‘Football contributed to losing my Dad with dementia, but he lived for the game'. The wonderful Portsmouth legacy of ex-Carlisle, Middlesbrough and Doncaster man Joe Laidlaw

The memory is cherished, a treasured time when the father-and-son strikeforce plundered goals against Portsmouth Dockyard League opposition.

Thursday, 25th November 2021, 6:30 pm
The late Joe Laidlaw with grandchildren Grace and Harvey
The late Joe Laidlaw with grandchildren Grace and Harvey

Their on-pitch union was brief, around six months, nonetheless Joe and Jamie Laidlaw’s double act helped inspire Sunday pub side Harvest Home to title success.

Joe Laidlaw was in his 50s by that stage, the evergreen former top-flight footballer and ex-Pompey promotion-winning skipper who refused to retire.

Towards the end of his life, with the onset of dementia, the retired midfielder lived at the Clarendon Care Home in Southsea and often restricted to a wheelchair.

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Yet the footballing dynasty continues.

Grandson Harvey was on Wednesday handed a two-year Blues scholarship, while granddaughter Grace is on the books of Pompey Women.

The patriarch has departed, yet the Laidlaw family name remains woven within Pompey’s rich fabric.

Joe Laidlaw last week passed away at the age of 71 after health problems, including dementia and diabetes

‘It’s a shame we could never give Dad the news about Harvey earning his Pompey scholarship, he would have been really proud,’ son Jamie told The News.

‘With dementia, his memory was not great towards the end, and he’d often ask Harvey who he played for.

‘The response was “You know granddad, it’s Pompey”. Then he’d remember, for a bit, and was so, so proud.

‘I lost my Dad to dementia, he wasn’t the same person for the last few years.

Former Pompey player Joe Laidlaw, pictured with son Jamie and grandchildren Harvey and Grace

‘His condition was possibly influenced by football. We have watched the documentaries and I think football probably had some kind of impact.

‘Yet he lived for football, it was everything to him, he appeared in the old First Division for Carlisle and well into his 50s was playing Sunday League. The standard didn’t matter to him

‘He just had a pure love for football, it didn’t matter who he was playing for or where he was playing, he loved the game and wanted to carry on for as long as he could.

‘For him, the Dockyard League was the chance to continue his enjoyment of playing, being around other people. He liked to have a laugh and a joke, so it was the social side as well.

Joe Laidlaw challenges an opponent. The former Pompey skipper netted 23 goals in 75 appearances before departing in December 1980 for Hereford

‘Dad would play non-league on the Saturday for either Selsey or Sidlesham, then next morning turn out for a Sunday League side. He probably couldn’t walk very well on the Monday or Tuesday!

‘He must have been fit, although was always thick set, with these massive legs and huge thighs. Every weekend he’d play two games and I can’t ever remember him missing a match through injury.

‘I was a footballer too, but didn’t really want to play Sunday League. However, Dad got me playing for the Harvest Home sometimes. We’d play together in attack.

‘I was in my mid-20s, he’d be in his early 50s, and, for half a season, it was father and son up front. We won the league that year, scoring a lot of goals between us.

‘It’s something you can look back on. I enjoyed playing with my Dad, even if I had to do all his running! He found it quite easy, even at that age.

‘In his career, Dad started as a striker and then dropped back into midfield. In Sunday League he was normally in midfield or centre-back, although he did have the occasional game in goal sometimes, never through choice. He was pretty good at that.

‘A lot of people said you could see why he played professional football, his brain worked quickly. Although the legs couldn’t move around the pitch like they used to, people couldn’t get close to him because he’d lay the ball off or put someone through.

‘I can’t remember Dad playing professionally as I was too young. Some of my earliest memories as a kid are seeing him as player-manager at Selsey or Sidlesham. I’d be hanging around the changing rooms, kicking the ball with them in the warm-up.

‘It’s football, it’s in the family. We all love it.’

Laidlaw emerged through the Middlesbrough ranks before joining Carlisle in 1972, helping the Cumbrians earn promotion to the top flight for the first and only time in their history.

The midfielder netted 12 times in that 1974-75 First Division campaign which ended in relegation – and later made the switch to Doncaster.

His Pompey connection was established in June 1979, when Frank Burrows recruited him for £15,000 to bolster their Fourth Division promotion bid.

Laidlaw missed just one match as the Blues finished fourth to earn a place in the Third Division, with the Geordie joint-top scorer with Colin Garwood on 17 goals.

He would depart Fratton Park in December 1980 for Hereford United, following 75 appearances and 23 goals, followed by a spell at Mansfield.

Yet the family home remained in Portsmouth and, after leaving the professional game, Laidlaw returned to the south coast, playing for Waterlooville and serving as manager at Fareham, Chichester, Sidlesham and Selsey.

‘Dad had been living with dementia for the last six years and it was getting a bit worse,’ added Jamie, who served his apprenticeship with Swindon before representing Yeovil, Bashley, Farnborough, Chichester, Fareham, Gosport and Moneyfields.

‘He initially had a stroke and, while in hospital, then had a heart attack. I found out quite early from the consultant that he wasn’t going to make it.

‘With everything else he had, such as dementia and diabetes, sadly Dad was never going to be strong enough to pull through.

‘It began six years ago, I started noticing something wasn’t quite right with him. We couldn’t really put our finger on it, but he wasn’t behaving the same, such as forgetting to come around when he had planned to.

‘Mum took him to the doctors, who carried out some tests, such as asking him to say the alphabet backwards. Another test involved giving Dad something to remember, then later asking him what it was.

‘Unfortunately the outcome was he was diagnosed with dementia.

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‘In later years, when in a care home, for some visits he could be very quiet, a bit subdued. Other times he was really good. Not quite back to how he used to be, but a lot better. You never knew what to expect.

‘Dad always knew who I was, so it never got that bad, and while he could still remember stuff from a long time ago, his short-term memory was really bad.

‘We could have a conversation and then he would be asking me the same questions over and over.

‘He would say: “How’s Grace, how’s Harvey. How old are they now?”. I’d tell him, then, a minute later, he would ask the same things all over again.

‘Physically, he couldn’t walk that far, so I’d have to take him out in a wheelchair for afternoons along Southsea seafront or going out for a coffee.

‘That was down to Alzheimer’s and the fact he was living in a care home, no longer moving around as much. Your muscles start wasting away and he lost quite a bit of weight.

‘The Tuesday before his stroke, we brought him back to our Southsea home and the whole family were there. He sat in the front room, had a cup of tea and we had a nice chat.

‘Dad was in good spirits, it was one of his better days. He seemed quite happy and upbeat – and it was the last time the kids saw him.

‘I don’t know whether it was fate, but that’s their final memory of him. I like that, remembering how he was at that moment and not later.’

On November 18, Laidlaw was driving to Evesham to watch son Harvey represent Pompey in the second round of the FA Youth Cup against Cheltenham.

While travelling on the A34, he received a text from mum June. It simply read: ‘I think he’s gone’.

A fortnight earlier, Joe Laidlaw had been admitted into QA Hospital following a stroke, only to then suffer a massive heart attack. The family were warned to prepare for the worst.

Pompey’s former skipper remained in a deep sleep for the final four days of his life, unable to communicate or open his eyes.

Jamie had visited the previous day, holding his unresponsive dad’s hand while talking to him. It represented an unspoken farewell.

Joe Laidlaw would pass away six days before grandson Harvey learnt he was among six prodigious talents to be handed a two-year Pompey scholarship.

The left-sided player has appeared five times for the Academy this season, despite affiliated with the under-16s and effectively playing above his age.

Meanwhile, Harvey’s sister Grace, a 20-year-old striker of great promise, has twice been named on the substitutes’ bench for Pompey Women this term.

Jamie added: ‘I believe this is the fourth generation of Laidlaw footballers, with my granddad, Dennis, having also been on the books of Fulham.

‘I have never put pressure on my two to play, it has only ever been encouragement. I would never force it on them, they both need to want to play.

‘Probably Harvey’s best position is at left-back, although he can play anywhere on the left-hand side or at centre-back.

‘When he was young, he was training with Pompey and Southampton. He joined Southampton at the age of eight and remained there until he reached 14.

‘After his release, he trialled at Pompey and joined in the summer of 2020 as an under-15. Then, on Wednesday, he was given a two-year scholarship.

‘Grace is with Pompey Women’s development team at the moment and was on the first-team bench for a league game and cup fixture this season, without appearing.

‘This is her second stint with them, having been there when younger and gone on to a few different clubs, such as Moneyfields, before returning.

‘My family were the club’s guests against AFC Wimbledon on Saturday, while I also took along five friends who knew dad really well, some of which had played with him.

‘We sat in the directors’ box and the supporters’ minute’s applause in tribute to dad was very emotional. Everyone has been top class to my family since this has happened.

‘My dad loved Fratton Park, we all do. It’s just part of the Laidlaw family.’

A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron

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