A BLACK Cats hero from Sunderland’s 1973 FA Cup-winning side has spoken of losing a parent to devastating Alzheimer’s disease.
Richie Pitt, a defensive rock in the team which famously beat football powerhouse Leeds United to the trophy almost 40 years ago, opened up about the death of his dad Percy, who died in 1989 aged 80 after suffering from the condition.
Richie’s decision to speak about his dad’s death comes as a study carried out by the Alzheimer’s Society and supermarket Tesco found that the number of people in Sunderland who are living with dementia is set to rise from 3,207 in 2010 to an estimated 4,241 by 2021– up by 32 per cent.
Richie, now 61, had his professional playing career cruelly cut short just months after the Wembley victory,
Speaking about his dad’s illness, he said: “It was quite difficult at the end of his life.
“We would get phone calls from the police saying he was walking around the streets in the early hours of the morning.
“It wasn’t a very nice time for us.
“Not long before he died, Angela and I visited him in hospital.
“He couldn’t remember what he’d just had for his dinner, but he could remember every goal I had scored for Sunderland and the England boys’ teams I played for.
“It’s one of those illnesses that you just hope you won’t get yourself.”
The same illness also struck Bob Stokoe, Richie’s manager at Sunderland during the cup triumph,
The Messiah, as he was hailed by Black Cats fans, died in 2004.
“He was in a care home in Hexham and a few of us from the ’73 team went to visit him before he died,” added Plains Farm-born Richie, who now lives in East Herrington.
“It was sad to see him like that after what we had all been through with him.”
After his playing career in which he amassed more than 140 appearances for Sunderland, Richie retrained as a teacher and now teaches maths at Seaham School of Technology.
But the former Ryhope Grammar School boy is due to retire in the spring and plans to spend time visiting daughter Louise and son Stephen, who both work abroad.
Caroline Burden, area manager for the Alzheimer’s Society, said: “As the prevalence of dementia is set to increase over the next 10 years it’s vital that we work to improve awareness and reduce some of the myths around the illness which can lead to stigma.
“The more people we have to help us to do this will help to ensure that the public become more educated about dementia and show more understanding towards those affected.
“Improved awareness about dementia also means that people are likely to seek a diagnosis which enables them to access the right information and support at the right time.”
For more information on the Alzheimer’s Society Sunderland office, call 564 0890.