Football Association to Lead Study into Brain Disease in Footballers

Jeff Astle in action for West Bromwich Albion v Fulham in 1966

Jeff Astle in action for West Bromwich Albion v Fulham in 1966

The Football Association will lead a study into possible links between football and brain diseases.

The family of former England, West Brom and Notts County striker Jeff Astle has campaigned for research since he died from brain trauma in 2002.  A coroner described his illness as an “industrial disease,” in reference to him heading leather balls.

The FA said it was working with the Professional Footballers’ Association to secure funding for the research.  It said it had been in talks with organisations, including FIFA, since 2014 but wanted to press on with the research and it had “now been agreed that solely UK-based research could give us an opportunity to work with other sports.”

  • Ex-England, West Brom and Notts County striker Jeff Astle died aged 59 in 2002
  • He had been diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s, but a doctor who examined his preserved brain in 2014 said he had chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) – a condition normally linked to boxers
  • An inquest in 2002 found that repeatedly heading heavy leather footballs had caused trauma to his brain, and the coroner recorded a verdict of death by industrial disease
  • His family started the Justice for Jeff campaign in 2014 and The Jeff Astle Foundation in April 2015 to raise awareness of brain injury in sport
  • Dawn Astle said her father would not have wanted heading to be banned, but wants players to make an informed choice

The possible dangers of heading footballs, especially older heavier designs, were brought to light following the death of Mr Astle aged 59 in 2002.

Mr Astle’s daughter, Dawn, who set up the Justice for Jeff campaign group in 2014, said families of other players and football supporters had been in touch about other potential cases and she was unhappy about the delay in starting the research.

“This could be the most important research the game has ever done so it’s ridiculous that they can’t just get on with it,” she said.

“It’s a shocking failure and disrespectful to the families of players who are living with dementia, stripped of their dignity.”

Dr Michael Grey, from the University of Birmingham, said football authorities “should be leading the way” in commissioning more independent research.

He said, “This important issue has a dearth of good science and a great deal of unfounded opinion.”

Earlier this year it was revealed four members of England’s 1966 World Cup squad are living with dementia.  Martin Peters, Nobby Stiles and Ray Wilson have all been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and Jack Charlton has admitted he is suffering from memory loss.

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