ages from any club are welcome to attend, and admission is free.

Widnes Vikings also have an active Memories Club that meets monthly at the Chemics Café, where current and former players and staff from the Super League club’s charitable foundation interact with dementia sufferers on reminiscence events, stadium tours and low-level physical activities.