Sportsmail’s Chris Sutton and John Stiles – son of England World Cup winner Nobby – have slammed the Professional Footballers’ Association and branded comments from them regarding football’s dementia scandal as ‘just not true’.
In what is a damning indictment that ramps up pressure on the current regime, Sutton has decided he will not join the PFA dementia taskforce, while Stiles has called on PFA chief executive Gordon Taylor to step down.
Sutton said he had now come to the conclusion that the planned taskforce was just a ‘time-buying PR exercise’ and added that he would have no part of it in its current guise.
Chris Sutton believes that the PFA’s dementia taskforce is just a ‘time-buying PR exercise’
The former Celtic, Blackburn and Norwich striker’s father Mike (right) is battling dementia
Former Celtic, Blackburn and Norwich striker, whose dad Mike, a former player, has dementia, and Stiles, the ex-Leeds United defender whose father died last month after suffering from the disease, have been left infuriated by the claims – made by PFA assistant chief executive Simon Barker to the BBC on Tuesday.
Barker said his colleagues had spoken to Stiles and claimed no family who had approached the PFA for support had been turned down.
Simon Barker’s comments on Tuesday infuriated Chris Sutton and John Stiles
That does not tally with testimonies this newspaper has heard from a number of families who have cared for loved ones suffering from neurodegenerative illnesses.
Sutton told Sportsmail: ‘Barker’s comments made my blood boil. They sum up what the PFA is. It’s actually fake news. They can’t substantiate what they are saying.
‘He (Barker) claimed they had never turned down a request for support from a family. Are they for real? Has he spoken to the people who have been telling their stories to us? Mark Phoenix, son of the late Peter (a dementia sufferer), who called a 5 Live phone-in in tears of frustration?’
On the working group, Sutton added: ‘How on earth can I sit on a taskforce with these people? The families can see through all of this. Sportsmail launched its campaign more than a week ago and it feels like the PFA are just paying lip service.
‘The working group, sadly, will change nothing. The more I have heard about it, the more it appears to be a face-saving, time-buying PR exercise. There should be a fully independent review into the actions of the PFA towards those suffering with dementia and their families going back a long time. This should not be something carried out internally.
‘I have seen some of the names that are on the list. John Bramhall, Simon Barker, Brendon Batson. These are people who have been at the PFA for decades. What has happened has happened on their watch. They are part of the problem. I do want to work with the PFA, but I can’t do that when it is in its current format.
‘There desperately needs to be regime change and I hope it is coming. If the new regime, if it ever arrives, wants to tackle this then I am happy to speak to them.’
John Stiles (back) said he has not been contacted by the PFA since his father, Nobby (front), passed away
World Cup hero Stiles (right) died last month at the age of 78 after a battle with dementia
Others who have been approached to join the group, including respected campaigners, are now considering their positions, leaving it in serious danger of collapse.
Stiles, 56, said: ‘I have not been contacted since my father died. This is absolute, utter nonsense – it’s just not true.’
Barker had told the BBC: ‘There has been a lot done in this area. I’ve spoken to Dawn (Astle, daughter of Jeff) and my colleagues have spoken to John (Stiles) and we need to take on board any criticism. We need to adapt and change and improve.
‘When I hear that criticism, it hurts me and my colleagues because I know how much we care.
‘We have never turned down any family in terms of support, and definitely not in respect of research, only where it conflicted with other research programmes that were already funded.’
Stiles, who is also backing Sportsmail’s campaign for football to tackle its dementia crisis, branded Barker’s words ‘highly misleading’ and added it was ‘simply not true’ that the PFA had been in touch.
‘He also claimed that the PFA “have never turned down any family in terms of support”,’ Stiles added. ‘This is completely untrue. He also indicated that the PFA can only help players that seek help. This is again untrue.’
PFA chief executive Gordon Taylor has been urged to step down from his position by Stiles
Stiles added: ‘The recent death of my dad and the campaigning of Chris Sutton and the Astle family has resulted in a much greater awareness of the failure of the PFA to discharge its duty to the older players. The cynical reaction of the PFA to the resulting outcry with its sudden support for (research leader) Doctor Willie Stewart, its “dementia taskforce” and calls for reduction in heading all indicate a leadership team completely unfit for purpose. As usual, they seek to delay and avoid addressing the fundamental issues.’
Stiles then switched his attention to Taylor and his leadership team, and called for changes demanded in this newspaper by PFA chair Ben Purkiss back in 2018 to finally be implemented.
‘This cannot be allowed to continue,’ Stiles said. ‘I have no confidence that the PFA’s current leadership team can address the scandal of which they are responsible. I call on the Premier League, the Football Association, the Trade Union Congress, The Charity Commission (which is probing the PFA’s charity arm) and the Department for Digital, Media, Culture and Sport to support the requisite changes at the PFA.
‘Older players like my dad are dying with no or completely inadequate support whilst their union can afford to pay its chief executive £2.2m per annum and has over £40m in available funds. The PFA is now a byword for scandal and I call on the chief executive and his leadership team to resign so that the union can start to address its failings. The review process began through the diligence and persistence of Ben Purkiss needs to be completed as a matter of urgency.’
Earlier on Tuesday, Stiles told Irish radio station newstalk: ‘There is a cancer in football of denial and defence. It has to be cut out. These players need help and they need it now.’