A former professional footballer living with dementia is determined to give the condition the boot.
Dave Serella, who played for Nottingham Forest, Walsall and Blackpool, is backing the Alzheimer’s Society Memory Walk fundraising campaign to raise money for vital research.
Dementia devastates lives, but every pound raised through Memory Walk helps Alzheimer’s Society provide vital services and fund research to improve care and find a cure.
Dave joined singer Anne Nolan to open the charity’s Blackpool Memory Walk and then handed out medals to fundraisers on the finishing line in the shadow of the town’s legendary tower.
“I never shirked a challenge when I was a footballer and I don’t intend to start now with any challenge that dementia puts in front of me,” said the 66-year-old former centre-half.
“It’s far from ideal getting a dementia diagnosis but it’s not the end of the world and even though I’m forgetful I’m still a happy sort of bloke and nothing will change that.
“Dementia is something I’ve got to take in my stride. It’s nothing to be ashamed of and I’m determined to do everything I can to help Alzheimer’s Society find a cure for dementia.”
Dave, who lives in Lytham St Anne’s, near Blackpool, with wife Pat, was born in Kings Lynn, Norfolk, and enjoyed a football career that spanned 14 seasons and saw him play more than 370 professional games.
After retirement, he was a milkman for 30 years but had to pack in his round due to football-related back and knee problems.
That coincided with the first signs of dementia starting to emerge.
“I realised something was wrong a few years ago,” he said.
“I bumped into a couple of people I’d known for years and years and I just couldn’t remember what their names were.
“It’s not the end of the world when you can’t remember someone’s name, we’ve all done that, but it’s a fairly regular occurrence with me.
“Then a couple of times I was in the car and I forgot where I was going which was frustrating but also worrying because I knew that could be dangerous.”
Dave went to see his GP and underwent scans and was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s disease.
“It was awful news but it’s better to have things cleared up so you know what you’re dealing with,” he said.
“It isn’t affecting my daily life too much at the moment and long may that continue.
“Yes I’ve got my memory problems but I’m still really active and I’ve usually got a smile on my face.”
Dave is still able to look back fondly on his career.
“It’s funny but my short-term memory isn’t the best but I can still remember my days of playing football really well,” he said.
“There are things like falling out of favour with Brian Clough at Forest – probably because I’ve told people the story of him telling me he wanted me out that many times.
“But I’m best known for an incident when Forest played at Newcastle in the FA Cup in 1974. We were 3-0 up and suddenly there was a crowd invasion.
“I got thumped in the mouth by one bloke and his mate tried to drop-kick me but I just stepped back and he landed on the floor.
“We went off, came back on, they eventually won but the FA ordered a replay and they ended up going through which was hard to take.
“The whole situation was a farce but that was probably the highlight or low-point of my career. I don’t know whether to laugh or cry when I think back to that tie.”
Dave is keeping an eye on research as the biggest ever study to identify any link between heading footballs and dementia is currently under way.
“It’s interesting that quite a number of ex-footballers knocking about have been diagnosed with dementia,” Dave said.
“That’s quite possibly because of all those blinking heavy footballs we all used to head all the time.
“I think my dementia is due to heading a ball – that was the best part of my game – but then again so many other people have dementia who’ve never headed a ball in their lives.
“So there are a lot of unanswered questions – it would be interesting to be more precise and see what patterns there are.”
According to Alzheimer’s Society research experts there is still not enough evidence to draw a link between head injury and dementia and further studies in large groups of people are needed. . The charity recently held a roundtable for researchers and experts in brain injury to discuss potential links between contact sports and dementia, and will continue to work in this area.
For now, though, Dave is enjoying his retirement.
“I wouldn’t change a thing,” he said. “I’ve got a lovely family around me, the grandkids are ace so I love being a granddad. We have a happy home so I don’t let anything get me down.”
Of the top 10 causes of death, dementia is the only one that cannot be prevented, cured or slowed down. Research will beat dementia but more funding is urgently needed to find a cure.
Alzheimer’s Society is committed to spending at least £150 million over the next decade on dementia research – and Memory Walk will help to raise vital funds towards this.
Alzheimer’s Society Chief Executive Officer Jeremy Hughes said: “Dementia is the UK’s biggest killer – someone develops dementia every three minutes, with 1 million set to develop the condition by 2021.
“We are enormously grateful that Dave and his family and friends are rising to the huge challenge it poses by uniting with Alzheimer’s Society to help us defeat dementia.
“Sadly, dementia devastates lives, but every pound raised through Memory Walk will help Alzheimer’s Society provide vital information and support, improve care, fund research and create lasting change for people affected by the disease.”
Alzheimer’s Society is urgently calling on people to unite against dementia. There’s still time to hold your own Memory Walk this year, sign up today at memorywalk.org.uk/organise