He gave up his season ticket a few years ago; coping with the match day crowds at the Hawthorns was too much. But he still goes to the stadium, only now it is when the stands are quiet and the field is empty. Along with Heather, Steve has come every Wednesday for the last six weeks as part of a program, run for five years by West Brom’s foundation, called Albion Memories.
Each group consists of a handful of West Brom fans, all of them suffering from some form of dementia, as well as some partners and caregivers. One or two wear West Brom scarves, gently draping them over their chairs, or knitted hats embroidered with the club’s crest. They come to meet and to talk — “to get out of the house,” as Heather put it.
But mainly, they come to remember.
“We want to energize their memories, to get them talking again,” said Paul Glover, the foundation’s head of disability. The best way to do that, he believes, is through soccer, through West Brom, tapping into the vast reservoir of memories built up through a lifetime of being a fan, its hold so strong that it remains untouched even as dementia starts to take a toll in other ways.
“Their memory is often very good, even if they cannot recall what they had for dinner last night,” said Jan Liddell, a senior health care support worker at Edward Street mental health hospital.
All of the members of the group are patients at Edward Street; all have expressed an interest in soccer, and all, as part of their treatment, have been offered the chance to join the Albion Memories program. “With memory, there is an element of use it or lose it,” Liddell said. They come here to use it.
The format is simple. The participants sit in a semicircle in a stadium lounge, gazing through a picture window at the field — the view itself is an aide-mémoire, Liddell said — while John Homer, the head of West Brom’s supporters’ club and a walking encyclopedia of the Black Country, as this part of England is known, interviews a player.
Some interview subjects are drawn from the current squad, though Glover says the former stars get the best reactions: not just because of West Brom’s current struggles, but because those are the names and the faces that the aging members of the group — Griffiths, now 61, is among the youngest — remember.
A few weeks ago, the guests were Graham Lovett and Graham Williams, veterans of the West Brom team that won the 1968 F.A. Cup, and the club’s former striker Micky Fudge.
All three, at Homer’s gentle insistence, cycled through their memories of their playing days, telling stories, cracking jokes, amiably mocking one another. When Lovett lost the thread on one anecdote, Williams suggested with a smile that perhaps he should be in the audience, not on the stage.
Skillfully, Homer seizes on every little story to spark something in the group. He asks where the players used to drink, and asks those listening if they remember the pub, if they know where it is. He mentions cafes and ice cream parlors, some long since closed, and cars that have not been on the road for decades.
At one point, he breaks into an impromptu chorus of “Wonderful Copenhagen,” from the 1952 musical film “Hans Christian Andersen.” A few of the guests take up the tune. They remember the lyrics perfectly.
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