Newcastle United hero John Tudor’s family facing bankruptcy fears amid former striker’s dementia battle

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Former professional footballers are three and a half times more likely to die of dementia.

The first time John Tudor entered St James’ Park was very different from the last.

For one, in 1971 the East Stand hadn’t been built yet. John was 25 and had just helped Sheffield United win promotion back into the First Division. He came north to Newcastle United in ‘71 and discovered his best form over his five years at the club: scoring a career-best of  24 goals in a single season, winning the Anglo-Italian Cup, two Texaco Cups and getting to the FA Cup final in 1974.

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His partnership with fellow striker Malcolm MacDonald has been described as prolific and the way he was able to head the ball is still talked about to this day. The mere mention of his name to fans who watched him play has them breaking out into the enduring ‘Hallelujah, John Tudor!’ chant which used to rock the terraces.

John came to Newcastle United in 1971. John came to Newcastle United in 1971.
John came to Newcastle United in 1971. | Jonathan Tudor

The last time John Tudor entered St James’ Park was for Newcastle United versus Wolverhampton Wanderers last month - more than 15 years since his initial dementia diagnosis.

“It was the first real emotion my dad has shown for a long time,” John’s son Jonathan tells me. “There he was, trying to join in with the songs and really getting into the game. Usually, football is just noise, something in the background.

“But he was grabbing onto my hand when something exciting happened. It was so emotional.”

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As they walked up to St James’ Park amongst the 52,000 supporters they somehow bumped into Malcolm MacDonald, of all people.

They also managed to bump into Bobby Moncur and Tommy Cassidy.

John and Anne at St James’ Park.John and Anne at St James’ Park.
John and Anne at St James’ Park. | Jonathan Tudor

Jonathan laughs: “It was fate. We were supposed to be there.”

John now needs full-time care, something which largely falls to Jonathan and his mother Anne. So far into the illness, he’s been left with so few words and very little understanding of what’s going on around him.

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Anne met John in a small town in Derbyshire when she was 16 years old. Next month they’ll have been married for 54 years.

Jonathan and his daughter at St James’ Park.Jonathan and his daughter at St James’ Park.
Jonathan and his daughter at St James’ Park. | Jonathan Tudor

“He’s still got brilliant manners,” says Anne. “He’ll never take anything off you without saying thank you, and never go through a door before a lady. Strangely, he can still tie his shoelaces. But if he’s left to get dressed by himself he’ll put everything on the wrong way.”

Dementia is a funny business. It’s never going to be clear why John has developed it. But research has found former professional footballers are three and a half times more likely to die of dementia than the general population due to repeated head trauma.

And so the Tudor family believe the dementia John has developed is sport-related.

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“Players didn’t earn massive amounts of money back then. I’ve still got his contract and he used to get a £10 win bonus when he was at Newcastle,” Jonathan laughs.

“So when he left the game, he wasn’t a wealthy man. He had to keep on working.”

Jonathan Tudor

After retiring from professional football in 1979, John and Anne opened a couple of pubs- one in their hometown in Derbyshire and another in Northumberland. Thirty years ago, the family took a leap and moved to Minnesota where John became the Director of Coaching at Tonka United. They have remained in America ever since.

With the cost of care in the USA nearing £10,000 a month John’s family are doing everything they can to get by. And Jonathan knows they’re nearing their limits:

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“If it carries on for two years then that’s it. Everything’s gone and we’re completely broke. I want to see my dad get the care he deserves, but over here it’s all business.”

Jonathan Tudor

There is no support in place for them either. Jonathan has relentlessly contacted the PFA and FA but it has amounted to nothing.

Jonathan says his mum is his hero. Not only did she follow her husband throughout his career, having two kids while John was at Newcastle, but she is also now plagued with constant worry:

“It’s a cruel and horrible illness. And it’s so hard on us because all we can do is watch. We get by, but I do very little. I don’t have a social life because you never know how it’s going to be.”

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A few years ago, John had a heart attack. He also is prone to fainting spells, but because of his limited communication can’t say if he’s in pain or hit something. Anne can’t lift him either, which has resulted in numerous ambulance trips at $3,500 a pop.

They’ve managed to find a bit of help, however. Two days a week John is taken to a daycare for people with dementia. But the decision was difficult for Anne.

John and Anne have been married for nearly 54 years.John and Anne have been married for nearly 54 years.
John and Anne have been married for nearly 54 years. | Jonathan Tudor

“It was just like when I took Jonathan to daycare when he was a kid, you know when he cried and didn’t want to stay- it was just the same with John. I was really upset when I took him and had to walk away,” she said.

“I felt guilty, even after all this time. But then once I’d walked away and got used to it, I felt relieved. I was free for five hours.”

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But it means Anne is now able to teach a few exercise classes at their local gym, something she loves and is very proud of.

The Tudor family are having to raise money to help fund the rest of John’s care. As Anne says: “It’s very difficult and hard to accept there isn’t any help or support for us. He probably got this through his job, but we can’t prove it.”

“We’re not looking for 100%, or anything to be paid for. My mum just wants to know she doesn’t have to go bankrupt,” Jonathan adds.

“I don’t want to sue anybody. I just want them to do what’s right. I wish someone would just step up and say ‘Are we doing enough?’”

You can donate money here towards John’s care.

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