At least 500 former players are now affected by dementia with the PFA under fire for lack of help amid increased calls to investigate link between football and brain disease
- The Jeff Astle Foundation claim the amount represents a fraction of the real total
- At least five of England’s 1966 World Cup heroes have now lived with dementia
- The full scale of the problem is emerging years after a Sportsmail investigation
The organisation leading the fight to understand a link between football and brain disease know of at least 500 former players who have been affected, Sportsmail can reveal.
The Jeff Astle Foundation believe the number may represent a fraction of the actual total.
It emerged on Saturday that six of the 11 players who won the title for Burnley in 1959-60 have died with dementia while a seventh, Jimmy Robson, is also now struggling with the illness.
The Foundation in the name of Jeff Astle (above) lead the fight to look into dementia in football
One of the Burnley six was Jimmy McIlroy, whose daughter Anne joined 81-year-old Robson’s daughter Dany in claiming she had not received the support she had expected from the Professional Footballers’ Association.
Robson’s daughter told Sky News that when she contacted the PFA, they ‘just sent me a leaflet with general help for things like hip replacements. I gave them my name and number but there was never any follow-up so I just got in contact with the Alzheimer’s Society instead and they were excellent.’
Dawn Astle, daughter of Jeff, said: ‘We have been in touch with several hundred families, who have looked to us for advice and someone to talk to, because they feel we are people they can trust.
The Foundation for Astle claim at least 500 former players have been affected by brain disease
‘They’ve told us about many more and we know of around 500. A duty of confidentiality for many former players’ associations has meant we haven’t been able to reach many families.’
The high percentage of players afflicted in some teams – at least five of England’s 1966 World Cup-winning side have either died or are living with the illness – supports scientific research which has shown the incidence of neurodegeneration is far higher than in the general community.
The full scale of the problem is emerging seven years after a Mail on Sunday investigation revealed how research the PFA and Football Association said they were undertaking had been quietly discontinued, without the Astle family being told.
The MoS put the family in contact with Dr Willie Stewart, a neuropathologist, who arranged for an analysis of Jeff Astle’s brain. It established that the former West Bromwich Albion and England forward had been suffering the same degenerative condition that afflicted many former NFL players before they died.
At least five of England’s 1966 heroes, including Sir Bobby Charlton, have lived with dementia
That scientific breakthrough paved the way for the research, led by Dr Stewart, which established last year that footballers are 3.5 times more likely to have a neurodegenerative disease than the general population and five times more likely to die with Alzheimer’s. ‘Without that work we would never have started out on this journey,’ Dawn Astle said. ‘We didn’t imagine the scale of the problem.’
Dr Stewart’s findings have led to an attempt to get football and brain injuries designated an industrial disease, through the Industrial Injuries Advisory Council, part of the Department for Work and Pensions.
The Astle Foundation believe that new rules allowing permanent substitutions when a player suffers a head injury – even if all replacements have already been used – are a vital way of helping protect footballers.
The Premier League and FA won’t make head injury substitutions mandatory until next season
But it emerged on Saturday that the Premier League and FA will not make them mandatory until next season, despite trials likely to take place in January.
The potential delay has been criticised by brain injury charity Headway.
The PFA said it was doing all it could to help players, paying for care and pledging £500,000 to a Trust which provides sheltered accommodation for retired sports people who have fallen on hard times.