England’s Professional Footballers’ Association does not know how many of its 50,000 members have dementia, according to its chief executive Gordon Taylor. Talking in a BBC documentary in which former England captain Alan Shearer investigates the link between the disease and heading footballs, Taylor acknowledged that football needs to do the same sort of investigation into the damage caused by heading, and says plans are already in place. Announcing that the PFA is looking to build a database of members with dementia Taylor said: “It has been put to me that maybe clubs are very wary because there may be compensation. But you can only be negligent if you know for certain that there is this link.”
As the PFA and the Football Association have pledged to fund research and support former players with dementia Shearer said: “At least now people have started to look for answers. Nowhere near enough research has been done so far. For too long it has been swept under the carpet, which is why so many people are angry – and rightly so… There are 850,000 people in the United Kingdom suffering from dementia and there are a lot of footballers in those numbers. But the reality is, and the sad thing is, we don’t know how many and that can’t be right.”
The link between heading the ball and dementia was first made in 2002 during the inquest into the death of former West Brom and England striker Jeff Astle. He died from dementia aged 59 and the coroner who found signs of brain injury – called chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) – said the damage had been caused by years of heading a football. Shearer said Astle had been diagnosed with an industrial disease, but little has been done since despite several high-profile ex-players also being diagnosed with dementia. They include 1966 England World Cup winners Nobby Stiles, Martin Peters and Ray Wilson. For more information visit www.bbc.co.uk/dementiaandfootball
This story first appeared in the blog, The Sport Intern. The editor is Karl-Heinz Huba of Lorsch, Germany. He can be reached at ISMG@aol.com. The article is reprinted here with permission of Huba.