European Cup hero Colin Gibson: I could vividly recall 1982...but dementia was robbing me of other memories

Colin Gibson does not want your sympathy.

But he does want you to listen to his story, in the hope it may be of some help.

It is just a few days since Gibson, one of the heroes of Villa’s European Cup success, revealed he had been diagnosed with early-onset dementia. Sitting down at the club’s academy building ahead of a Fan Fest celebrating the 1982 triumph, the 62-year-old speaks with searing candour about his illness, the future and why he hopes going public with his diagnosis will raise awareness and encourage others to seek help. “I’ve got Alzheimer’s. It means I am losing my memory but still alive,” he says. “There are people in far worse positions than me. I am not looking for sympathy, or anything like that.”

It was Gibson’s wife, Kim, who first started to notice something wasn’t right five years ago.

“I’ve always had a bad memory but there were little things she started to pick up on,” he explains. “I could still recall vividly what happened in 1982 but couldn’t remember what I’d left on the bed that morning.”

Gibson’s decision to go public was, first and foremost, for Kim and his family. “If we were out to dinner with friends and there was anything to be got from the table she would say: ‘I’ll get that for you’. It got to the point where it looked like she was being domineering,” he says.

“I love her to bits, so that was a big reason for letting people know, so they could understand why she was doing things.”

Another motivation was to highlight the importance of early diagnosis. Gibson is on medication to slow the disease’s progress and though not blind to the challenges ahead, is determined to retain as much control as possible. “The pills won’t stop it. It is always going to come and I know that,” he says. “But if you leave it for 10 years, ignoring the symptoms, it can take a massive amount out of your life.

“I took the decision to go and get checked out before I was 60. We wanted to confront it as early as possible, so we could slow it down as early as possible.

Top left to right Michael kightly , Peter Till , Kris Taylor , Kyle Lightbourne, Andy Rammell , David Kelly , Boaz Myhill , Bottom Jimmy Walker , Charlie Ntamark, Andy Blair , Colin Gibson , Gordon Cowans , Wayne Thomas , Derek Mountfield

“My advice to anyone out there who thinks they might have a problem is to get it sorted. Go and get the advice. Obviously the hope is it is not dementia but if it is, there are things you can do.”

Gibson knows one of the main targets for his message, sadly, is former team-mates and opponents. He is the third member of Villa’s 1982 squad, after Brendan Ormsby and Gordon Cowans, to be diagnosed with a neurodegenerative disease and has received support from Dawn Astle and the Jeff Astle Foundation, the campaign group which has done tireless work exposing the link between football and dementia.

The Professional Footballers‘ Association last week launched a major consultation exercise in a bid to uncover the full extent of the problem in English football. Research last August found defenders were five times more likely to have dementia than non-footballers and Gibson, a former left-back, wants more to be done. “In our day we didn’t have any concussion protocol. If you got a knock on the head and there was another game three days later, you’d play in it,” he says.

“There was no medical science to say you shouldn’t. What you don’t know, you can’t do. We learned from the players before us.

“What we need to do now is use this science we have, not just shove it under the mattress and pretend there isn’t a problem. It isn’t just football. Just look at some of the collisions they have in rugby.

“At the same time, you have to accept there is always risk in sport. That is why not many people go right to the top.”

Four decades ago this week Gibson and his team-mates were at the summit of European club football following their famous final win over Bayern Munich.

The months since the removal of Covid-19 protocols has allowed them to meet regularly with supporters and reminisce on a triumph the scale of which Gibson himself took several years to appreciate.

“I was 22 years old when we won it. Back then I thought we would be doing it every year,” he says. “It was a case of: ‘Right, on to the next season’. You don’t appreciate what you have done until later in your career.”

Gibson, who had played in the wins over Valur and Dynamo Berlin, admits it took some time to come to terms with being an unused substitute against Bayern.

“I was desperate to play,” he says. “At the time I thought I should have played but as I got more experienced and wise I wondered whether I would have been able to do what Gary Williams did defensively.

“Maybe? But there is a doubt. I understand that more than I did then.”

Gibson, who went on to play for Manchester United, Port Vale, Blackpool, Walsall and Leicester, still works as a matchday host for the latter. “I love what I do and I love what I did,” he reflects. “I would do it all again in a heartbeat.”

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