Willie Hunter was better known on the fitba’ pitch than in the field of poetry but he linked both in a way that made a contribution that helped those suffering from dementia. Brought up just a kick of the ball away from the SPL in Beggs Buildings at Abbeyhill he used to practice headers with his pal in Holyrood Park. He would recall the hurt caused by heading the old leather ball especially when it was wet. With former players such as Jeff Astle, Frank Koppel , Billy McNeill all renowned headers of the ball suffering dementia at the end of their lives he was firmly of the view that this skill on the park had impacts way beyond the park. “ I don’t think there is any doubt about the part that heading the heavy ball has played.” These were in effect industrial injuries and recognition of this has resulted in legislation at Holyrood ‘Franks Law’ which has seen a ban on heading practice for young players.
Taking over from Laurie Reilly as ambassador for the Football Memories project in 2012 he made clear that he was part of a team doing voluntary work on dementia to bring back memories lodged in the mind. This was done with a variety of techniques – old football cards, programmes, memory games and even poetry. Willie had some poems about greats like Dave Mackay – ‘the Real Mackay’ or ‘Fitba’s dying on its feet‘ that would elicit responses from groups and bring alive memories that were lost but still lodged in the mind . As well as group work he would visit former players who had dementia unlocking memories and sometimes bringing back , for a wee while , people to the person they used to be. Valuable work for the individual and the families that loved them.
At the launch of the great Mind the Time – An anthology of poetry to support Football Memories Scotland in Holyrood he effortlessly stole the show on the night. Here was a man who had played for Motherwell as part of the famous ‘Ancell Babes’ team with Ian St.John and Pat Quinn and for Scotland. His poems are couthy but they communicate with an audience ,the football fan , that poetry finds hard to reach. Willie was also clear about what poetry did for him too . He suffered from depression, remarking once that ‘I’ve written books and poems to self-medicate my depression’. Poetry as medicine for dementia and depression is why the passing of Willie Hunter footballer, poet and ambassador is a loss to poetry as well as those that knew him.