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CHRIS SUTTON: Footballers keep dying from dementia and it must be the PFA’s priority

Imagine my surprise when reading your defence of the PFA’s work on dementia in football in yesterday’s Daily Mail to discover that we speak about this issue.

You suggested we have some sort of ongoing conversation, and that’s news to me.

‘I speak to Chris Sutton who tells me we’ve got to do more and I say we’ll do whatever we can,’ you said in your interview.

What a load of bull. You phoned me once, around 2018. Other than that, nothing. I’d more than welcome a debate with you, in these pages, or on television, or on radio. For now, I’d like to take you up on the points you made yesterday.

Chris Sutton has issued a letter of response to PFA chairman Gordon Taylor over dementia

Sutton says he was shocked to read that they had an ongoing conversation over the disease

Sutton says he was shocked to read that they had an ongoing conversation over the disease

‘People get it who never played football,’ you said about dementia, before flimsily branding it a ‘worldwide issue’.

You’re completely missing the point. The point is a landmark study last year proved former footballers are three and a half times more likely to develop dementia, like Sir Bobby Charlton now has.

The point is that Dr Willie Stewart found they are five times more likely to die of Alzheimer’s, four times more likely to die of Motor Neurone Disease and at a doubled risk of Parkinson’s.

The point is there is a direct link between football and brain injury. The point is that men like my dad, Mike, are dying in the most degrading of ways because of this.

We’re not talking about dementia the ‘worldwide issue’ — we’re talking about dementia and its connection to the sport in which you’re the head of the players’ union.

I welcome the news that the PFA is ready to regard dementia in football as an industrial disease. That is if your organisation means it, of course, because the coroner’s verdict on Jeff Astle was ignored in 2002. It was found Astle, who died at the age of 59, had a brain similar to that of a boxer and that heading the ball ultimately killed him.

‘We helped the family,’ you said of the Astles yesterday. ‘We helped Jeff when he was living.’

The topic has come back to life following the news that Sir Bobby Charlton has dementia

The topic has come back to life following the news that Sir Bobby Charlton has dementia

I think you’ll find his daughter, Dawn, disagrees, and for you to refer to these families who only want the best for their loved ones as ‘these people’ was disrespectful. Alan Jarvis died at the age of 76 in December 2019. His death certificate now states he died from an industrial disease.

His former profession? Football, having played for Hull City and represented Wales at international level. A coroner doing his job, delivering an expert verdict based on evidence, found the beautiful game was behind his death. The PFA cannot take news of that link lightly. Not like it did with Astle in 2002.

This issue has now been brought back to national attention following the death of Nobby Stiles, and the news this week of Sir Bobby Charlton’s dementia diagnosis. But there are countless others suffering, too. Others who did not represent their country but were servants of their clubs and now feel forgotten about.

Chris Chilton was a legend of Hull — he remains their record goalscorer — and his family have set up a GoFundMe page in a bid to afford 24-hour care. The public have given generously, raising more than £30,000. But when care homes can cost £1,000 a week, that money only goes so far. Chris’s son, Gary, fears he will have to sell his home to pay for his father’s care, and that’s wrong.

The news about Sir Bobby came days after the death of Nobby Stiles who also had dementia

The news about Sir Bobby came days after the death of Nobby Stiles who also had dementia

Where’s the help from the PFA? It’s now been more than a year since the findings from Dr Stewart’s study landed on your desk. And yet, we have former footballers and families struggling, sons selling homes to look after fathers, wives exhausted while they care for husbands all day every day.

Where’s the support for those who used to play? Where’s the protection for those who play now? The PFA and FA need to work together. Is the concussion protocol all it can be?

Heading among Under 12s has been banned, but does a 13-year-old need to be practising heading? Does a 14-year-old, who may not go on to make it as a pro, need his head being peppered with footballs by a coach?

Does a Premier League centre back need to practise heading as much as he does? As a former centre forward, I’d head hundreds of balls in training a week in preparation for the big day at Celtic Park — and I’d be lying if I said that thought does not frighten me now.

I wish I’d had the choice back then, if only a study had been started sooner than 2018. I have no doubt in my mind that in 10, 20, 30 years’ time, we will have former footballers dying from dementia.

This needs to be made a top priority of the union. You should be ashamed it hasn’t been already. The PFA says it is there to ‘protect’ players, past and present. Do that now.

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk


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