Former City star's wife tells of player's devastating dementia battle

John Deehan with the Milk Cup, following Norwich City's Wembley final victory over Sunderland in 1985.

John Deehan with the Milk Cup, following Norwich City's Wembley final victory over Sunderland in 1985. - Credit: Archant

The wife of former Norwich City player and manager John Deehan has revealed heartbreaking details of her husband's fight with dementia.

The 64-year-old was diagnosed with Alzheimer's six years ago and his condition has worsened ever since - to the point his family need to constantly monitor him.

Linda Deehan, his wife of 43 years, said they had first noticed signs of the illness when he was in his mid-fifties when he began to get more and more forgetful.

She said: "John and I have both always been very particular people who do things in very meticulous ways. All the jobs around the house would be done in a particular way and in particular orders.

"But I started to notice that John would do things we would never previously have done - he would start jobs and not finish them, leave cupboard doors unlocked, get out of the car after journeys and leave the door open, things like that."

As his condition worsened, it began to impact his work in what would be his final role in football as part of the coaching team at Sheffield Wednesday.

She said: "He would come away from matches and just not be able to piece together match reports and get so frustrated with himself because he just could not remember things. For a while he took a dictaphone to try and record verbal notes but they'd end up as gobbledygook.

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"It is such a shame [that he had to give up working in football] because the game is all he's ever known and never really had any other interests, which he why he has found things so hard."

Norwich City Football Club v at Carrow Road.
2008-2009 season
New Norwich City FC Manager announce

John Deehan, pictured during his return to Norwich City as chief scout in 2009 - Credit: Eastern Daily Press © 2009

Initially, Mrs Deehan thought her husband's forgetfulness could have been brought on by depression and being fed up of not working in football, but he was formally diagnosed with the neurodegenerative disease at the age of 58.

The former centre forward spent five years at City between 1981 and 1986 before joining arch-rivals Ipswich Town, but the couple are now based in Solihull in the West Midlands, where they both grew up and met.

Mrs Deehan said: "His mobility isn't what it was and he needs to be monitored around the clock to make sure he eats and doesn't wander off. Things that would come naturally to you or I are now incredibly difficult for him."

But while his health is deteriorating, his love of football has never waned - and he still loves chatting about the beautiful game.

She added: "What is remarkable is you can ask him what he had for breakfast and he will struggle to tell you, but if you show him any picture from his career he will tell you exactly who he was playing and what the score was.

"We've decorated his room with pictures from his career and whenever anybody visits he is desperate to show it to them.

"Some days he has are better than others and usually the good days revolve around football. He will be able to spend a day just talking about football or if he watching a game he will just chat and chat and chat about it."

John Deehan during his playing days with Norwich City.

John Deehan during his playing days with Norwich City. - Credit: Archant

Mrs Deehan revealed her husband's diagnosis a few weeks ago and ever since has been inundated with well-wishes from former teammates, including fellow former Canaries Chris Sutton and Darren Eadie.

She added: "We have had so many lovely messages since his diagnosis but it is heartbreaking to tell people that when they talk to him he will likely not have a clue who they are anymore.

"But I do think there needs to be much more mental health support for former footballers from organisations like the Professional Footballers Association and the League Managers Association."

The pair have four children together, Emma, Sarah, Amy and John-James and four grandchildren, Ethan, Hughie, Heath and baby Harry, who Mrs Deehan said have been an incredible source of support for the ex-City man.

Mrs Deehan said: "The children have been very, very supportive but it is so hard for them as well."

Norwich City Football Club v at Carrow Road.
2008-2009 season
New Norwich City FC Manager announce

John Deehan, right, unveiled as part of Bryan Gunn's (left) coaching team in 2009 - Credit: Eastern Daily Press © 2009

Football links to dementia

John Deehan scores a goal against Watford during a 6-1 win for Norwich City at Carrow Road in 1984.

John Deehan scores a goal against Watford during a 6-1 win for Norwich City at Carrow Road in 1984.

John Deehan is the latest in a growing number of former footballers to experience dementia after their playing days ended, which has prompted campaigns and research around the links between the heading of footballs and neurodegenerative illnesses in later life.

Mrs Deehan said that while she did support research into the links, she could not be certain whether it was to blame for his condition.

She said: "Whenever John watches his grandchildren play football - something he still loves doing - he always shouts at them to keep the ball on the ground, so it does make me wonder if he's anxious about it.

"When he was playing there were some days where training would just be corner after corner which he would head in again and again.

"But I know if you went back in time and told him as a 16-year-old that heading a football could lead to problems later in life, he would not have changed a thing.

"He scored lots of goals with his head in his career and I don't think he would want to have given up a single one of them - he would still have gone on to play the game regardless."

The links between dementia and football continue to be subject of medical research, following a growing number of ex-pros developing neurodegenerative illnesses.

Among the former Norwich City players to have died in recent years with similar conditions are Martin Peters, Duncan Forbes and Mike Sutton, father of Chris Sutton, who has gone on to become a staunch campaigner around the issue.

The research has prompted limits to be recommended on the amount of heading professionals should do in a week and a complete ban in training for children under the age of 12.

John Deehan - a City career

John Deehan is Norwich City's all-time top scorer in the top tier of English football Picture Archan

John Deehan is Norwich City's all-time top scorer in the top tier of English football Picture Archant library

John Deehan signed for Norwich City in 1981 from West Bromwich Albion, initially on loan.

He made his first appearance for the club in a friendly against Ipswich Town held in Great Yarmouth, scoring four times in the game, convincing then boss Ken Brown to make the move permanent.

During his Canaries career he made 199 first team appearances, scoring 70 times, placing him ninth in the club's all-time top scorers list.

He was part of the team that won the 1985 Milk Cup and is also the club's leading goalscorer in top flight football, scoring 48 times at the highest level for the Canaries.

He left the year after the Milk Cup triumph in controversial fashion, joining - of all clubs - East Anglian rivals Ipswich Town.

He would then return to the club in 1992 as part of Mike Walker's coaching staff, before succeeding him as manager in 1994 when the City boss joined Everton.

With City heading for relegation in 1995, he stepped down to be replaced by Gary Megson, who was unable to keep the club up.

In January 2009 he briefly returned to Carrow Road as chief scout, as part of a management team that included former players Bryan Gunn, Ian Crook and Ian Butterworth - described as "a dream team" by Delia Smith at the time. He left in December that year.