THEY file in quietly. It is an unusual football crowd. There are no raucous cheers, no outbursts of anticipation.

There are nurses, there are carers, official and unofficial. There are also the men whose lives have been touched awfully by dementia, been blighted by a condition that banishes memory and makes the present a confusing, often fearful place.

The gatherings are held in the boardrooms of football clubs, church halls or leisure centres.

They can be distinguished by the football celebrity. There is often a former player on hand to talk about the game. Cruelly, but almost inevitably, there is often a football player in the audience, a personality who once went about his business to the roars of the crowd but who now listens without obvious discernment to the voices of others.

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The scene is a Football Memories Scotland group. There will be one near you. They will be kicking off again post-Covid. This is where memories are gently prodded. This is where miracles can happen. They rarely last. A fan with memory problems, often severe, can come along, listen to the chat and suddenly be re-energised, even recall an incident from long ago in wonderful, telling detail.

With a chilling swiftness, though, he can return to the place where memory is elusive, where recollection can be sought but will not be found.

I say "he”. In the meetings I have attended the afflicted have always been male. But, of course, the condition does not discriminate on grounds of sex. It also has scant regard for the matter of age.

Yes, it is mostly prevalent in older age groups but this is no consolation for those who watch as a partner, friend, brother or sister succumbs to the illness when the years of fruitful living should stretch far beyond them. There is a peculiar, incalculable sadness in observing these cases. They are silent but somehow there is a scream about the unfairness of life.

So the men sit, watch and, yes, listen as the talk bristles with games played, tackles made and goals scored. There are photies passed around. There are cards with footballers’ faces laid on the table. There may be a pile of football programmes.

The past – their past – lies before them, echoes in their ears. It is almost sacred. The table serves as an altar. There is a general silence among the congregation. It may be awe, it may be incomprehension, it is certainly humbling.

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Blessedly and wonderfully, there is the odd, dramatic intervention. I was once at a meeting where I had been a fairly regular attender and a voice came from an unlikely source. A guy, who had been at three previous meetings, had maintained his normal demeanour of steadfast silence.

A football historian was speaking eloquently and with gentle passion of a centre forward long gone. ‘He was some player,’ he concluded. ‘He was my favourite player,’ interjected the gentleman I had believed to be incapable of speech. His eyes lit up and then his chin fell on his chest. The moment had come and was gone. The memory had been ignited but was now dampened.

It was, though, a powerful interlude in what are generally light-hearted and gregarious events. His short sentence spoke to the unfathomable enormity of his condition. His silence was accepted by everyone. There was a communal joy – sober but unmistakeable – that the words had come.

It is Dementia Awareness Week, led by Alzheimer Scotland. It seeks, among other things, to explore the hidden impact on those facing dementia.

The condition is profoundly personal. This applies not only to those with dementia but those living with those with dementia. It is highly political. An aging population threatens to overwhelm the care system, certainly with the resources it is allocated at the moment. It asks questions that society struggles to answer.

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There has been encouraging progress on causes and possible solutions but dementia threatens to be a resilient, implacable foe for the immediate future. A doctor who works in the field once ruefully told me that we know more about outer space than the precise workings of the brain.

Yet it seems that brain can be startled, provoked into action by a song or a photograph of John Greig playing against Morton. A black and white photie of Cappielow on a dreich day – there are, of course, no other images in existence – can prompt a reaction that no drug can match.

It is inexplicable, wondrous but real.

I have seen it. I have watched as people move gently towards an image as if inching towards a warmth they thought had gone. I have heard the words from mouths that shunned speech, consistently perhaps irredeemably.

At a superficial, but delightful level it shows the power of football to implant itself in the human mind. This pensioner can recall a typical Ipswich team of the 1970s but cannot articulate with any accuracy why he finds himself in the kitchen with a tedious regularity with a cheese knife in his hand but nary a morsel to consume.

This pensioner, too, can lose himself at a Football Memories Scotland meeting with a glance at a photie that shows an old hero in his prime and brings back the reality of afternoons on terracings that would make the Black Hole of Calcutta resemble the royal suite at the Ritz.

At a deeper level, it shows that something, sometimes can be retrieved from what seems like the profound, dark depths of incomprehension.

It offers the merest glimmer of hope. That is always a good thing. It is something to cling to in a week where dementia makes a gentle plea to be remembered.

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