SURROUNDED by framed t-shirts bearing her husband’s photograph and signed by some of the biggest names in sport, Amanda Kopel holds one close to her chest.
It’s the shirt signed by Dundee United legend Frankie himself. He autographed it when already gripped by early on-set dementia, diagnosed at just 59.
Amanda is auctioning many of the shirts, including ones signed by Sir Alex Ferguson, tennis superstar Rafa Nadal and Open golf champion Francesco Molinari, along with other items at a charity fundraiser next month in her late husband’s honour.
But there is one shirt that won’t be sold. The tangerine t-shirt bearing his father’s signature will go to his son, Scott, instead.
“I remember the day I asked him to sign it. He struggled but eventually wrote F Kopel,” Amanda said, speaking at the family home in Kirriemuir.
“I asked him why he wrote that, rather than Frankie or Frank as he would usually write, and it was then he looked at the image of himself on the shirt and asked, ‘Who is that? Who is Frankie Kopel?’ and I had to say to him, ‘Frankie, that’s you’.
“It was the same with that famous goal he scored for Dundee United against Anderlecht in the UEFA Cup in 1979.
“I would put it on the telly and he would smile and comment on what a great goal it was. But as he deteriorated he would ask who was playing and then eventually asked who scored the goal.”
Frankie’s signed t-shirt might remain within the family, but in the darkest days of his illness Amanda didn’t have the option of holding on to such mementos.
Because Frankie was under 65, he wasn’t entitled to free personal care, meaning the bills were arriving quicker than the family could find the money to pay for them.
It’s what prompted Frank’s Law, a legal change secured after an unrelenting campaign spearheaded by Amanda which will finally pay off on April 1 next year, when the bill is officially introduced into Scottish councils. It means anyone under 65 requiring personal care will receive it for free.
“We were lucky we had things we could sell but others aren’t so fortunate,” Amanda said. “We sold his League Cup winners’ medal that he won against Aberdeen to help pay the bills.
“Eventually we had to sell his Manchester United blazer, the one every player under Sir Matt Busby was given. Around 18 months later, when Frankie was nearing the end, a box was delivered to our house and inside was the blazer with the most beautiful letter from the buyer, an avid Man United collector, who said he’d heard how sick Frankie was and wanted to return it.
“I went into Frankie’s room. He was unconscious at the time but I told him when he woke up in the morning the first thing he would see was his blazer hanging up on the back of the door.
“He died the next morning.”
Clutching the embroidered blazer now, it triggers a lifetime of memories the couple shared.
“I’ve known Frankie since I was eight and he was 10. We lived across the road from each other in Falkirk and the first time I remember speaking to him was when he came down the path with a football under his arm.
“He asked me if I was going to play football in the park. I said I was a girl so didn’t play football, but I went with him anyway and sat on the wall and watched him. Even then I knew he was something special.
“When I told him I wasn’t playing football because I didn’t want to get hurt, he told me he would never let anyone hurt me. And he never did.”
Frankie signed an apprenticeship with Manchester United and Amanda recalls meeting George Best at a player dinner dance in Old Trafford when she was 16.
They enjoyed a great life together and remained committed to each other even in the bleakest moments. “I remember him sitting on the couch and saying, ‘It’s too late for me, but look at all the others it will help’, when we talked about setting up Frank’s Law,” Amanda continued.
“But I had no idea what I was starting.”
Part of the campaign involved producing t-shirts – just three dozen to begin with – to raise awareness. Amanda’s wide contacts began asking football clubs and sporting heroes to sign them and soon autographed shirts were arriving at Amanda’s house.
She has decided to auction them off at the Frank’s Law Dinner at Dundee United’s Tannadice Park, where Frank spent 11 years as a player, with all money to be split between Alzheimer Scotland and research projects at Dundee University and by Dr Willie Stewart at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Glasgow.
Amanda says the campaign has been a distraction since losing Frankie in April 2014 and admits she doesn’t know if she’ll ever grieve properly.
“When Nicola Sturgeon announced last September that it would be delivered, I looked at Frankie’s photo and knew his death wasn’t in vain. But there were also tears of sadness because the person I wanted beside me sharing the moment was no longer here.
“There was also frustration when I learned it would be another 18 months before it would be put into action and that is why I continue to campaign.”
She added: “I have strong views about how it’s going to be implemented. If the councils aren’t all singing from the same hymn sheet by April 1 it will make a mockery of Frank’s Law.
“I hope they are not going to let us down.”
Amanda has ensured Frankie’s legacy extends far beyond the football pitch – and for her campaign the final whistle hasn’t yet sounded.
Tickets for the Frank’s Law Dinner on October 27 at Tannadice cost £35 each, and can be purchased from alzscot.org/frank
Enjoy the convenience of having The Sunday Post delivered as a digital ePaper straight to your smartphone, tablet or computer.
Subscribe for only £5.49 a month and enjoy all the benefits of the printed paper as a digital replica.Subscribe