University of Leeds law professor Nick Taylor on how walking football helps his Parkinson's disease
Nick, a Professor of Law at the University of Leeds, was getting tests for trial drugs related to arthritis when he notified the nurse about a tingling in his feet.
After brain scans, he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2013 at the age of 43.
He was “half-relieved” after the wait, believing there to be worse conditions, but nonetheless, he thought: “What on earth have I got to look forward to?
“I went on holiday about two months after I was diagnosed and I just didn’t want my holiday to arrive because I thought, I’ll be another two months down the line. You think things will go downhill so fast.
“She persuaded me, my wife, to do everything possible: travelling, socialising and having a good time.”
Blackburn-born Nick moved to Leeds in 1989 and met Rachael – with whom he had two sons, Sean and Sam – at the University of Leeds’s School of Law.
In the early 1990s, he had been there for a year and was coming to the end of his job.
“On the day I was leaving, somebody lent her a fiver and said: ‘Take him for a drink, for goodness’ sake’. Obviously we liked each other and did nothing about it, and I was about to leave,” he says.
“We were together for 26 years of absolute bliss, to be honest – every year got better. It was fantastic. And Parkinson's helped out, in a way, because once I got it, we decided we were going to do everything we wanted to do.”
Trips to Rome, Berlin, Barcelona, Singapore, America and more ensued.
Rachael suddenly died of an aneurysm in June 2021, aged 50.
Nick says: "She just collapsed and died, which obviously left me devastated. But for the football team I joined, I honestly don’t think I’d be here.”
That’s the Pennine Parkies FC, a walking football club set up after he responded to a Twitter post someone made sharing the idea (and named so because one teammate is from Lancashire).
In July this year, Nick, now 54, captained the team and scored the winning goal against Copenhagen in the Ray Kennedy Shield – the Parkinson's European Cup Final named after the Liverpool player who had the disease. Last month, he also led the England team out and scored both goals in a 2–0 win against Guernsey in Saint Peter Port.
They have also played in places such as Singapore and are planning more travels. Nick says that going through airports with Parkinson’s can be a “nightmare” but in a team, they are all together and joking about the situation.
He says: "It's just fantastic. It’s getting people out of their houses. Parkinson’s is terrible for stealing things from you: your speech, your balance, altered taste, all sorts it steals from you. But this is one way of getting things back.
"When I go and meet the guys we have such a good time. Because we’ve all got Parkinson’s. Nobody minds if we’re reacting to the meds of whatever, it's just such a fantastic social atmosphere.”
Nick wants to recruit more people to join the team, which has been alternating its meet-up locations around West Yorkshire but is hoping to settle on somewhere permanent. This would also allow them to develop into a wider sports and social club for people who want to pursue activity and socialising in a way that is suitable for those with Parkinson’s.
He says that research has shown that exercise can slow the progression of Parkinson’s, a disease which can cause symptoms such tremors and slow movement.
Nick is planning to take early retirement from the School of Law after holding numerous posts since 1993, including a stint as its director of learning and teaching between 2008 and 2012.
"I just can't really lecture effectively any more because it affects my speech. I talk quietly, which is not good for lecturing,” he says.
Daily tasks such as showering and dressing are more difficult as his movement becomes slower, too. “Fastening buttons is like The Krypton Factor,” he says.
At football, though, he knows there is hope.
“It’s great when we get together, it's a life-saver.”
The best way to enquire about joining the Pennine Parkies, which have most recently been playing at five-a-side pitches by Bradford City’s ground, is to find them on X (formerly Twitter) using the handle @PennineParkies.