IT is a collection of almost unimaginable scale.
More than 90,000 photographs, documenting decades of sporting moments, from football’s European cups and World cups, to cricket, rugby, ice skating, boxing, and just about every sport in between.
Now they will help to tackle three of ageing’s biggest challenges - loneliness, depression and dementia, after they were donated to a North Yorkshire-based charity.
The astounding collection, making up 24 crates, has been donated by international news agency Reuters to Topcliffe-based The Sporting Memories Foundation, which has projects across the region, including in York, Leeds, Sheffield and Kirklees.
It contains a remarkable treasure trove of photographs of sport’s greatest heroes and most illustrious moments stretching back to the 1930s - including one box, simply stamped ‘Football Association, Lancaster Gate’, that contains more than 100 photographs of Pele, widely thought of as the world’s greatest footballer, documenting his life on and off the pitch.
Other boxes contain dozens of images from the Howard Wilkinson era at Leeds United, Yorkshire Cricket stars Darren Gough and Michael Vaughan, rugby league and the Lombard Rac Rally at Harewood Hill.
The collection will now be digitised by The Sporting Memories Foundation as part of its award-winning reminiscence projects across the UK which bring older sports fans together, sparking up conversations and new friendships over a shared love of sport.
The Sporting Network Foundation’s co-founder, former psychiatric nurse Tony Jameson-Allen, said the collection would “almost future proof” the charity.
“It is such a vast array of images, covering any sport you can imagine, it broadens the conversations that we can facilitate for our participants,” he said. “But, also, in terms of the timeline of the images, a lot are from the early 1980s and 1990s, which may not seem very long ago, but these deep seated memories we are talking about are made in our 20s and 30s, and these are the people who will be using our services in the years to come.
“The images we have uncovered so far are quite remarkable.”
In addition to the gift of the images, the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA) has agreed to fund a two-year project to digitise the photographs.
That task will also work towards the Foundation’s aim of tackling loneliness and isolation by recruiting a team of volunteers to help with the feat at libraries, community buildings and sports clubs.
Sports fans of all ages will be encouraged to get together and team up at local hubs, with each image needing to be cleaned, scanned, tagged and added to the online archive.
Teams of historians and researchers from the International Centre for Sports History and
Culture at De Montfort University, Leeds Beckett University and Stirling University are also going to help.
Mr Jameson-Allen said: “Until you see them stacked in front of you, it’s hard to imagine just what 90,000 photographs look like and what a truly mammoth task scanning and digitising each one will be. That’s why it’s so important to attract a legion of sports fans of all ages to help.”
Gordon Taylor, chief executive of The PFA, said the organisation was “delighted” to support the project which “highlights the positive impact football and sport in general can have on all aspects of society”.
Mr Jameson-Allen added: “We’ve worked closely with the PFA for several years, after they provided a grant to test out our work with clubs’ community foundations.
“This new funding means we can now purchase the equipment and training necessary to begin to work with volunteers to make this wonderful collection available to use in our work across the UK, to support older people living with dementia, depression and to help reduce loneliness and isolation.”
Fans can register their interest in volunteering for the project at www.sportingmemoriesnetwork.com
The Sporting Memories Foundation believes that using images of sport and memorabilia can help older people stay connected to their friends and communities, be cognitively stimulated and remain physically active.
The volunteer-led, intergenerational Sporting Memories groups, which take place across Yorkshire and beyond, help people over the age of 50 age well and remain as healthy as possible. They aim to tackle three of ageing’s biggest challenges - dementia, loneliness, and depression.
The Yorkshire Post has been campaigning to raise awareness of the damaging health effects of loneliness since 2014.
The Sporting Memories Foundation has received support from sports stars and celebrities along with numerous sporting bodies including the FA, Premier League, PFA, England Rugby and the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB).