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Aston Villa legend Gordon Cowans talks about the dementia scandal in football

The humor is still there. “For a start, I laughed it off,” says Gordon Cowans.

‘But there are only so many times in an hour that you can lose your glasses or wallet without thinking that something might be wrong. Although, I should say, the wallet worked in my favor, especially when it was my round! ‘

The determination, which played a significant role in the European Cup, League Cup and First Division triumphs with his beloved Aston Villa, also remains.

“Now that we know what’s wrong, we can make the most of the“ good time ”I have,” he explains.

After a long career in football, Gordon Cowans was diagnosed with Alzheimer's at the age of 62

After a long career in football, Gordon Cowans was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s at the age of 62

‘I had to make some changes, like just drinking non-alcoholic stuff, but it wasn’t that hard. If you had told me before my diagnosis that I wouldn’t be able to enjoy a drink with family and friends, I would have called you crazy. I take the prescribed medication, play my golf and, if Covid-19 allows, continue living much the same way as before. ‘

However, there is also reality. “I know what this disease is about,” Cowans adds. ‘I’ve watched my friend and former Villa colleague Chris Nicholl fight bravely for years, so I know what’s to come. Big Chris has fought it the same way he played the game, with a no-nonsense approach, but he’s not a fair opponent. It plays dirty and, until there is a cure, it is the only winner. ‘

It all sounds sadly surreal. In 1997 Cowans still played league football for Burnley. In 2016 he worked for the academy of Villa. There is an argument, from those who continue to refuse to cope with what is becoming increasingly clear, that the increase in dementia in football players is due to the fact that they tend to live longer thanks to their athletic lifestyle.

Cowans, an Aston Villa icon, pictured with the European Cup at Villa Park in November 2014

Cowans, an Aston Villa icon, pictured with the European Cup at Villa Park in November 2014

Cowans, an Aston Villa icon, pictured with the European Cup at Villa Park in November 2014

Cowans is 62. When he was diagnosed with early stages of Alzheimer’s disease in March, he was 61 and this is the first time he has spoken about it since the news was announced via a cheery post on Villa’s website. That it came as no surprise should ring more alarm bells.

“Did it come as a shock?” he asks. ‘I’m not sure it is. I’ve never had the best memories, but you are starting to realize that the constant, same old problems must be more than just a coincidence.

“My family did everything they could to get me tested because of the concerns it raised and I’m glad they did,” he explains. “Now that we know what’s wrong, we can make the most of the” good time “I have.”

Cowans knows all about the good times. A playmaker blessed with deceit and creativity when both traits were scarce in the game, he made his Villa debut at the age of 17. He was born in County Durham, but Birmingham is said to be the city he was loved.

Commonly known as ‘Sid’, Cowans tasted European and domestic glory over a memorable, time-defining two years at Villa Park. He had three spells at the club, won promotion at Blackburn Rovers and took 10 English caps, which should have been more. There was also a period in Italy, with Bari, when most on these coasts did not have the technical skills to play on the continent.

“I had a great career and played with some great players, for great teams, under great managers,” said Cowans. ‘I played football in Italy, represented my country, scored for my country and traveled a lot because of football.’ There is more to be thankful for. “I have a loving family, daughter Jenna, son Henry and my partner Vicci,” he adds. “I have three wonderful grandchildren and some great friends.”

Cowan knows what to expect after seeing former teammate Chris Nicholl (right) suffer from Alzheimer's after also contracting the disease after his playing career

Cowan knows what to expect after seeing former teammate Chris Nicholl (right) suffer from Alzheimer's after also contracting the disease after his playing career

Cowan knows what to expect after seeing former teammate Chris Nicholl (right) suffer from Alzheimer’s after also contracting the disease after his playing career

However, there is sadness about how things played out in Villa – and you feel the pages of his soon-to-be-written book will shed more light on the turn of events.

“It’s fair to say that towards the end at Villa I had a hard time and was in a pretty dark place for a while, but I’m fine now,” he says. ‘We are writing the story of my life, which we hope will come true in the new year. Just reliving the many memories makes me realize that all in all I am a lucky guy. ‘

Cowans is no longer working, but he continues to raise money for others. “I enjoy my charity work and have organized two golf days for ‘Dogs for Good’ for the past two years, ” he says. The proceeds will cover the cost of buying and training two service dogs, one named Sid, my nickname, and another named Birchy, in honor of my old friend and colleague at Villa and Wolves, Paul Birch, who we lost 10 years ago . ‘

Cowans does not refuse to embrace the future. He supports Sportsmail’s campaign calling for football to tackle the dementia crisis.

“I am very proud to give my name to this extremely important campaign,” he says. The football world can no longer look the other way and must now play a role in tackling this problem, without further delay. It is important that we do everything we can to support the suffering of ex-players. ‘

Cowans is close to John Stiles, son of Nobby, who is also a major supporter of this paper’s seven-point plan.

“The time for change is long ago and I am sure this campaign will make it happen sooner rather than later. I take my hat off to John Stiles, the Daily Mail and the other guys running the campaign. John co-starred with another wonderful friend and ex-colleague of mine, Brendon Ormsby, who himself suffered terrible ill health while at Leeds United.

After hanging up his boots, Cowan spent several years on the technical staff at Villa

After hanging up his boots, Cowan spent several years on the technical staff at Villa

After hanging up his boots, Cowan spent several years on the technical staff at Villa

Together with his uncle, Johnny Giles, they supported a day organized for Brendon and his family. John understands the benefits of strong teamwork. The PFA and players – former or current – should all be playing for the same team when it comes to fighting this disease. ‘

Cowans attitude is inspiring. But he would like to point out that he is following the brave path of former Southampton and Walsall boss Nicholl. “Chris has always been an inspiration to me, on and off the pitch,” he says. “I intend to fight this disease with the same determination as he does.”

These are words to applaud Holte End. They are words to cheer us all up.

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