Heartbroken families hit back at PFA claims that dementia suffers are supported

PFA assistant chief executive Simon Barker told the BBC this week that the players’ union cares for each and every former footballer struggling with dementia. 

That made the blood boil of several families and was branded ‘fake news’ by Chris Sutton and John Stiles in these pages. 

Sportsmail’s Kieran Gill recounts the heartbreaking stories of three former players, as told by their loved ones. We’ll let our readers decide whether they received the care they deserved.


I’ll be haunted for ever after seeing my loved one living a nightmare. John was 18 when he became a professional footballer and he was in the game until 65, when he retired. 

He was a defender, a coach, a manager (Huddersfield 1977), an assistant and a physiotherapist. We decided to go to the doctor when John was 69 but at least two years before that, I knew what it was. John died aged 76 in March.

For a while, he was very loving. Then he went manic. Hours and hours of going through cupboards and drawers, banging about, lights on, lights off, doors open, doors closed, up and down all night. He didn’t know what he was doing. Clearly, he didn’t like me interfering. I used to have to go into the shower with him and he’d be batting me. It’s horrendous, and it was around that time that I spoke to the PFA.

John Haselden had a long career in football, pictured here as a physio for Notts County

I wasn’t ringing to ask for anything. I was ringing because I felt they should know. They said: ‘We’re sorry to hear this. If you need any help, let us know.’

I asked: ‘What kind of help are you talking about?’

They said: ‘We could get you a week’s respite care.’

I wasn’t ready for that. The thought of John going into respite horrified me. They asked me if I was claiming everything I needed to claim. I was sent a booklet, which was no use to me whatsoever and that was the end of that.

I continued on until John got so bad I was told he was far further down his dementia than I realised and social services were called. They came and were supposed to do a two-hour assessment.

They’d only been in the house five minutes when they decided he shouldn’t be here at all because he was a risk to himself and to me. He was out of control, the poor man.

I got John into a very good home. He was in for a week when they called to say they couldn’t keep him. Their words were: ‘We don’t know what kind of dementia he’s got but we’ve never come across anybody like this before.’

This was a very good and kind home, too. It nearly broke me, seeing him like that. They called social services and John was sectioned. He was in hospital for five months. It was awful. They told me he wouldn’t be able to come home.

They asked me: ‘How have you coped with him this long?’ I just said: ‘Well, because I love him.’

I’d spoken to Dr Willie Stewart and, when John died in March, I donated his brain. I always knew it was from football that John got dementia. I’ve got all his press cuttings from when he was a player, all his accidents and injuries.

He broke his skull on the pitch. It’s annoyed me more than words can tell you, trying to get people to listen to me and to understand. 

The PFA have shown complete disregard and cowardice. They knew a lot more than I did, how many former footballers were suffering. I hope that they are brought to task. They should be answerable. There has been no compassion. 

This is a public health issue and it has been covered up for too long. I’ve got my own charity — Together We Can — For Dementia — and have raised around £45,000, because I’m passionate about it. My husband kept fit, didn’t retire until 65, but he’s lost his life. 

He never knew that he could get dementia. But they did.


Dad played professional football from the age of 15, debuting for Shelbourne in Ireland and going on to play for Ipswich and Birmingham City, among others.

Dad was a very gentle man off the pitch. On it, he had that competitive streak in him. Mum remembers a time when Dad was blind in one eye for the whole second half of a match and they didn’t take him off until the end. In those days, they played on.

Later they took him to hospital. After retiring at 32, Dad started to have memory loss. He became agitated and confused. There was a complete personality change. His behaviour became more and more erratic. At 57, he had a stroke, and we were told it was cerebrovascular disease (a neurological problem).

That was in 1999 so in 2000, I wrote to the PFA asking for help to try to get Dad a mobility scooter. I wrote to Gordon Taylor, because he was actually a contemporary of Dad’s — they played together at Birmingham — so I thought he would have been compassionate towards an old colleague.

They got me to fill out a form, which I did. I never heard anything back. Three years later, when Dad’s condition had deteriorated yet again, we tried with them and again, they asked me to fill out a form, which I did and sent off and heard nothing back.

Tommy Carroll seen in action for Birmingham City - memory loss soon followed once he retired from football and several strokes occurred in later life

Tommy Carroll seen in action for Birmingham City – memory loss soon followed once he retired from football and several strokes occurred in later life

In the meantime I also wrote to the Irish FA, as he’d won 17 caps for them (1968-73). They sorted Dad out a mobility scooter.

They stepped up. They were lovely and treated him with the respect he deserved. They sent somebody to check on him and continued to ask about his wellbeing. It was just such a different experience.

After that, he then had more strokes and ended up in full-time care in 2005. He was in care for 15 years before passing away in August. He has since had a diagnosis from Dr Willie Stewart of CTE.

Dr Stewart did say it was bad, and that it was all over. It’s tragic, because when you think back, he was 20 years unwell, but there were 10 years before that when his behaviour was not the normal behaviour of our lovely dad. 

It was an awful long time to be suffering. I wrote to the PFA in 2000, so there were people 20 years ago bringing this problem to their attention.


We donated Dad’s brain to Dr Willie Stewart when he passed away last year. It was a decision we made as a family, after seeing him suffer as he did. Dad loved Mum, his family and friends so much, and used to forever say to us: ‘Oh it’s my head, isn’t it? It’s heading the ball that’s done this, isn’t it?’

This was early on in his dementia, when he could sense something was wrong. Dad developed symptoms in his early 70s and passed away in June 2019 at 83, so it was a long battle. He spent the final two years of his life in a nursing home because it got so bad that he needed one-to-one care, 24/7.

In his prime, Dad was a goal-scorer for Port Vale, Tranmere and Halifax before emigrating to Australia to play professionally over there. Football was his passion. He never made any money from it. He did what he did for the love of the game.

Graham Barnett's brain was donated to science and the effects of his condition were seen

Graham Barnett’s brain was donated to science and the effects of his condition were seen

Dawn Astle (daughter of Jeff) has been a superstar in all of this. I cannot speak highly enough of her. I phoned the PFA and gave them Dad’s name, but I didn’t really get much joy there. It was a case of: ‘Well, you know, lots of people get dementia…’ I never bothered ringing back, and they never rang me back.

I wasn’t going to get anywhere with them, so I just focused on making sure Dad was OK. But Dawn has been so supportive. She has so much time for you and at Dad’s funeral, we asked people to donate to the Jeff Astle Foundation.

After football, Dad did lots of different jobs — he got bored quickly! But he fell on hard times and started struggling. Dad was sectioned and taken into Harplands Hospital, which is local to Stoke-on-Trent, and for mental illnesses. He had lost three stone in three weeks on his initial separation from Mum when he went into emergency respite, which was heartbreaking.

He was so anxious and frightened. In the end, after his dementia diagnosis, he needed full-time care. Because we didn’t have money, we were fortunate in that it was fully-funded. Yet other families are being forced to eat away at their savings, with no help.

If the PFA could help some of the families of former footballers out there, that would be massive. Dad would never have not played football but it’s important to raise awareness for the younger people of today. They now have a choice.

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