Former Saints hooker Thompson reveals his dementia battle

Former Saints hooker Steve Thompson has revealed he has been diagnosed with early onset dementia and probable chronic traumatic encephalopathy.

By Tom Vickers
Tuesday, 8th December 2020, 2:48 pm
Updated Tuesday, 8th December 2020, 2:52 pm
Steve Thompson
Steve Thompson

And Thompson has admitted that he does not remember winning the World Cup in 2003.

The 42-year-old, who lifted the Heineken Cup with Saints in 2000 and has represented the British & Irish Lions, has been speaking to the Guardian.

He said: "It’s the rugby that’s put me through this.

“Some people go for the big lights, whereas I don’t want that. I never wanted that. I’d rather just have had a normal life.”

Thompson recently caught a glimpse of some of England's 2003 World Cup games on television.

And he said: “It was as if I was watching England play now. Except I was there. But I can’t remember at all being there. Honestly, I don’t know scores from any of the games.”

Thompson even admits that sometimes he forgets his wife's name.

He explained: “I could look at Steph sometimes. And she says it’s like I’m a complete blank. And she’ll go: ‘I’m Steph.’ The name’s gone. Gone.

"I’m thinking, what have I done to her? She doesn’t deserve this.”

“She just went: ‘I’ll just have to care for you, won’t I?’”

“I’m not a small bloke, you know, I’m 6ft 3in, 120 kilos. So if you’ve got to care for me, it’s quite a bit of meat to carry around.”

Thompson says he suffers from anxiety and has started having panic attacks.

He said: “It’s weird. It’s a bit like an out-of-body experience, to be honest, and it happens a lot more now.”

Thompson returns to what his successful rugby career has left him with.

“I finished up with nothing really at the end of it," he said.

“I can’t remember it. I’ve got no memorabilia. I’ve got no feelings about it. You see us lifting the World Cup and I can see me there jumping around. But I can’t remember it.

“No one could ever say that I’m money-orientated, because that’s the one thing I’m not. I just wanted a simple life.

"I would have liked to be able to work outside and use my body and my mind. That’s not going to happen now.”

Thompson, who has four children, started playing rugby at the age of 15 but says he wouldn't want his one-year-old son to follow in his footsteps.

He said: “Was it a massive love of my life? No, no, not really. But it was a job. I happened to be good at it in those times.

"I enjoyed the company of the lads and things like that. But then would I do it again? No, I wouldn’t.

“I don’t really want my boy playing rugby, the way it is at the moment.”

Thompson remembers when rugby went from amateur to professional and how tough the transition was.

He explained: “It was like: ‘So what do we do now, then?’ It felt like the coaches were thinking: ‘We’ll just knock the hell out of each other. That’s what we’ll do.’ And we did.”

And his memories of England duty?

He added: “It was so brutal during the week that you’d come home on the Thursday for your day off and I’d just be like: ‘I don’t think I can play, I feel utterly battered'.

“They had us for that Six Nations period, and the autumn internationals, and they literally just beasted you until you fell apart.”

Thompson does believe attitudes have changed for the better since 2003.

“The 2011 World Cup camp was completely different to the 2003 World Cup camp," he said. "In 2011 it was a lot more technical, whereas in 2003 you just had to beast yourself.

“You think how many specialists were out there watching that and not saying anything.

“They knew what was happening. And nothing was done about it. People were getting knocked on the head and it was not being recorded. I’m knocked out in training and it was always: ‘It’s just a knock on the head, he’ll be fine.’

“In the old days it was a bit of a laugh. If someone got whacked in the head, it was: ‘Oh, look at him, he’s had a belt! He’ll be up in a minute'.

“The amount of head bangs I had in training. I was known for it. ‘Oh, he’s having a little sleep, he’ll get up in a minute'.

“There’s so much pressure (in scrums). They aren’t moving, they’ve got pegs in it, they’ve got people stood on it, and you drive into it, all that weight coming through.

“And suddenly, as the pressure comes off, you start getting the light, the little white dots, and you don’t know where you are for a few seconds.”

Thompson is eager to see the game regulated.

He said: “I don’t want to kill the game. I want it regulated.

“Every year you drive your car you get an MOT. The body’s exactly the same thing. If it’s not working, you shouldn’t be doing your job.

"It sounds awful, because lads are going to have to retire at 22 or 23. But trust me, it’s better finishing then than to be where I am now.”