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Level5 was delighted to help former Aberdeen and Dunfermline manager Jimmy Calderwood as he took the brave decision to announce he had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease. A truly brave man who wanted to tell his story in the hope it would help others talk openly about the disease. 

Jimmy Calderwood has revealed that he is living with younger onset Alzheimer’s Disease.

The former Aberdeen and Dunfermline manager was first diagnosed nearly two years ago, but has decided now to go public. He joined his partner Yvonne, Jim Pearson and Kirsty Yanik from Alzheimer Scotland at Level5’s offices today to make the announcement.

Calderwood, who is 62, said: “If, by making this public I can help others talk more openly about dementia, then that will be something positive. That is why I have spoken with Alzheimer Scotland and invited them along to join me today.

“I haven’t been comfortable with keeping this as a secret and when I recently heard that an old team mate of mine in Holland is also living with Alzheimer’s Disease, it prompted me to go public.

“Right now I am still fine, except for being a bit forgetful with some names but I am determined to continue enjoying my life.”

Calderwood is the latest in a long line of former football stars to be struck by dementia, including former Celtic captain Billy McNeill, sixties Rangers striker Jimmy Millar and Dundee United’s Frank Kopel, and south of the border Queens Park Rangers and Manchester City ace Stan Bowles and ex England striker Jeff Astle.

That has led to calls for there to be more research into whether or not there is a link between playing football and dementia.

Explaining how he discovered he had Alzheimer’s, Calderwood said: “It was actually my partner, Yvonne who noticed I was getting a wee bit forgetful and she insisted that I go and get checked out.

“I suppose I am a typical West of Scotland man of my generation and the last thing I think about is going to the doctor with anything I think of as just being minor. But I am grateful to her because now I know I have it I can do what I can to fight against it.

“Right now I am keeping myself as fit as I can by going to the gym two or three times a week and I watch a lot of football, both on the television and by going to games. Also, I go down to Birmingham a couple of times a season to see my old pals in the Birmingham ex-Players Association and watch matches there.

“I have also been contacted by a number of journalists for my views on certain aspects of football and I’ve got no trouble in being able to give them as I am still up to date with what’s going on in the game, so I hope to keep hearing from them.”

Calderwood played in the top flight in England with Birmingham City, which included stars such as Britain’s first £1M player, Trevor Francis, and Scotland ace Kenny Burns. He was transferred to Sparta Rotterdam in 1980 and played for the rest of his career in Holland before going into coaching there and managing Nijmegen.

He came back to Scotland to take over Dunfermline and got them promotion to the Scottish Premier League in his first season, before steering them to their most successful spell since the sixties when they finished fourth and reached the Scottish Cup Final. He was then appointed Aberdeen manager in 2004 and was responsible for their return to the top half of the table. Under Calderwood Aberdeen became the last Scottish team outwith the Old Firm to play in Europe beyond Christmas, a UEFA Cup run which was halted by Bayern Munich.

More recently he was called in by both Kilmarnock and Ross County to perform mid-season rescue acts and managed to guide both clubs to top-flight safety when they had previously been heading for the drop.

Jim Pearson, Director of Policy & Research at Alzheimer Scotland, said: “When well-known sportspeople like Jimmy, who are held in high regard in Scotland and beyond, share their story about living with dementia it helps to break down the fear, stigma and discrimination which continue to surround the condition.  By sharing his story, Jimmy is making a powerful contribution to helping other people, their families and friends, to talk more openly and come forward earlier for help and support if they are worried about their memory or other changes that they have noticed. Dementia knows no boundaries and affects people in every walk of life.”

There are around 90,000 people living with dementia in Scotland. For many of them, football will be huge part of their life; either as a player or as a fan. That is why Alzheimer Scotland has worked in partnership with the Scottish Football Museum for several years, supporting the development of Sports Heritage Scotland, which includes over 140 Football Memories Groups.  Sports Heritage Scotland trains volunteers to spend time with people with dementia who have an interest in football, talking about teams and matches from the past and working with images and memorabilia to stimulate memories.

Anyone who is concerned about dementia, or would like to find out about help or support in their local area, should call Alzheimer Scotland’s Freephone Dementia Helpline on 0808 808 3000.

Thanks to Willie Vass for the use of his pictures.

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