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Soccer’s battle with dementia: Rotherham legend John Breckin leads the way

There are six remaining team members who played Aston Villa in the first League Cup final in 1961, ”says Rotherham United legend John Breckin in a proud South Yorkshire voice.

He finishes his sentence: ‘Three of them have it.’

There’s others. Much others. Breckin recites the names of the men he played with at his beloved Millmoor and elsewhere. Some are still dealing with dementia, others no longer suffer. Trevor Womble says.

John Breckin (back row, fourth from right) poses for a photo with Millers Memory club, an initiative that helps those affected by dementia in soccer.

John Breckin (back row, fourth from right) poses for a photo with Millers Memory club, an initiative that helps those affected by dementia in soccer.

He is fighting. We lost Rodney Fern at 69. Ernie Moss who I played with at Doncaster is gone. Jimmy Goodfellow passed away. Dave Watson now, I was his apprentice and I cleaned his boots, John Haselden, Neil Hague in Plymouth, his wife was the other day, Dave Cusack is in the early stages, Lol Morgan too.

Others crop up throughout the conversation. So many that Breckin, 68, Rotherham’s president for life, decided to do something about it.

“We started making Zooms locked up,” he explains. That turned into club meetings. We have had five Millers Memory Club meetings and next month we are having a Christmas party.

Without the intention of disrespecting him, many of those Breckin refers to will not be recognizable names to many readers. But that doesn’t make their story any less important than that of household names hit by the scourge of soccer, their lives not so valued.

Breckin (left) has had a long soccer career, but now focuses on mental issues.

Breckin (left) has had a long soccer career, but now focuses on mental issues.

Breckin (left) has had a long soccer career, but now focuses on mental issues.

In fact, some believe that those who practiced in the lower leagues, where the ball tended to spend more time in the air, could be at an even higher risk of developing neurodegenerative diseases.

Breckin, who was an assistant to former Millers, Oldham, Tranmere and Hartlepool boss Ronnie Moore, remembers endless bouts of pitching practice on winter afternoons.

“Jim McGuigan was great for me as a coach for eight years, but there were days when we were embarrassed,” he recalls.

‘He would say,’ Well … back four in ‘and we would look at each other, knowing what was coming. Seamus McDonagh, the guardian, would throw snow on them.

‘One of us would go and attack him and the other three would jump for cover. “Breck’s ball!” I’d have a session of that for 20 minutes. I bet there will be 40 headlines in the session and you would do it once every fortnight, more if he thought we would let some in.

‘We made crosses and finished every week. More headings. It was an integral part. You wanted to improve your course. There is an art to it. As an apprentice, at 15 you had pitching practice.

In the gym, glued to the wall. Directing it back and forth 100 times getting the technique. If you got one wrong, you would see stars and the other players would laugh. ”

Then there were the concussions. “I got knocked out in an FA Cup game, playing for Neil Warnock at Burton,” says Breckin. “ I woke up in the hospital with six stitches on the back of my neck.

“ The Stevenage boy I collided with going up from a head butt was in the next bed. I played the following Saturday!

You did that though. In those days, a little lower down, they would let you if they hit your head because the manager’s job was at stake.

“They have to mark you,” they said. “Stand on the wing, be a nuisance.” The medical aid was the coach who had probably done a first aid course. ‘

Breckin and his friends were willing. “You didn’t want to leave the team,” he explains. ‘You got your looks and bonus, which was more than the basics. You didn’t want to go out. If someone comes in and plays well, that’s you. You stayed.

Many with that attitude now attend the Millers Memory Club. “A couple of companies have come together to help, so if someone can’t afford to get here, we can take a taxi,” says Breckin.

‘We have old shows, games on television. You see triggers that involve them. We’re going to start playing bingo and card for a couple of hours and see where it takes us. ‘

PFA representative and former player Paul Raven has also assisted with funding, along with the club’s community arm. The hope is to expand it even further and get the competitive juices flowing again.

“South Yorkshire is a close network,” says Breckin, with a twinkle in his eye. We have Barnsley, the Sheffield clubs, Doncaster. It would be great to have a card game, billiards with them. Let’s see where it goes. ‘

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