'He was a special dad and dementia didn't take that away.' Daughter of Claret's legend Jimmy Robson speaks movingly about the devastating effects this cruel disease had on her father and his family

'Dad’s lost his car again’ – that’s how it all began.

By Dany Robson
Wednesday, 23rd February 2022, 12:30 pm

Phone calls which became all the more frequent to me and my brother Craig as dad laughed it off at first but just couldn’t remember where he had parked his car in Burnley town centre.

We suggested taking photos of the street name – although his very old mobile didn’t take pictures! – or parking at the same car park every time but it got to a point where he just couldn’t be trusted to go out on his own.

We would meet up in Tesco for a Costa Coffee and then spend hours walking around after looking for his car – or hoping when we pressed the car ‘zapper’ we would see it light up.

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Former Burnley FC player Jimmy Robson with his daughters Dany (left and Mel

At first you laugh it off, forgetfulness, old age, any excuse, but then you realise it’s the beginning of dementia and then it’s serious.

My dad died aged 82 on December 14th last year. Many people know him as Jimmy Robson the footballer. To us he was dad and a dad who had cared for us for so many years, and now we had to care for him.

I scroll through my texts to him from 2019: “Remember I am picking you up at 3,’ ‘Remember Parkrun tomorrow,’ ‘Remember to get Henry (his grandson) a card.’

Many went unanswered so I obviously followed them up with a phone call – probably a couple of phone calls.

Dany with her dad Jimmy

We had to stop him driving eventually and luckily, in his late 70s, he agreed. That then meant bus journeys into town which in turn were a worry as we didn’t know where he was or if he was on the right bus and so they had to stop.

Dementia takes the person away bit by bit. He was diagnosed with it in his late 70s after undergoing memory tests after several trips to the doctors.

Dad was always cheeky and a practical joker – he wanted to win at everything even when we were kids, he invented a rootin’ tootin’ life when he was out of games which applied only to him and his ‘alternative’ tours of historical sites, pointing out things like ambulances and people-watching, had us in stitches.

He didn’t drink but was still the life and soul of the party.

Dany has written movingly about the toll dementia took on her father until his death in December last year

He loved his wife Beryl, who he met in his teens, and always said, when she died in 2005, he would only live two years.

But he found a new life – meeting family and friends, playing golf, watching Burnley and Accrington Stanley, he worked for the Premier League for a time and he was fit and well, so dementia hit us hard, as it does every family.

Dad insisted it came from heading the ball – he came to Burnley when he was 15 and played up front, where he flicked the ball on and scored goals with his head, before moving onto Blackpool, Barnsley and Bury where he finished his career as a defender, heading the ball.

The dementia in football campaign was gathering momentum at the time but it seems still a long way off any acknowledgement that doing the job they loved killed many footballers.

We tried to keep dad occupied, he still went to Burnley but couldn’t concentrate on the game. He was more worried about what Bertie Bee was doing – the enjoyment of something he loved had gone.

Covid hit just as dad was starting to go downhill. I remember the early days when we were terrified he would walk to the paper shop as he didn’t understand that he couldn’t just walk in, he had to wear a mask and that people were living in fear.

His walking though gradually stopped. We would get phone calls from neighbours that he had fallen over – a big strong man who was physically fit, yet he became unstable on his feet.

He became housebound around 2020.

We tried to keep him in his own house as long as possible, he had carers coming in. Progress Lifeline gave him a watch so, if he fell over, it triggered their control centre and they would contact us.

I can’t remember the number of times the family have had a phone call at 2am and it’s a case of getting up and just double checking he is ok.

It’s tiring and it’s hard. It takes such a lot out of you as your thoughts are constantly on that person. Every night you expect a phone call but we wanted to keep him at home where he felt safe.

But then it got to a point where you can’t anymore. It’s not safe for him. The falls were more frequent, the TV was on but he had no interest, it was just on, he needed a frame to get about and needed 24 hour care. It could be a boiling hot day and he would put three jumpers and a gilet on plus a coat – in any order.

The moment we put him in a home, the guilt then takes over. We always promised him he would never go into a home but, as a family, we had to do it.

He went into Wordsworth House Care Home in July 2021 and we all felt such a sense of grief at doing this.

We told him it was temporary but dad being dad, he just smiled and accepted it even though it felt such a betrayal.

The care home were brilliant, the carers seemed to love him, he was well looked after and it was the best for him and us – despite the financial cost of any care home, which is huge.

Dementia can change a person – they can become aggressive or resentful. We were very lucky with dad, he didn’t change his cheeky, smiley personality.

He was in the care home around six months and by the end he was bed ridden, he couldn’t hold a conversation and he couldn’t dress himself.

Such a lot of dad had gone although, the last time I saw him alive, he did get a question on Pointless right!

There were still moments and they were special. He was a special person to many football fans, but he was certainly a special dad and dementia didn't take that away, however hard it was.