West Bromwich Albion F.C., in the United Kingdom, has a legion of fans that attend its matches games. There isn’t a shortage of fans, which means there is a great atmosphere for every match. However, Albion Memories, West Brom’s foundation, focuses on a much smaller subset of fans – those who suffer from a sort of dementia. West Brom holds sessions every week in a suite at its stadium, with the belief that even the view of the field where fans used to watch games can serve as a memory aid.
Paul Glover, the foundation’s head of disability, said, “We want to energize their memories, to get them talking again.” The best way to do that is through soccer by tapping into the reservoir of memories built up through a lifetime of being a fan. Because this disease strikes at the heart of identity and can create strangers out of friends and family, the hope is that these soccer memories remain untouched as the dementia takes its toll.
All members are patients at Edwards Street; the format is simple. Each person sits in a circle in the stadium lounge, gazing through a picture window of the field while a team rep interviews players. Some of them are current players, while some are retired players, so that these participants can best associate themselves with those faces. It’s important to note that these sessions don’t cure dementia; however, the socialization helps slow down the feeling of isolation. According to the New York Times, the clinical impact of loneliness is massive, and as a result, groups like these can be really powerful. This is a model that can be replicated in the United States and would hold multiple meanings. It would allow fans to stay connected throughout their entire life in an impactful way. Alumni would stay engaged with the teams, which is always critical once a player has retired. By strengthening the ties between player and fans, even through minimal memories and experiences, teams can bridge the gap to its community members.
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