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Finding Jack Andy Townsend says seeing a frail Jack Charlton was 'the opposite of what we all knew of him'

Former Ireland captain Townsend is executive producer of the documentary Finding Jack Charlton

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Jack Charlton became a legendary figure for a generation of Irish soccer fans

Jack Charlton became a legendary figure for a generation of Irish soccer fans

Jack Charlton became a legendary figure for a generation of Irish soccer fans

For former Republic of Ireland captain Andy Townsend, this was a very personal story on two fronts.

At a time when he was watching his father Don embark on a slow and hopeless battle with dementia after his own career as a footballer, Townsend threw himself into producing a film that brought the most inspirational football manager of his career back into his life.

Yet the Jack Charlton he encountered as he helped to piece together the remarkable film Finding Jack, which aired on Virgin Media One tonight, was no longer the giant of a man he once was.

Gone was the charismatic whirlwind of a Charlton who carried Ireland's soccer team to their greatest ever moments and in his place was a frail man who wasn't fully aware of the identities of those around him.

As Andy spoke to the Sunday World from his home in England, he admitted that reuniting with the giant who gave him some of the greatest moments in his career was a tough experience.

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Andy Townsend

Andy Townsend

Andy Townsend

"With my own dad, I was seeing him more often and it is more of a gradual depreciation, but I had not seen Jack for a long period and it was hard for me when we met up for the first time in five years," began Townsend, who is executive producer of Finding Jack.

"Jack was such an amazing force of nature and to then see him frail and a bit confused, it was the absolute opposite of what we all knew him as.

"Dementia strips away all of the personality that was once so strong, and it is not nice to see.

"Jack was a great communicator. He could make people laugh and he was a genuine leader who could walk into a room and connect with people.

"He had people in the palm of his hand when he was talking - and not too many people can do that as well as Jack did.

"That's why it is so hard to see people as great as Jack so badly affected when dementia hits them.

"This was an extraordinary life, he was an amazing man, but dementia doesn't just prey on the weak.

"I sincerely hope those who have people in their families suffering with dementia can take some inspiration from Jack and the way he tried to live his life right through to the end.

"It was fantastic that his wife Pat kept him involved in the things that he loved in his life. His football, his fishing, his community... he liked to be around people.

"He didn't want to be locked away from the world, and that's often what happens when people have dementia."

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Jack with Andy Townsend and Maurice Setters

Jack with Andy Townsend and Maurice Setters

Jack with Andy Townsend and Maurice Setters

Back in 2018, what was effectively a farewell dinner for Big Jack took place at The K Club in Co. Kildare, with the majority of his former players in attendance as they paid tribute to the man who took Ireland into the top ten of the FIFA world rankings and provided memories that will never fade.

Yet Andy admits it was a night that stretched the emotions for those present, with Charlton unable to identify some of his former players.

"Prior to the event at The K Club, I'd probably only seen Jack once in five years and it was difficult to see what this disease had done to him," he continues.

"It's never easy when you have seen someone in their prime and then see them when they are vulnerable and scared.

"So I think it was hard for some of the former players who were there at The K Club and all the wives who were with us and remember Jack when he was very different, because that man was hard to find.

"But from my experience, I believe that even if people suffering from dementia might not be quite with you in a conversation, there is also a sense that they are not too far away.

"I found that with my own dad as well. Some days you don't quite make that connection and other days, they can be lucid about events from a long time ago."

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Jack at the Aviva Stadium in 2010

Jack at the Aviva Stadium in 2010

Jack at the Aviva Stadium in 2010

Charlton's brother Bobby is also suffering from dementia after his legendary career in football and Townsend believes the time has come to launch a full investigation into the impact of heading footballs at a time when so many former players are suffering from dementia.

"I lost my own dad a couple of months after Jack and he was another professional footballer who suffered with dementia for at least 10 years," he added.

"Heading balls in training during the week is one issue we need to look at. I don't think younger kids need to be heading balls and they can develop their football skills without the need to head balls until they get a bit more serious about the sport.

"When you are heading footballs every day for 45 weeks of the year over the course of a long career, that is a lot of headers.

"I'm 57 now and I wonder if I am going to suffer from dementia in my later life, and a lot of the players I played with are asking the same question."

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