Bobbie Goulding, just days after receiving the devastating news that he has early-onset dementia, still surprises.
Although his dancing ability may have slowed in his days competing against Shaun Edwards to be Super League’s best half-back, he still retains the quick wit and personality that made him such an iconic personality off the pitch during a long career.
‘Going from penthouse to s***house is the simple way to say it,’ he says with a smile of his diagnosis.
Goulding’s sense of humor will be crucial as he struggles with a severe brain condition that has no treatment and tries his best to cope with the consequences for his family.
Bobbie Goulding is a legendary rugby league player. SportsmailHis dementia diagnosis
The former Great Britain scrum-half struggled with a postretirement alcohol and drug addiction, which culminated with him puncturing a lungs after crashing the family car into the tree eight years back. However, he has since turned his life around and started a personal trainer business from the St Helens gym that he owns.
This transformation makes his dementia diagnosis seem particularly cruel. The scrum-half, who measured 5ft 6in tall, made his Wigan debut as a team member at age 16. He was also the youngest ever Great Britain tourist at 18 years old, winning his first of 17 caps.
Goulding says, “To get the diagnosis was terrible.” “I’m a little shaken up. I’ve never been scared of anything, but now I am. I have my grandson and my family to be thankful for. He is my greatest treasure and I love him so much. I may not have much time with him if this happens quickly.
“I hope everything will be okay. It’s worse knowing because it’s always there in the back of your head. It’s okay to forget about it and move on with your day.
Some of the players who took legal action against Rugby Football League for negligently treating head injuries have been suffering from dementia symptoms for years. Goulding was shocked to learn that he had been diagnosed with dementia despite his mood swings and increasing forgetfulness.
The 49-year-old made 366 appearances across 10 Rugby League clubs during his time as a Pro
It is not surprising that his condition is so bad due to the brutal treatment he received on the pitch and the lack of treatment.
He said, “It has come out the blue and hit my like a bus. It is hard to bear.” “I didn’t think about dementia at all. I just thought it was how life was.”
‘You’d be more comfortable talking to my daughter and wife about what I’m like. But things aren’t right.
“I’m argumentative. I forget things. I even forgot that I was on a Zoom conversation with the neurologist last week. I signed in and it was working. The next thing I knew, my phone was ringing.
“I didn’t answer it because I didn’t recognize the number. Then my daughter came in and told me what I was supposed. I finally answered the phone and it was the doctor I had logged on to talk to 10 minutes before.
However, his condition is obvious with the benefit to hindsight. It is due to the harsh treatment he received at the pitch and the inability of receiving treatment off it.
Rob Burrow was just 37 years old when he was diagnosed with motor nerve disease. This is a clear comparison because of his small stature. Both were relative pygmies playing a game played only by giants.
Goulding is often compared to Rob Burrow, an ex-Leeds Rhino Star (pictured), who was diagnosed at 37 with motor neurone syndrome.
Goulding states that he was 13 stone and 5ft 6in tall, and played against 6ft 2in and 19-stone players. It can be very frustrating at the end. Even if they are angry!
“I was knocked cold six times. I’ve tore my biceps off of my arm. I fractured my leg. I’ve had several groin operations. I’ve split my head open. I have loosened my teeth. I had my ankle fused in March.
‘I accepted everything as it was when I played, since I didn’t know any better at that time. The aftercare that follows incidents needs to change. You shouldn’t play if you’re already exhausted. We were neglected. I hope things have changed and that the players are treated more favorably.
Goulding’s memories of his career and the circumstances under which he was forced play, are hard to believe. He says, “I played within days after serious knockouts on at most three occasions.”
‘I can remember playing for Leigh in Huddersfield on Sunday at the end of 2002. After being seriously injured, I was admitted to Huddersfield Royal Infirmary and played against Batley the next Saturday.
‘I wasn’t seen by any doctor during that week. “Bob, can you play?” They said. “Yeah. I’ll play.” The video would shock you.
“There was another game that stood out right after I signed for Widnes 1992. We were playing at Hull KR, and I was knocked off.
“We were still in Leeds at the time, so I didn’t get to take the team bus home. My wife drove, and she had to pull over at the motorway because all of my bodily functions went through me. She had to pull over, and there was s**t and p**s everywhere. It was terrible. I had no control whatsoever.
Goulding’s only realisation of the dangers of concussion during his playing career, which began at Wigan in 90 and ended with a 15-year-old stint as a player-coach at Rochdale, was a preseason baseline cognitive assessment. He claims that this was completely unsupervised and allowed the players to cheat, making a mockery out of the whole process.
I had no control. All of my bodily functions went through me. There was s**t and p**s everywhere. It was terrible
He says, “We had the computer test at the beginning of the season to establish our template for the year. This you’d return to if your head hurt, but players cheat all the time.”
“You had the right to come back and try again if your previous attempt failed.
“But we’d share our passwords and do it together all the times. You would have people doing it for your mate who was hurt so there was no one to oversee the process.
“It’s not good enough to be a professional sport.”
Apart from the legal case Goulding’s priority was planning a future family: wife Paula; four children; and Ralphy, who is three years old.
Goulding’s priority is planning a future for his family: wife Paula, four children and grandson
He says, “My wife is still in shock,” Paula is a teacher and she gave me a small kiss when she returned home from work last Friday following the diagnosis.
“I usually have to wait till later in the evening for them!” We have been married 29 years and we were together when we went shopping last weekend. We felt very close.
“I had no choice but to call my son in Australia and tell him. He has a new life and it was not pleasant to make that call.
“I try to be as positive and positive as possible. I’m a determined guy and I’m going through whatever comes up.
“When you reach 49, you will have lived a very miserable life if there aren’t a few problems that you can overcome.” I don’t want anyone to feel sorry for me.
For years, the authorities managed to get away with killings
Age: 47 — former Oldham, Swinton and Wales winger
Two years ago, my symptoms appeared out of nowhere – it was almost like being hit by an airplane. I ran 125-miles three years ago, and I ran the Marathon des Sables six times in six days in Sahara desert. Then, all of a suddenly, I collapsed.
I became clumsy and kept dropping things. I developed headaches and tiredness. I couldn’t stand bright lights. Even my wife’s turning on the light in the morning would cause me irritation. Loud noises were irritating.
It was just a chin bump that I noticed. I thought it was a sign I was getting old. But, we did some tests and discovered I had early dementia. This condition will affect many men who don’t know.
Ex-Oldham Swinton, Wales winger Mickii Eds has criticised the game’s authorities
They are strong, tough men with a high tolerance for pain and suffering. They’ll be walking around La La Land, doing hard jobs on construction sites, if they need assistance.
For years, the authorities have been able get away with murder. You’d get a bang on your head and bleeding, but you could still play. The doctor would put Vaseline on the wound, and then say “Keep going.” I felt sick and nauseated after games. There was no aftercare or protocols. You were treated as if you were a piece of meat.
There is no support or help available. Ex-rugby players are not immune to suicide. Two of my teammates from one team committed suicide for no apparent reason. They were clearly depressed, but no one knew it.
We need to create a framework to provide help to those who need it.
Sometimes I wonder what the point of it all is… it’s terrifying
Age: 43 — former Halifax, Workington and Scotland prop
Anger issues are my worst enemy. I can be quite aggressive and naive with people, even if it is not necessary.
If someone looks at my in a way that I don’t like, I’ll either bite their head off or try to grab them. It’s horrible. It’s like my head is always in a dark cloud.
I try to not get upset but I know it will get worse. Sometimes I wonder what the point is when I hear the positive things from the other guys.
It’s frightening because I have a young and growing family that I need to support. It’s my children and my family that keep me going.
Ryan MacDonald, an ex-Scotland prop, was diagnosed with cancer. He is now angry and afraid.
Asking for help is one of the most difficult things. Although you are taught early in life not to show weakness, particularly in our game, I now try to open my heart to strangers.
The NHS will just give you tablets that can lift the fog but not address the problem. They only mask it.
Head injuries aside, there is no aftercare in rugby. You are no longer a part of the rugby team once you have retired. You are left in the dark.
You lose 70-80% of your friends. You feel like a stone. Clubs don’t bother getting in touch because you’re no longer useful to them. It’s a complete joke.
My memory loss has made me a nervous recluse
Age: 50 — former St Helens, Warrington and Scotland winger
Before I was 40, I began to forget things around 10-12 years ago.
I was once in trouble with the police. I was taken into police custody seven days after an accident in my car. I did not remember the incident when they knocked on my front door. I was told that I had threatened the other driver and got into my car. Then, they drove me away. The policeman told me, “You’re either a great liar or you didn’t do it!” I pleaded guilty but I don’t recall a word.
I sometimes forget where my car is parked and I have to double-check that I have locked the doors at least 100 times. Sometimes, I will make coffee and realize that I have put two spoons in my cup. Why would I do that? These aren’t big issues, but they make it difficult to think about the future. I have a 10-month-old girl and need to take care.
Jason Roach, a former St Helens winger, says that his memory loss has caused him to’retreat into mine shell’
I used to be the life-and-soul of the train, but due to my forgetfulness I’ve been forced into my shell. I was nervous about getting on the train today as I don’t use public transport anymore. I’ve become quite reclusive. I go to work, get home, and have the occasional drink in my garden.
Bizarrly, my first concussion is still fresh in my mind. I was at Christmas playing for St Helens against Bradford. I picked up the ball from the kick-off and was cleaned out. Then, I just sat on my backside. I continued to play until half-time. I wasn’t out of it, but the lads claimed I was singing Christmas carols from the bench in the second part.
I was taken to the hospital where I called my partner of two-years and she informed me that we had split up a few months earlier. I had no idea. In my Saints kit, I was in tears at the hospital.