Stuart Chapman's dementia battle shows need for help lower down the football ladder

Over a playing career that spanned two decades Stuart Chapman spent 14 years at Stafford Rangers during their golden era.

From 1970-1984 the midfielder etched himself into local folklore, winning a historic treble of the Northern Premier League title, FA trophy and Staffordshire Senior Cup in the 1971-72 season, as well as the 1979 FA Trophy.

He played in the FA Trophy final in 1976, which they lost to Scarborough, and was also part of the team that got to the fourth round of the FA Cup in 1974-75, eventually losing to Peterborough in front of 31,160 fans at Stoke’s Victoria Ground.

Chapman is a Rangers legend but has now sadly become another unfortunate statistic.

In August 2013 he was diagnosed with mixed dementia, a condition where someone has more than one type of dementia.

In the last 18 months his condition has deteriorated and now leaves him housebound. Although it has not been directly linked to his long non-league career, Chapman's family believe his years of heading footballs has resulted in his condition – like so many who have come before him.

"We noticed the changes when he would forget where he parked the car or where the kids worked," said Vicky Chapman, his wife.

"Apart from getting out of his chair for five minutes, that's it. It's awful. I used to show him photos of himself and he'd say 'that's me' but now there's nothing.

"He was so full of life and now there's nothing there.

"You know the memory will fade but you never think that he won't be able to walk properly. He forgets how to hold a conversation and he's just not that person again."

There is a long list of former players currently suffering with dementia, alongside a list of those who have sadly passed away from it.

Former West Brom forward Jeff Astle, Bobby and Jack Charlton, or former Villa and Walsall man Chris Nicholl – it has touched so many footballer's lives.

"It's so sad that the game that he loved so much and lived for may have caused this," Vicky added.

"There should be more done. Non-league players are forgotten about.

"Rightly so the famous players know about them, but they don't know about those that played in lower leagues and people should be made aware of them.

"Do players need to wear protective headgear? You can't suddenly stop heading the ball and stop players from doing it.

"But something must be done. Even regular tests to check on players."

Medical studies have shown former players may be three-and-a-half times more likely to die of dementia.

The link is there. Often, too, it is the players that put their bodies on the line on the pitch that suffer most in the years to come.

Roger Jones played with Chapman, nicknamed 'Shack', for seven years at Rangers and scored both goals in the 1976 FA Trophy loss.

The 72-year-old said: "We were a good team. Shack was a proper character. He was tough and particularly brave.

"I remember one time he got a gash on his leg about six inches long, he needed 14 stitches for it but was trying to play on. That's who he was.

"It's so sad. Vicky has been superb throughout all of this, words cannot express than enough.

"She has a circle of friends who can call in on her every day to help. My wife rings every day without fail and we go over when we can too.

"It's really sad. I've taken him to a few games in Stafford and the club were brilliant with him.

"Shack is one of only two players to have played in all three Stafford cup finals, he is a true hero. A legend."

A interesting take on the heading footballs situation has seen some suggest trialling games without heading to see the effect it has. Something Jones is behind.

He added: "I think we're wasting time, if we're going to do something about it. Why don't they trial a game where it's a free-kick if you head the ball and see how it affects the game.

"They just seem to be dragging their feet.

"You can't tackle players from behind now, which is good, and it's accepted in the game now. Why can't they trial a game without heading it."

Alongside several other former team-mates, Chris Nixon joined in 1977 when Chapman was at his best and looked up to the midfielder.

Nixon said: "He was a bloke's bloke. He loved a good laugh.

"On the pitch he was a small guy but he could get stuck in. He would run and run. He was amazing.

"I looked up to quite a lot of players at Stafford and to play alongside them was brilliant. Out of all the players I played with, I always felt if we had him he had a chance of winning every game we played.

"Shack was by far the best midfielder that I saw. I will always think that, even if I had played for bigger clubs. He was a big influence on me, he was a one-off."

For all the memories and stories that Chapman's family and friends want told, they also want change.

In the meantime, Vicky insists she is supported by a network of people as she cares for her husband, something every family needs in their same situation.

"I can't believe how lucky we are to have such amazing friends and people in our lives," she added.

"His last match was March last year and it was amazing to see how many people remembered him and spoke to him.

"Most of Stuart's playing days were spent at Stafford Rangers and he had a lot of happy times there.

"It's most important for people with dementia to keep connected with people as it may trigger a memory. He loved his football reunions.

"It's very important to keep in touch with people they knew from the past."

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