‘Like he was 10 years younger’: The amazing story of how an 84-year-old Man City fan with dementia became an internet sensation
Manchester City weren’t alone in defying expectations on Sunday with a sensational result.
In the crowd to cheer on Pep Guardiola and his players for their incredible comeback to win the Premier League title was 84-year-old Barry Carr with his grandson Charlie Gibson. Despite the progression of Barry’s dementia leaving his loved ones fearing he wouldn’t be able to make the game even hours before kick-off, parking up at the Etihad sparked him into his pomp and set in motion a heartwarming story of the power of football and family that has captured the hearts of millions around the world.
Barry, 84, grew up in Manchester and supported City from an early age and was such a staunch Blue that he rejected trials at United to go into the family business instead. When his grandson Charlie came up to Manchester aged six with not much idea of football, he was instantly whisked to wherever City were playing to begin his education; the first game they went to together was the infamous match with Millwall in the 1998/99 season that included an 18-player brawl, two red cards and multiple pitch invasions.
From there, Charlie was hooked and they went to games together regularly until his grandad stopped in 2014 as his condition deteriorated. He was diagnosed with dementia the following year, and while he has had the constant support of his wife Sherry by his side – soon to celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary together – and the love of three children and seven grandchildren, the added isolation caused by the pandemic has only worsened his illness; Alzheimer’s took hold to the point that when the club heard Barry’s story and sorted tickets for them to watch City play Aston Villa there were concerns over whether he could last the distance.
Charlie pushed on, but even he had his doubts. When things took a turn for the worse, they nearly didn’t make it to the game – yet came through and ended up on the pitch at the final whistle deliriously celebrating with thousands of other Blues.
“Because I had that relationship with him, I like to push through and the whole point of this is I want dementia to be a positive thing and we have those memories,” Charlie told the Manchester Evening News. “There is a stigma where because you have it things aren’t possible. I’m never going to put him out of his comfort zone but I thought he’d be fine.
“When we had breakfast and he started to wobble a bit by not being responsive, I realised I’d never really had this with him. When we got to the car and he forgot my name, that really set me off. I was crying my eyes out. He’s never not said my name before.
“We were in Hale and I thought ‘do I turn the car back round’ but I thought let’s push through because he’d had his medication and he started to come round. Even driving up to the stadium, he still didn’t really know what was going on but as soon as he got to the stadium that was it.
“Obviously I was reminding him of what was going on but he was fixated on the game. Whatever happened at least he got to do it and enjoy it. Then he got to see his son, and even he sees him every week and said it was like he was 10 years younger. I was exhausted driving him back and he was singing to Frank Sinatra and listening to 5 Live so it was like the old days!”
As thrilling as it was to see Ilkay Gundogan complete City’s remarkable comeback, for Charlie – having moved back up to Manchester to be nearer to his grandad – the day was all about another memorable day at the football with someone that means so much to him. As well as running his own football agency, Charlie is also a skilled videographer and was able to capture their rollercoaster of the day from the wobbles to the amazing ending.
The response to Charlie uploading the video to Tiktok has been overwhelming. The three-minute clip has been viewed more than 10 million times in two days and fans of all teams have been messaging privately to show their appreciation; one Arsenal supporter whose dad has Alzheimer’s has even offered to pay for a season ticket next season for Barry, while the Football Association have also been in touch about the Community Shield.
If cynics would say Sunday saw the success of millionaires backed by billions, the clip captured the priceless bond between a lad and his grandad forged by the beautiful game.
“I came back here and he’s become my father figure. He got me into football, we always went to City games and then I came back to Manchester just to be with him and spend some time with him and I wanted to give back to him,” said Charlie.
“We’ve always had a really special relationship, so much so that when I came back everyone would say he always had more energy with me. As life progresses and business got busier, I’ve not seen him as much as I’d have liked to in the last few months. Over Christmas he got a lot worse and became unresponsive and his Alzheimers started to kick in.
“They thought it would be too much for him because he’s always falling asleep, and he has had his wobbly moments. I’ve never had that experience with him because he’s always been lucid. Then, when it came to City I don’t know what was pumping through him but we pulled up in that car parking space and it was almost like he was 10 years younger.
“Having him there really encompasses our relationship with City. We had the [Sergio] Aguero moment when he was at his best, but to have that again and even just to speak to him on Monday and he was saying of course he remembers and had just about recovered.
“That’s the beauty of social media. You can put it on there and it is there for the rest of our lives. To resonate with so many people and get the messages I’ve had is just awesome.
“I was just so glad it was there with a memory and then did not expect that response at all! My gramps just said to me I’m not 100 per cent sure what’s going on but as long as I’m making you proud. He’s turned into such a sweet old man.
“He was always quite hard and stern but now he is a soft oldie so he’s awesome. As long as it raises awareness and people can enjoy it, that’s all that matters.”