LONDON (Reuters) - It wasn’t long ago that Stan Bowles could reminisce and share a joke with his old pal Don Shanks but now, ravaged by the terrible effects of Alzheimer’s, the Queens Park Rangers great can barely recognise the friend he has known for 40-plus years.
Shanks has been so shocked at the way his former Rangers team mate’s health has deteriorated that, despite having no history of distance running, he has entered Sunday’s New York Marathon to raise funds for the 69-year-old Bowles and Alzheimer’s research.
“Five years ago I could have a perfectly normal pint with Stan and have a laugh about old times,” Shanks told Reuters in an interview. “Today, he doesn’t know my name, has no idea what money is, cannot wash himself and cannot communicate.
“It’s truly heartbreaking to have witnessed his decline. When I go and see him, his eyes are sunken, he’s lost a lot of weight, he’s very frail and sort of recognises me by holding on to my wrist and clinging on as if he’s about to fall off a roof.
“The message I take from how he reacts is, ‘Thank you for coming to see me’.”
The twinkled-toed Bowles was the darling of the Loftus Road fans in the 1970s. His right foot was essentially just for standing on but his left foot bemused and tormented scores of defenders in the old First Division.
The QPR number 10 was a real crowd pleaser and deadly in front of goal as well. The maverick striker scored 97 times in 315 appearances between 1972-79 and Rangers describe him on their website as the club’s greatest player.
“I’m running in New York to do something for Stan and Alzheimer’s research,” said the 66-year-old Shanks. “To try and help so that we can make a breakthrough in finding a cure and that other people don’t have to go through what Stan is going through.”
Shanks, who played more than 200 times for Rangers between 1974-81, was inspired to run 26 miles in the Big Apple after watching the London Marathon in April.
“A friend of mine has a daughter, she’s in her 20s, and she had never run the marathon before,” he explained. “I went along and thought the whole day was incredible.
“I loved the way the general public supported the runners. Once I’d seen all those different shapes and sizes in London, men and women of all ages, going out and doing that, I thought maybe I could do it too.”
Shanks, who used to share a flat with Bowles in the 70s, has a host of stories to tell about the time the pair spent together during their football career.
Bowles, who should have earned many more caps than the five he won for England, liked a flutter on the horses and is renowned for turning up at matches at the last minute after watching the subject of his bets on TV at the bookmakers’ shop just outside Loftus Road.
“I remember one time against Manchester United, our manager Dave Sexton went round the changing room from No. 1 Phil Parkes to No. 2 Dave Clement and so on, giving everyone a pep talk just before the game,” giggled Shanks.
“When Dave got to No. 10 he suddenly realised Stan wasn’t there. ‘Don, Don, where is Stan?’, he asked me, wearing a look of complete horror.
“I said, ‘Don’t worry Dave, he’s here somewhere’. Sure enough Stan turned up in his civies with 15 minutes to go, got changed and then went out and made our first goal and scored the second one.
“That was how he was,” said Shanks. “Only Stan could get away with that. For anybody who donates, they should know whether it’s one pounds or five pounds, they could be making a big difference to someone’s life.”
Editing by Pritha Sarkar