Football authorities & their shame in addressing dementia problem

We’ve have been at the forefront of this issue since Tom Clare spoke to the family of World Cup Winner Nobby Stiles. They revealed to us the agonies that they have gone through in the fight to gain proper care for Nobby as he battles this terrible illness. Since then we have been contacted by many more families, also suffering and they have all told us the same thing… The PFA, the union supposed to be helping these former players, is in fact going out of its way to prevent them getting any kind of help or recognition from football. In his latest article Tom tackles that very subject.

 

Football Authorities and Their Shame in Addressing the Dementia Problem

Yesterday, Dawn Astle, the wonderful, passionate, fiery daughter of the late Jeff Astle, West Bromwich Albion’s former England centre forward, once again hit out at the PFA, and the football authorities with regards to their apathy, and inertness in addressing the problem of dementia in football, especially in regards to former players.

It must be stressed that Ms. Astle was not looking for hand-outs to individuals, or families, from these organisations, but was trying to find a way to help solve a problem that has become a boil, and one that definitely needs lancing, on the backsides of these said organisations – namely, the Football Association, Premier League, Football League, and more importantly the Professional Footballer’s Association.

Dawn, the founder of the Jeff Astle Foundation said:

“Football is neglecting these players. One footballer called me after he was diagnosed, all he wanted was help to pay for the funeral so he didn’t force his family into debt. I was in tears.

But the sporting authorities are more interested in helping players with gambling problems, knee injuries, and arthritis.

They aren’t killing hundreds of players. Dementia is and the authorities are ignoring it.

Our dream was to have a series of care homes to provide respite or long-term care.

A 1% levvy on the wages of Premier League would raise millions to do that. Surely, today’s players, who have so much money, wouldn’t begrudge that so those who laid the foundations for everything they have, can be looked after.”

As each week passes, more cases of former players who are suffering from, or have passed away with dementia, become known. My own research conducted earlier this year identified well over 200 ex-players who had been afflicted and had passed away, including Noel Cantwell, Bill Foulkes, Albert Quixall, and David Herd, from United’s 1963 FA Cup winning team. Other well-known ex-players identified included; Sir Alf Ramsey, Jimmy hill, Bob Paisley, John Charles, Nat Lofthouse, Joe Mercer, Stan Cullis, and Roy Paul. But there are also so many cases of ex-players not so well known, who plied their trade in all four divisions of the Football League who suffered from dementia, and whose families had a torrid time emotionally, and financially, in trying to care for their loved ones, and who received little or no help at all.

Many ex-players are stricken with this infernal disease today and they include our own Nobby Stiles, former Huddersfield, and Everton full-back, Ray Wilson, ex West Ham, Tottenham and Norwich star, Martin Peters, ex-Leeds United centre-half Jack Charlton, all of whom played for England in the 1966 World Cup Final. Although I have not had it confirmed, I have been told that there is also one other member of that team who is in the early stages of dementia. But again, there are so many, many cases of lesser known ex-players from the leagues, who are suffering today and whose families are struggling to cope.

There are many types of dementia, but the most common thought to be found in footballers is CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy) or “Boxer’s Brain” caused by repeated blows to the head. The problem is, that this can’t be proven until after a person has died and their brain has been examined. However, experts fear that this is case in footballers of yesteryear who played for years with the old leather football.

Today’s players, according to experts are still in great danger. The ball used today still has to be of the same regulation weight that the old ball was. The problem with the old ball was that it absorbed water and moisture and as a game wore on got a lot heavier. Today’s ball is a synthetic coated ball and it is believed that today’s players hit the ball much harder.

Dr. Michael Grey, a motor neuroscience expert at Birmingham University said: “It’s not just the weight of the ball, it is the speed that it is traveling at. That affects how much kinetic energy is imparted into the head. If you double the weight of the ball, you get twice as much energy. But if you double the speed you get four times the energy. My prediction is that we are going to see a lot more of these cases of dementia.

A draft guide book drawn up by the PFA makes no mention of CTE or heading footballs. It also gives no details of financial support. Instead it advises players to claim benefits, or, eat “finger foods” if they struggle with a knife and fork!

Dawn Astle was rightly furious when she was told about this: “What’s missing from that guide is far more important than what’s in it. There is nothing on what support is available within the sport or CTE, which are the first thing families ask us about. That made my blood boil. Yet they could find space for patronizing advice like, try finger food if you are struggling with a knife and fork.”

It is my opinion that the football authorities, and particularly the PFA, have a moral obligation to support players, and ex-players who are suffering from the dementia disease. Sadly today, it seems that when this subject is raised with them, it’s a case of “pass the parcel.” The FA’s head of medicine, Dr Charlotte Cowie is quoted as saying that the body was “passionate” about addressing the disease and would be funding new research with the PFA into the risks of heading the ball. Yesterday, a spokesman was quoted as saying schemes to support former players were normally provided by the PFA.

Over to the PFA CEO Gordon Taylor, the highest paid union leader in the world, who said that the problem regarding dementia in football should be handed over to FIFA! In my opinion, this is nothing short of disgraceful. Surely, our own organisations, as I have said, have the moral duty to look after our own?

A lot of the families of former players now suffering are rightly angered by the lack of support available to them. Particularly from the organisation’s “blazers” and “old farts” who owe their positions to the players, because without them, these parasites would have no jobs. The families of sufferers, are in the main, having to turn to charity for help.

Research shows that it is the fans who are helping out more than most. Stan Bowles, former Manchester City and Queens Park Rangers star, and former Tottenham Hotspur star Peter Baker, are two who have been helped in this way. For Bowles the QPR fans campaigned with the club for a year for him to have a benefit match, and 10,00- fans turned out to say goodbye to him. The match is believed to have netted some £100,000 for him, and the fans also raised some £50,000 for him through a website. His daughter said that the family can’t thank the fans enough.

In Baker’s case, he was diagnosed with Alzheimers in 2005 at the age of 73. A member of Tottenham’s famous “double winning” team in 1961, he and his wife spent the final years surviving on a small pension and in a council flat in Enfield, North London until he died last year. They only survived thanks to the generosity of the Tottenham Tribute Trust.

The Trust, run by the fans with the backing of the Club, helped pay for his respite care, but more importantly, funded a drug named Arasat which helped to slow down his illness. His wife was to say that she did not know what she would have done without the help of the Trust as she could never have afforded the cost of the drug or the care home fees without them. Her final word was that she thought that football as whole could be doing more to help former players who are suffering. It is a remark that is heard all too often!

Former Blackburn Rovers star Allan Gilliver however was not so lucky. His wife Christine said that their experience was horrific. She stated that her step-daughter was a policewoman, and a good friend was a fireman. Both of their organisations had benevolent homes for past and present staff. The Miner’s Union used to have a huge care home in Blackpool. None of them as wealthy as football is today, yet there was nothing to help her husband. The PFA gave her a paltry 240 to help towards physiotherapy, but declined to give her any help at all with regards to his dementia.

It is no wonder that these poor families get angry. There is so much money swilling about in the game today particularly in the Premier League with a vast proportion going to players in their salaries. Good luck to them as they will never have to worry financially. The top five leagues in Europe had a combined revenue of some £25 Billion from TV, tickets, and merchandise in 2015/16. Dawn Astle is making a proposal that Premier League players have a levy on their salaries that pays 1% into a foundation fund that would enable and maintain care homes to be built which would provide respite and long-term care that is so badly needed. I would say Amen to that and I think that most Premier League players would support it.

What does piss me off greatly though, is the PFA burying its head in the sand where dementia and players/ex-players is concerned. PFA Deputy CEO, John Bramhall, is quoted as saying; “There has been cases where we have helped with respite care, and also amendments to their homes. We can’t pay for full-time residential care it’s not within our gift to do that. We have a benevolent and accident fund of £800,000 to provide assistance to former members who are suffering the consequence of injuries or issues that come from their playing career.”

I find that statement insulting to be honest, and a slap in the face to the families of those players/ex-players, who despite what Gordon Taylor says, have received little or next to no support from the very organization which their loved ones fought and helped put where it is today.

Unfortunately, I do not know what Mr Bramhall earns as the PFA Deputy CEO, but I do know that Gordon Taylor takes home an inflated bloated salary of some £3.5 million per anum. Nice work if you can get it. What does get under my skin though is that the PFA over the years has spent an enormous amount on what they term “investments.” The jewel in the crown of these “investments” is a fine collection of L.S. Lowry paintings which they have bought at auction over the years.

In 1999, they paid £1,926, 500 for the 1953 painting “Going to the Match.” It was a record price at auction for any British painting. In November 2016, they purchased the painting “The Railway Platform” for £1.65 million. They also own the paintings “Man Walking”, “Footbridge at Droylsden”, “Mrs Swindell’s Picture’, “Going to the Match 1946”, “The Lake”, and Lowry’s original sketch for “Going to the Match 1953”. I think it’s fair to say that this little lot cost quite a significant sum, and as it stands today, have probably increased significantly in value. All purchased with PFA funds, and this together with other “investments” that they hold.

I am appalled that monies like this can be expended on this kind of investment, yet the PFA can only expend paltry sums of monies in funding long awaited research (their first attempt was a complete disaster) into dementia and football. It’s time they took their head out of the sand, stopped passing the buck on the subject of dementia, and started doing the honorable thing (together with the FA, PL and FL) – providing the necessary foundation money so that facilities for the respite and care of their members and ex-members can be built and funded, and give peace of mind to the families who have suffered so much trying to look after and care for their loved ones.

Oh! And by the way Mr. Taylor, how about you and Mr. Bramhall donating a percentage of your salary to the project as well?

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