Long standing Fulham fans will have no trouble remembering Jimmy Conway from his playing days at the Cottage. He was in the 1975 Cup Final side. More of you might recall reading programme notes or an update on Jimmy's current circumstances from bulletins at the club website last year.
In 2010, having been alerted to events, I started researching Jimmy's story for a future documentary. Early last year at the age of 64, and now resident in Portland Oregon, Jimmy was diagnosed with early symptoms of trauma induced dementia. “I suspect it began in his 50s,” wife Noeleen says. “The declines were there. They are so subtle. I’d noticed some things, but you kind of brush them off. And then something else pops up.”
In the USA Jimmy and Noeleen built a whole new life for themselves and the family. Jimmy played for the Timberwolves in the NASL after his career in England came to an end. He's had two spells coaching the side as well as fulfilling 28 years as director for overall coaching throughout the state and universities of Oregon.
Timbers head coach and general manager Gavin Wilkinson says, “He has done more for the development of football in the state of Oregon than people will ever truly realize.” Even wife Noeleen turned to coaching girls teams at the local high schools. Friends in Portland are glowing in their praise of Jimmy's unstinting work to spread the word in the American north west. "He came alive on the pitch with kids, it was magic - there's only very few like him," says his former boss of the Oregon programme.
Once news of Jimmy's affliction broke, the folk of Portland got busy. The state of Oregon organized four testimonial events for Jimmy over the summer of 2010, such is his standing in the American North West. Selfless Jimmy insisted all monies raised went to the Alzheimer’s Association of Oregon. It was the same at Fulham. “The club offered me a testimonial but I turned it down. I reckoned the fans had been putting their hands in their pockets all those years to see me play. That was enough.”
John and Jimmy at the Cottage for the WBA game
© Press Assoc
In January Jimmy and Noeleen were over and attended the West Brom win as guests of the club. The following night the club pulled out all the stops with a dinner and auction that raised £10,000. David Hamilton and Les Strong played host, George Cohen gave generously of his time, while half a dozen of Jimmy's colleagues from the '75 Cup run turned up in support. Noeleen requested we not interview her husband on camera, he was finding it all a bit overwhelming, but told me, "We’ve reconnected with people we haven’t talked to in 30 years. It has been mind-blowing, it really has. Very humbling. It is like somebody wrapping a great big warm blanket around you. It feels so good.”
You can support Jimmy and Noeleen, keep in touch with his progress and direct messages to them at: http://www.jimmyconway.com. News on our documentary for Jim later in the year. For the record here's his record with the Whites:
In 1966, he transferred to Fulham from Bohemians in Ireland.
A midfielder or winger, he spent ten years at Craven Cottage, scoring 67 times in 314 League games before a £30,000 fee brought him to Manchester City in August 1976. He was a member of the Fulham side that reached the 1975 FA Cup Final. He played with his brother John at Fulham and joined the Timberwolves in 1981
Which brings me back to our goals from Saturday. Neither AJ nor Clint showed a shred of hesitation when putting their heads into the firing line of flailing boots and Friedel's punch. All in the cause. Remember that next time one of your favourite players mistimes a 10 yard pass. At the top the game is tough and the toll on bodies over time can be cruel. Then suddenly one May morning in your early 30's it all ends - at a stroke. I recall being with John Collins the day he retired, he had no idea what he was going to do with the rest of his life.
If the fates are looking down maybe, just maybe, this will be the year we finally lift the FA Cup. Let's do it for Jimmy.
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