Video and photo gallery: Wife’s heartbreak at Norwich City legend Duncan Forbes’ fight with Alzheimer’s disease

Norwich City legend Duncan Forbes on Mousehold Heath where in his time as a player he used to train.  Photo: Simon Finlay Norwich City legend Duncan Forbes on Mousehold Heath where in his time as a player he used to train. Photo: Simon Finlay

Thursday, October 17, 2013
2:08 PM

Norwich City legend Duncan Forbes took pride in being able to memorise the results of every English football league match after viewing them just the once on a Saturday afternoon.

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Norwich footballer Duncan ForbesNorwich footballer Duncan Forbes

However, his wife knew there was something seriously wrong when the former player and chief scout could not remember that his beloved team had played two days earlier on a Monday morning six years ago.

The former central defender fought many battles on the football pitch, but his biggest fight has been with dementia after he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2007.

His wife, Janette, spoke of her devastation yesterday after having to put her husband in a Norwich care home because she could no longer care for him at their Thorpe St Andrew home.

The 72-year-old, who retired from Norwich City 12 years ago after more than 30 years of dedicated service as a player and member of staff, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s six years ago.

Duncan’s distinguished career

Duncan Forbes was born in Edinburgh, but spent the majority of his career in Norfolk and served 33 years with Norwich City as a player and a member of staff.

The central defender joined the Canaries in 1968 from Colchester United, forming a formidable partnership with Dave Stringer. He made 357 appearances for the club, scoring 12 times and was never sent off during his 13-year playing career. He was captain of the City team that won promotion to the top flight for the first time in 1972.

After retiring from first-team football, he took charge of Club Canary, which organised trips to away matches. In March 1988 he became chief scout and retired in May 2001.

Mrs Forbes, 68, yesterday called on dementia patients and their carers to receive more help and support after she battled for two years to get a diagnosis for her husband. She added that Mr Forbes first started displaying the symptoms of the disease when he was 64.

“I can not give any examples, but I knew something was wrong because he would say irrational things as well as forgetting things. We went to the doctor and he said that everyone gets forgetful when they get old and I do not think GPs know enough about dementia,” she said.

A mental health doctor from the Julian Hospital in Norwich came to see him and did some tests and Mrs Forbes asked him for another assessment after a particular incident six years ago.

“It was a Monday morning and Norwich had played on the Saturday. I can’t remember if it was at home or away and Duncan did not know they had played. When he was young he would read the four divisions scores and he could tell anyone the scores after reading them once. This time he did not know that Norwich had played at all,” she said.

Heading concerns

Duncan Forbes was a tough central defender who was not afraid of heading the ball. But his wife believes that the constant heading of a football during his long professional career was a contributory factor to him getting dementia. Janette Forbes said: “I do not think heading footballs helped. He used to head medicine balls in training, because if you could head one of those, you could head a football further – that is like being repeatedly punched. Duncan had been playing since he was a kid and I do not think he played with the really heavy leather balls with laces, but they were heavier than the ones they play with today.
“The authorities would never admit it because it would open the floodgates and I think there are a lot of ex professional players with Alzheimer’s.”

A coroner ruled in 2002 that former England and West Bromwich Albion footballer Jeff Astle, 59, – a prolific header of the ball – died from dementia which was brought on by repeatedly heading the ball. Coroner Andrew Haigh said that the repeated contact with a heavy leather ball in the 1960s caused brain trauma similar to that of a boxer. Mr Astle’s family has been unsuccessful in getting compensation from the FA, despite the coroner’s findings.

Mrs Forbes said she did not immediately tell friends about her husband’s condition because of the stigma surrounding dementia. She added that she found it difficult to get information and support from local charities and health services.

“There was no back-up and I felt I had been cast adrift in a sea and I found that I had to find things out for myself.”

“At first I struggled along and when we met people in the city, I prompted him about football, but eventually I had to tell people about the Alzheimer’s. Because of the stigma surrounding dementia I did not tell people to start with, but it is not his fault.”

“Duncan did not realise what Alzheimer’s was. Even if we saw a programme on television about it, he did not relate that it was the same thing he was going through. The last three years got really bad and we started doing less and less. We no longer went to the pictures or went to the Cromer Pier show or the Thursford Spectacular and life was getting more curtailed.”

Alzheimer’s facts

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia, affecting around 496,000 people in the UK, according to the Alzheimer’s Society.

People in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease may experience lapses of memory and have problems finding the right words. As the disease progresses, they may become confused and frequently forget the names of people, places, appointments and recent events, experience mood swings, feel sad or angry, or scared and frustrated by their increasing memory loss, become more withdrawn, and have difficulty carrying out everyday activities.

So far, no one single factor has been identified as a cause for Alzheimer’s disease. It is likely that a combination of factors, including age, genetic
inheritance, environmental factors, lifestyle and overall general health, are responsible.

If you are worried that you have the symptoms of dementia, contact your local GP.

For more information about the disease, visit www.alzheimers.org.uk

“Up until five years ago we went on holiday to see our son in Spain and we stopped going to Scotland 18 months ago because we had a problem on the plane and he wanted to get off before the plane stopped. I stopped taking him to the football about two years ago because it was difficult and at half time he thought it was finished. He sometimes watches the games and he can still kick a ball about, but can not turn around when the ball goes behind him,” she said.

Mrs Forbes will help open a new Age UK Norwich shop and advice centre in London Street, Norwich, at 2pm today along with ex-City manager and player Dave Stringer, who has been Mr Forbes’ friend throughout.

The father-of-two and grandfather-of-five had been using the Age UK-run Marion Road day care centre for three days a week before moving to a Norwich care home ten weeks ago and went to the monthly Pabulum cafe in Costessey, which is also organised by the charity.

Mrs Forbes added that she had found it extremely hard to put her husband into a care home.

“Some days he is better, but he has gone downhill since last Christmas. I think he knows who I am, but I do not know if he knows who his sons are. He can not hold a conversation. In the care home he still goes up to people and shakes people’s hands and is still friendly and he was always a people person. There is still a little bit there.”

“He was not a smoker and was not a big drinker and kept himself fit and healthy. If someone like him can get Alzheimer’s it could happen to anyone. Age UK were very good when he was in the day centre and the Pabulum cafe had people coming to speak to carers, which was very helpful,” she said.

31 comments

  • Duncan Forbes was to me all that sincerity and effort was about in NCFC. He was an inspiration to everyone around him, everything that a captain should be, both on and off the pitch. It was worth the entry money just to see him play. One hundred percent effort was not good enough for Duncan, it was 150% or nothing. So very sad to hear Mrs Forbes news and story, he deserves, as others do, better than we have given in his treatment. Please show videos of Duncan playing to the current squad CH, it will give them something to follow for higher levels of success.

    Report this comment

    willb

    Thursday, October 17, 2013

  • What a great shame and a great bloke. I met him less than 6 years ago when he was hosting a lunch table before a match in Delia's restaurant. He was fantastic -couldn't talk to me enough about the 'old days' which he certainly remembered better than me! When I played at a lowly level I always tried to model myself on Duncan cos I admired his commitment which had taken him so far. To this day the picture I had taken of me and him on the day is my facebook account pic. And now it will remain.

    Report this comment

    thornton

    Thursday, October 17, 2013

  • I first met Duncan at an awards ceremony in 1986 at EAGIT where I was presented an award by the man himself, he was most gracious in giving up his time and made a real effort to chat with everyone in the room. Years later we met again via friends at a bbq, and although it was clear all was not well with the big man he still remembered me and the presentation evening. Duncan is a big man with a big heart, the No.5 shirt has never been graced at Carrow Road by anyone finer.

    Report this comment

    Shaun Nicholas

    Thursday, October 17, 2013

  • The "Blue Eyes" may have dulled but the Man remains.. pleased he is still shaking hands, it was our pleasure to see him at reserve games, he would shake everyones hand, and that voice, you would always know "Big Dunc" was playing, you could hear him in the "Olly", sad days, my Mum had same Bless you Janette, and Love to Duncan

    Report this comment

    OLDYELLA

    Thursday, October 17, 2013

  • Duncan Forbes was to me all that sincerity and effort was about in NCFC. He was an inspiration to everyone around him, everything that a captain should be, both on and off the pitch. It was worth the entry money just to see him play. One hundred percent effort was not good enough for Duncan, it was 150% or nothing. So very sad to hear Mrs Forbes news and story, he deserves, as others do, better than we have given in his treatment. Please show videos of Duncan playing to the current squad CH, it will give them something to follow for higher levels of success.

    Report this comment

    willb

    Thursday, October 17, 2013

  • As has been said Big Dunc is the ultimate Norwich City legend. He played against some of the best centre forwards and none of them got the better of him. His effort and commitment was exceptional and have never been bettered. Thanks for all the memories Dunc and I wish you all the best for the future.

    Report this comment

    VictorM

    Thursday, October 17, 2013

  • Big Dunc what a fantastic player and servant to our great club you may be struggling with your memory but whatt you gave to Norwich City will never be forgotten. I think I can say we have had much more flamboyant players at the club but we haver had and never will have someone like you you are in my mind the greatest legend in Norwich City's history. I wish you and your family well and once again THANKYOU

    Report this comment

    Ray Clarke

    Thursday, October 17, 2013

  • keep fighting duncan remember the good days for ncfc you were a true great

    Report this comment

    AOTWAY@BTINTERNET.COM

    Thursday, October 17, 2013

  • Six foot two, eyes of blue, Duncan Forbes is after you! Great memories of a great man. May be not our greatest player, but no one has ever been more committed to the cause. The strength of character shown by Mrs Forbes is only matched by the man himself. Respect.

    Report this comment

    canarydownunder

    Thursday, October 17, 2013

  • So sorry to here such bad news about the big man, he will always be a legend in NCFC history. Such a nice down to earth man and when my wife worked in the box office he often shared a cake or two with her and the rest of the staff.

    Report this comment

    TrevorKeith

    Thursday, October 17, 2013

  • A great centre half & stalwart for the Canaries. Him in defence & John Manning at Centre Forward were dominant in the air That late 60's early 70's was a golden period, before the big money arrived. . Good luck Dunc

    Report this comment

    J Smith

    Thursday, October 17, 2013

  • The term legend to describe footballers is over used in modern times. Duncan Forbes is a true Norwich City legend in every sense of the word and always will be.

    Report this comment

    woshaapernin

    Thursday, October 17, 2013

  • Janette, knowing you and Dunc as well as I do plus the problems you have both had to cope with I can only say that to have come out publicly as you have is fantastic and something I know did not come easily. I am sure you already know the esteem in which Dunc is held and I am sure there will be many more postings on here to reflect that. You know you have support and help from people around if you need it, pleased to be included in that list, give me a ring anytime if I can help you, otherwise see you soon.

    Report this comment

    blackdog2

    Thursday, October 17, 2013

  • As has been said Big Dunc is the ultimate Norwich City legend. He played against some of the best centre forwards and none of them got the better of him. His effort and commitment was exceptional and have never been bettered. Thanks for all the memories Dunc and I wish you all the best for the future.

    Report this comment

    VictorM

    Thursday, October 17, 2013

  • Big Dunc. A true legend. I remember him turning up to ref a local charity game, for free, back in the 70's because another player couldn't make it. Also remember Lou Macari when asked in an interview, what was the most frightening thing you ever saw on a football pitch. His reply, Duncan Forbes coming out of the tunnel with his sleeves rolled up. Take care big Dunc, thanks for everything

    Report this comment

    Rodders

    Thursday, October 17, 2013

  • I think this story illustrates the futility of worrying about relegation for Norwich. There are so much worse things in life than that. I wish all the best to Duncan Forbes and family in these distressing times.

    Report this comment

    paddycanary

    Thursday, October 17, 2013

  • I remember him talking of an opposition forward, 'we need to keep an eye on him' - he got more than an eyeful of big Dunc! Total respect for man and for his wife.

    Report this comment

    Surrey Canary

    Thursday, October 17, 2013

  • theres only one duncan forbes. A man proud to put on a norwich shirt

    Report this comment

    milecross

    Thursday, October 17, 2013

  • I remember watching Duncan and remember in those days the likes of Bobby Moore & Jeff Hurst graced Carrow Road....

    Report this comment

    Watton Warrior

    Thursday, October 17, 2013

  • Big Dunc is head and shoulders above the rest of the Hall of Famers, a true gent, terrific player and the best captain the club ever had. Alzheimers robs him and his family of so much - very sad. My wish is that the comments here offer some solace to his family - he is the best of men and loved by all who watched him and came into contact with him.

    Report this comment

    peterb

    Thursday, October 17, 2013

  • Best wishes to the great man. When I worked in London, late 60s early 70s, I started a Duncan Forbes fan club among the lab staff. (Not too many of us; most were suffering from `Chelsea Sickness`). The poor lab manager, one Alan Duncan, was re-christened "Forbes" (he never cottoned on why!). We "fan-clubbers" tried to see as many Norwich games as poss, just to see Big Dunc perform. He had the reputation of being hard but I believe he was never sent off? `Six foot two, eyes of blue, Duncan Forbes is after you, la la la la` etc. In the coldest of weather, he always had his sleeves rolled up tight. Always smiled angelically at the Ref after being adjudged a bit too robust with an opponent. Fond memories of a terrific footballer.

    Report this comment

    Mad Brewer

    Sunday, October 20, 2013

  • In the early 1980s I asked Duncan whether he would referee a football match for me. He did it for free, and was a delight to have around in every way. Years later, I saw him in the city, and was amazed that he knew me by name and remembered the match he had refereed. Best wishes to a true legend.

    Report this comment

    Johnboy

    Thursday, October 17, 2013

  • Wonderful picture of the big man, arms folded and dwarfing the cathedral. I used to live opposite that tiny shop on Rosary Rd. I was in there one day and he came in selling lottery tickets or something , and he really did fill the place. Not only did his head scrape the ceiling, his whole persona just beemed from wall to wall. We all stopped what we were doing and just lit up. Awful illness which can strike anyone, usually later in life. There was some news recently about advances in research, and the identification of a chemical that stops brain tissue death. They think it will be a turning point, but sadly not for Dunc. Thanks for all the memories. Seem to remember you scoring from a corner right at the end against West Brom. Thoughts to you, your wife and family

    Report this comment

    Bill Punton's bald patch

    Friday, October 18, 2013

  • Big Dunc. A true legend. I remember him turning up to ref a local charity game, for free, back in the 70's because another player couldn't make it. Also remember Lou Macari when asked in an interview, what was the most frightening thing you ever saw on a football pitch. His reply, Duncan Forbes coming out of the tunnel with his sleeves rolled up. Take care big Dunc, thanks for everything

    Report this comment

    Rodders

    Thursday, October 17, 2013

  • This is terribly sad. Duncan was a true legend and without doubt would be in any team of Norwich City greats. I was at Highbury when we won the League Cup quarter final 3-0 when Graham Paddon scored a hat-trick and Duncan was forced off having suffered a collapsed lung. As the papers at the time said: "Whatever did collapse that lung?" A real hard man but a real gentleman.

    Report this comment

    Mr. B

    Thursday, October 17, 2013

  • such a legend and a very nice man.Remember him coming to a club one night in the late seventies where i was.very down to earth,just one of the guys.Take care big Dunc.

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    tonyb

    Thursday, October 17, 2013

  • This is just too sad. Dunc was the epitome of commitment and loyalty who literally bled for his team week in, week out and the like of whom is rare in footballers these days. I just want to give him a massive hug of thanks for all the joy he gave me.

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    jigs69

    Friday, October 18, 2013

  • Our hearts go out to Duncan and his wife at this sad time.Three little snapshots of Duncan surface at this moment 1,, Cup match at Arsenal which we won and where he went off injured and received such applause. 2. When captain of the reserves at Carrow Road and the team was not playing well enough - in strong tones he shouted "Och come on Norwich City!" 3. At the funeral of Geoffrey Watling where he was reunited with old boss Ron Saunders. Where we all sang the retiring anthem at the end of the service "On the ball city...... An exceptional man forever enshrined in my 75 years of supporting the Yellow and Green

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    mardler

    Friday, October 18, 2013

  • My thought's of big Dunc was when he fouled a player from behind....Up went both arms as to say...''What me ref ?'' Best wishe's to you both.

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    Richard Bonham

    Saturday, October 19, 2013

  • Very sorry to hear about the big man.As an Ipswich supporter I remember the battles he had with our strikers.A good honest player,firm in the tackle but a very good professional.My thoughts go out to his wife and family.All the very best Duncan.

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    Daniel James

    Thursday, October 17, 2013

  • I didn't see Duncan play, it was before my time as a City supporter, but my wife helps care for him and she says what a lovely man he is. It is a real shame to see someone suffering with dementia. God bless Duncan and his family.

    Report this comment

    Mellow Johnny

    Thursday, October 17, 2013

The views expressed in the above comments do not necessarily reflect the views of this site

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