‘It’s like he’s locked inside himself’: The Manchester United legend’s daughter opens up about his tragic demise

For seven years, Scottish footballer Gordon McQueen was known as a outspoken Manchester United centre-back. But the star’s family, now 70, have spoken out this week about his “rapidly” declining condition after being diagnosed with dementia two years ago.

After McQueen kicked off the now legendary “five minute final” during United and Arsenal’s 1979 FA Cup Final at Wembley Stadium, McQueen scored the first of his team’s two goals in the 86th minute. While it wasn’t enough to defeat Arsenal, his contribution remains cemented as part of one of football’s ‘greatest results of all time’.

The “miracle of the 86th minute” began his sporting career in 1970 when, at the age of 18, he was signed to the Scottish professional football club St. Mirren. Just two years later – after being closely watched by scouts during his time at the Scottish club – he was signed to Leeds United for £30,000 after replacing Jack Charlton, who was by then on the verge of retirement , has been retired.

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During his six-year tenure at Leeds, McQueen helped the team win the English First Division in 1973–74 and went 29 games unbeaten. He was also called up to the Scotland squad and played 30 games with them over the course of his career.

Despite previously saying he wanted to stay at Leeds throughout his career, McQueen shocked fans by signing for £500,000 from Manchester in 1978. At the time, in a now-famous statement, he said: “Ask any player in the country which club they would like to play for and 99% would say Manchester United. The other percent are liars.”

It was a year after his time at United when the 1979 ‘Five Minutes’ FA Cup Final took place, with McQueen finally getting his hands on an FA Cup medal four years later when United v Brighton & Hove Albion triumphed.

Gordon McQueen at Manchester United in 1978 (Image: PA)

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McQueen played his last game for United on 12 January 1985 before retiring from the sport entirely later that year. He then managed and coached a number of teams including his first club St Mirren. He later commentated on matches for Sky Sports, MUTV, Scotsport and ITV.

In 2011, McQueen was diagnosed with throat cancer and successfully treated. Ten years later, in 2021, he was diagnosed with vascular dementia.

At the time, his family, led by McQueen’s wife Yvonne, daughters Hayley and Anna and son Edward, said they wanted to raise awareness of the “risks of sustained headers”. Her concerns came after Jack Charlton died of dementia in 2020 and Sir Bobby Charlton was also diagnosed with the disease.

“As a family, we felt it was important to let people know, especially when raising awareness can help others in similar situations,” his loved ones said in a statement.

Hayley McQueen (Image: Daily Record)

“While we as a family have struggled to come to terms with the changes Dad has, he has no regrets about his career and has lived life to the fullest.

“He’s had unforgettable moments from his playing days with Scotland, Manchester United and Leeds United and has learned so much from his coaching and TV work more recently.”

Daughter and Sky Sports presenter Hayley, 43, told the Made by Mammas podcast last year that her father’s condition “will only get worse”. She revealed her mum Yvonne broke her leg earlier this year looking after her dad and he may need full-time care.

“Right now my father is in respite care,” she said. We told him he was going to a five star hotel to rehabilitate himself and have a good time.

Gordon McQueen (in white) played for Manchester United in 1980 (Image: Mirrorpix)

“He’s okay with that. There may come a time when he will need to go into full-time foster care. My mom just can’t handle it.”

“We’ve been through a lot with my dad. His decay was pretty quick.”

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Speaking to Good Morning Britain earlier this week, Hayley gave further updates on her father’s condition.

“He’s completely bedridden, which is awful,” she told the ITV show, as reported by The Mirror. “Tall, strapping man in bed. He watches a lot of football, not today. He has a lot of football friends who come by, we had a lot of his ex-teammates.

“He knows who we all are, which is very strange because I associate dementia with having no idea what on earth is going on or who someone is and I really like that fact from a selfish perspective .

Hayley’s childhood photo with dad Gordon (Image: Daily Record)

“But part of me is almost ‘well, if he didn’t know who we are, where we are, maybe it wouldn’t be so hard to think about it, maybe one day he might have to go to a home, at least he does don’t know where he is or what’s going on. On the other hand, he is very aware. It’s like he’s locked inside himself.”

Hayley also admitted the difficulty of deciding whether to tell her father about his diagnosis or keep it a secret from him. She explained, “We thought, ‘If we don’t tell him, he’ll never know, and if we tell him, do we have to remind him every day that he has dementia?’

“We didn’t want to tell him, and then we were sitting in the hospital and they were like, ‘Okay, Gordon, that’s how we deal with dementia,’ and we were like, ‘Oh God, okay, well, that’s that.’

“He just said ‘I don’t want to get any worse, I want to get better,’ and we had to sit down and say, ‘Well, I don’t think you’re going to get any better, but we’re going to try to make everything as good as it is.’ can and we will be there for you and around you’.

“I had just had a baby, so I had to deal with all the emotions. I lived a four and a half, five hour drive from my parents in the Northeast because I obviously work in the Southwest, so it was hard knowing I was so far away and a little helpless.

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Gordon pictured in 2015 (Image: PA)

“Then Covid happened which meant I couldn’t see my family and all these people that my dad liked to be around couldn’t be around him.”

The family of 1968 FA Cup finalist Jeff Astle, who died in 2002 aged 59 from accumulated brain trauma, has urged authorities to investigate the link between brain injuries and heading the ball.

“We don’t have a cure so football needs to get a grip and start creating things to protect players,” daughter Dawn Astle told GOAL in 2022. “If we look at all the evidence that we have in front of us now, on the balance of likelihood, direction is the issue, so the sport has to look at that.

Gordon McQueen and Willie Ormond after a game between England and Scotland in May 1975 (Image: Daily Record)

“There needs to be a proper education program for players to be aware of the risks.”

While McQueen’s family believes the header was a factor in his ‘rapid’ demise, the footballer himself isn’t so convinced. “My dad says no,” Hayley explained. “I’m like, ‘What the hell are you in this state’.”

Last year, Hayley called for a new law to limit the number of times footballers can head the ball in training sessions. She said she would like more use of virtual reality technology to mimic the head of the ball and a UK rule to protect footballers’ health.

She is an ambassador for the Alzheimer’s Society’s Sport United Against Dementia (SUAD) campaign to make sport dementia-friendly and to fund research into the links between sport and dementia.

For more advice on dementia and how to support people with the condition click here. You can also call the dementia hotline on 0333 150 3456.