The forgotten England captain: Dave Watson has been let down

The forgotten England captain: Dave Watson won 65 caps for his country but has been let down by the PFA since his dementia diagnosis. Here, loving wife Penny reveals his heartbreaking story

  • Former England captain Dave Watson was diagnosed with dementia this year
  • Watson’s family have been left to fight for medical support on their own
  • His wife, Penny, has contacted the PFA and provided evidence of when he hurt his head during his playing career
  • She wants other affected families to come forward with their stories

Dave Watson is having one of his good days, watching himself captain his country on a DVD his loving wife, Penny, had converted from a video tape for reminiscing purposes.

Next he will see himself and England team-mate Kevin Keegan standing side by side, swaying and singing together on an episode of Top of the Pops in 1982.

But there are bad days, too. Stroppy days. Foggy days. Days when this defender who stained many a shirt with blood seems depressed. Days when Penny wishes she had help.

The forgotten England captain: Dave Watson (above) collected 65 caps for his country

‘The forgotten England captain,’ says Penny of her 65-time capped husband, speaking for the first time since the Watson family went public with Dave’s diagnosis of dementia earlier this year.

She has spoken to the Professional Footballers’ Association but, as countless families have discovered, the onus is on them to fight for support rather than be offered it.

The players’ union claim they are ready to recognise dementia as an industrial disease, and have asked Penny to email evidence of times when Dave hurt his head. So she has. The picture of Dave drenched in blood, during his Stoke City days. The TV clip of Dave having his head stitched in the Manchester City dressing room — while being interviewed at the same time — after winning the 1976 League Cup final. The time he was knocked out at Southampton and hospitalised.

Dave’s wife Penny (left) has spoken about the former defender’s battle with dementia

‘There are so many pictures of him covered in blood,’ Penny says of her 74-year-old husband. ‘If he was playing in the modern game he’d never be on the pitch! I’m not saying they were thugs by any means. Dave was not like that at all. But it was a man’s game.’

Penny used Dave’s official Facebook page to appeal for more evidence. ‘The dear fans were superb, coming up with dates, articles in the newspaper, YouTube clips,’ she says.

‘They come up with wonderful information, I forward it over to the PFA, and that’s it.

‘It’s over six years since Dave was diagnosed, and it is a hideous disease. Every day there seems to be something disappearing. Occasionally I see my Dave. He’s still got that wonderful smile. But that person I knew is gone. His spark’s gone. It’s heartbreaking.

‘We know what the cause is. We’ve spoken to Dr Willie Stewart (the leading researcher whose study last year confirmed former footballers are three and a half times more likely to die of dementia compared to the general public).

‘The PFA should be helping their former players. I suppose that’s the inadequacies of this regime, because this has been happening for so long.

‘The players of that era were very proud. Most of them came from humble backgrounds. They had nothing. Somebody who reached the pinnacle — like my Dave did, captaining his country — is not going to go ask for help. They’re not.’

Watson (left) was the kingpin of a Sunderland side who won the 1973 FA Cup against Leeds

Dave remains the most-capped England player to never play in a World Cup finals match. He was the kingpin of a Sunderland side who won the 1973 FA Cup, later inducted into their Hall of Fame.

So it was with much sadness that supporters took the announcement in February that this combative defender was now fighting a battle he cannot win. Last week, following confirmation of Sir Bobby Charlton’s diagnosis, Penny posted an update on Dave’s Facebook page, detailing what little help the Watson family had received since going public. That prompted criticism of the PFA. The next day, Penny’s phone rang. It was Gordon Taylor.

Penny is polite and does not want to divulge what was said. But she did tell the PFA supremo what they should be doing.

‘Dave’s best friend in football is Colin Bell,’ says Penny. ‘The two of them, when they get together, are like two old women, moaning about this, that, the other, the modern game and all that.

‘Whenever Dave talks to anybody from that era, they have a moan, but they also reminisce. That’s important. It keeps the brain going. I suggested maybe having events, even somewhere like St George’s Park, for these guys to go there and get together. The carers, too.

‘Why can’t the PFA get something together, where they’re among like-minded people, can reminisce and spend their last days there? I don’t mean when it’s really bad, when they don’t have a clue where they are. But when they can still take some enjoyment out of life.

‘Even if it’s just taking them to matches. I want to keep the stimulation going. They should already have care packages of some kind, family liaison officers for different areas.’ Penny pauses. ‘I’m sorry, I’m getting a bit upset. He just needs help.’

Penny has provided the PFA with evidence of when Dave hurt his during his playing career, including the above shot which shows him covered in blood

Dave is one of five brothers, three of whom played football to varying levels. Peter and Tony, who played professionally and semi-professionally, have departed this world, both after they were diagnosed with neurodegenerative diseases. The other two brothers, and three sisters, have never had brain disease.

Lady Norma Charlton announced last week that her 1966 hero husband, Sir Bobby, had dementia — news which shook football and followed the death of Nobby Stiles.

Penny wants any other families considering going public to not be afraid to do so. ‘It’s almost like it’s a dirty secret,’ she says. ‘They shouldn’t feel ashamed.

‘This is maybe where the pride thing comes into it. Once you’ve decided to make it public, accepted it and embraced it, then people should be helping.

‘This is not just for Dave. It’s for those down the ladder, too. We didn’t make millions from football and we don’t live in a mansion.

‘But what about the other guys, who didn’t even have what we had? What happens with them?’




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