“Whether sports fans have played or spectated, sport has the power to trigger strong memories from a time when we first saw a particular player, went to a famous sports stadium or watched an exciting match on TV.” These are the words of Rob White, London coordinator of the nationwide Sporting Memories programme, who has seen first-hand the impact that sport can have on the lives of older people.
Trainers from the Tottenham Hotspur Foundation, a delivery partner of the programme, run the sessions, which have been attended by more than 10 residents from Jewish Care’s Betty and Asher Loftus Centre Centre’s, incorporating three care homes. The session begins with a leader sharing his own memory as an eight-year-old feeling the freezing cold air standing on the Spurs North Stand next to his Dad. The smell of roast monkey nuts forever after taking him back to those afternoons of excitement at a game. Just this small memory triggers others to talk.
Dorothy, one of few women who attends, shares a story about her early days as a Spurs fan. “I had three brothers and we used to go to Victoria Park in Hackney and play there, the local Council had built wonderful sports equipment. I copied my brothers, I wanted to be just like them and do what they did. Later, we lived near the training ground so we used to go and watch Spurs first team training for free. I still enjoy watching the game.”
As part of the programme, the participants can enjoy taking part in a gentle game of Boccia and chair exercise. They also look at old black and white photos of sports personalities and watch old sporting footage together.
Rob White, says “Long term memory can be stimulated with the photos of sports people and it can really help people with low self-esteem to talk about something they know about, it can trigger some strong opinions when they think back and they will start to communicate in a different way.”
Sport has always been a major part of Gary Zimmerman’s life. Now, 87, Gary, who is living with dementia and has been a resident at Jewish Care’s Rosetrees home for two years, tells the group about how he played cricket for his school, Clifton College at Lords Cricket Club and went on a cricket tour in Israel with Maccabi GB in his early 20’s.
Bondia, Gary’s wife of 43 years, came along to one of the Sporting Memories sessions. The couple met when he was widowed and a father with three children. Gary was President of the Finchley Cricket Club and spent many summer afternoons enjoying the gentleman’s game. Alongside his passion for football, as an Arsenal fan, he also spent Saturday afternoons at Highbury.
“Cricket and football were always Gary’s passion, when he moved into the home, his TV and SKY subscription moved in with him,” says Bondia. “It’s been good to see him recall his memories of playing and watching sport with the group. The leaders have been great at engaging with everyone to participate during the sessions and have put a lot of effort into researching Gary’s connection with sport.”
Some of the residents shared stories about the tension between their love of sport and remaining observant on Saturdays, the Jewish Sabbath (Shabbat).
At 12, Lawrence Silver played football, cricket, tennis; “I was a good footballer and my father had a letter from the FA saying the scouts wanted to take me to training. That wasn’t going to happen though because we were an Orthodox family and football was on Shabbat. So, I played on the Sunday games with the Jewish clubs and was founder member of Stamford Hill Boys Club”.
Resident and devoted Arsenal fan, Alex Mitchell, has memories of the Arsenal players coming into his father’s clothes shop when he was young. He says. “I used to know the players well and later with my sons we walked to the game every Saturday from my family home in Hendon.”
Mitchell sums up the project why the project is important to him; “It’s good to talk about sport. Sport’s always been a big part of my life”.
Rob White, from Sporting Memories has run programmes across the capital, with a wide variety of different organisations. He knows the power this initiative has to connect people, reducing loneliness and isolation and building their self-esteem. “One of the currencies that people, especially men, bring in life is sport. It’s something you never lose so it’s so beneficial to get people talking about sport, as we age, and become less independent we don’t always have confidence in other things, but we have a confidence about sport.”
“Everybody had a story and everyone in that group came away feeling more connected to each other.
Simon Morris, Chief Executive of health and social care organisation, Jewish Care, is in agreement about the benefits of the programme, “As a sports fan I know that sport brings people together, promoting wellbeing. This has certainly been the case for the older people who have participated in the programme at Jewish Care. I’d like to thank the team from Sporting Memories and the Tottenham Hotspur Foundation for delivering the programme in our homes.”