THEY led their teams out onto the pitch during the 1965 Scottish cup final at Hampden, when Celtic beat Dunfermline Athletic 3-2.

Rivals on the pitch that day (Billy McNeill scored the winning goal) and friends off it, Jim Maclean’s footballing career first with Ayr United and then captaining Dunfermline, led to four hip replacements and forced retirement at 30.

Now, like Billy, the 82-year-old has Alzheimer’s Disease.

His wife Mary is convinced his diagnosis is linked to the sport and specifically ‘headers’. Jim and Billy both played centre-half and were adept at the pitch skill.

“I’ve always maintained that it was caused by his years heading the ball.” says Mary. “Without a shadow of a doubt. A lot of his footballing friends have died of dementia, like Billy McNeill.

“Jimmy knew Billy well, they played at the same time.”

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Mary, 58, who lives with Jimmy in sheltered housing in Glasgow’s West End, says she wrote to the Scottish Football Association (SFA) last year to ask if there was any funding available for former players affected by dementia.

Read more: Scottish FA could ban under-12s heading footballs 'in weeks'

She says she was told there was not. The FA does not offer any help either but the Professional Football Association (PFA) has a benevolent fund which offers limited support.

Mary said: “In England they get support, it might be £100 a month. I wrote to them and got a letter back saying we are really sorry to hear about your husband but there is no funding for ex footballers.

“A fund would make a big difference because you would be able to enjoy your life. If someone has asbestosis the government gives them funding. Dementia is not recognised in the same way.”

Mary says she was advised by lawyers that any potential legal action against clubs or the football authorities would be time barred. It is understood that if any test cases were raised, it is likely claims would be levelled against the clubs and not the SFA.

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Dr Willie Stewart, who led the Glasgow University study, called for better management of head injuries during matches and said all contact sports needed to take steps to reduce the risks. The SFA is now moving towards a ban on children under-12 heading footballs.

Jimmy, who was inducted into the club’s Hall of Fame in 2004 and is originally from Glasgow’s Bridgeton area, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease in 2015 at the age of 78. He is not yet displaying many physical symptoms but has little short term memory according to his wife.

Read more: Thousands back petition calling for end to dementia healthcare charges

Mary said: “We were on holiday and were talking about someone who had died in the complex and he turned to me, ‘Is he dead?’ and it was like a lightbulb going off. They did all the tests and that’s what it was.

“Luckily in Jimmy’s case it hasn’t been, ‘boom’, it’s been a steady decline. Jimmy doesn’t think he has got dementia, he thinks he’s okay.

“He isn’t on any medication and I think personally that has helped him. When I looked at all the side effects I felt it was better to leave him as he is.

“He doesn’t remember what he’s done five minutes ago but I took him to the football memories project at Ibrox and they were shown pictures and he knew who everyone was.

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“As time goes on, obviously that’s going to get worse. In his general health he’s fine, it’s just all his head. We are just taking a day at a time.”

Mary says she is apprehensive about the future and the financial burden they will face if a care home becomes an inevitability.

Jimmy attends the Fred Paton day centre a few times a week, run by the charity Glasgow’s Golden Generation, which benefits both, hugely but Mary says there is a lack of emotional support for relatives dealing with a dementia diagnosis. Mary would like to see peer support groups set up.

She said: “A support network needs to be put in place specifically for dementia carers. There are groups for carers but it’s not the same.”

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