Sporting Memories: Preston North End, nostalgia, and the power of 'remember when...'

Seeking to harness the power of having a good old natter about sport, nostalgia, and everything else in between, Sporting Memories is a national initiative which helps tackle the impacts of dementia, loneliness, and depression in people over the age of 50.

Thursday, 9th July 2020, 7:00 am
(From left) Martin Atherton, Bev Taylor, Alistair White, former PNE players Eric Jones, David Lockley, Tom Birkett, and Stephen Whittle.

Having been running for around 10 years and now boasting over 120 clubs across the UK, the programme allows people to gather and reminisce about sporting memories and events as a group, promoting social interaction, education, and nostalgic discussions on topics for which participants have a real passion. And in Preston, it's been a hit.

"We use the power of sport to re-egnage people who are marginalised in society," says Lead Volunteer Martin Atherton. "Depression and loneliness are closely connected and so the initiative is about prevention as much as anything else. Some people might not realise they're getting isolated and socially disengaged, and so we offer people the chance to get together and have a reminisce."

Launched last October, the Preston group met on Tuesday mornings in the players' lounge at Deepdale prior to lockdown with the group - which is run in conjunction with Preston North End Community and Education Trust - also incorporating physical activity, quizzes, guest speakers, and memorabilia into their sessions.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Sporting Memories meeting at Deepdale prior to lockdown. (Credit Ian Robinson, Preston North End)

"With the Test match cricket starting again this week, we've been looking at Lancashire and West Indies players," explains 64-year-old Martin, who is from Preston. "We get some pictures up to spark some memories - Clive Lloyd, Michael Holding, Pat Patterson - and then we have a chat. It can be educational, too: we've talked about Learie Constantine, who played for Nelson in the 1930s and was a real pioneer.

"We use sport to start a conversation about wider issues," adds Martin, who has been involved in Sporting Memories since March 2019. "You see a huge difference in people when they start coming. One member who has dementia wasn't very vocal when he first came along, but he has become so much more engaged and to see that regression of symptoms was fantastic. You can really tell when people are enjoying it."

Since the Covid-19-imposed lockdown, the club has been holding boisterous meetings via Zoom, welcoming around 20 people to each session. Recent chats have involved appearances by former Preston North End and Burnley player and current Salford City manager Graham Alexander, and Eric Jones, who at the age of 89 is one of the oldest living former PNE players.

"We've had to fly by the seat of our pants a bit since lockdown and doing everything online is very different," says Martin. "Zoom sessions have certain drawbacks, including the fact that when people can actually come along to the sessions, it gives family or carers time off. If there's someone in the household living with dementia, everybody's living with dementia.

Sporting Memories' Zoom sessions.

"That face-to-face contact is bringing some people out of their shells," adds Martin, who is PNE's club statistician. "Once we're allowed to get back together physically, I think we'll look to keep some kind of Zoom meeting going in addition to the main meetings, as it's allowed more people to join in including people in Scotland, Stafford, and Yorkshire.

"It's all about connecting people and while it may be different, we're still able to engage," Martin says. "To be honest, I get more out of it than I put in because of how nice it is to see people enjoying it.

"The other week, I cut my hair and made a right mess of it and someone else had been out in the sun and got burned, We were all teasing him, saying 'you've been on the whisky a bit early'. He just shot back 'I won't be red in a couple of days, but your hair will still be a mess!'"