Martin Smith: Football demential issue needs tackling to safeguard our kids

Jeff Astle
Jeff Astle
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Industrial disease.

We know about pneumoconiosis, asbestosis, lead poisoning and hatters made mad by fumes from the mercury they used to turn fur into felt.

We can add chronic traumatic encephalopathy to that list.

The football heroes that baby-boomers grew up worshipping are coming to the end of their time now.

Big John Ritchie, John Tudor, Derek Dougan, Jeff Astle, Denis Law, the ‘kings’ of the 60s and 70s, character goalscorers who fuelled our football fantasies with their piratical panache.

Some have age-related illnesses because it’s simply their time but others are dying because they headed a football too often.

Former England striker Alan Shearer delivered the latest bulletin in his Sunday night BBC programme on dementia in footballers.

The death of ex West Brom striker Jeff Astle at the age of 58 from the ‘industrial disease’ in 2002 should have been a serious wake up call.

But it wasn’t.

Astle’s family have campaigned since to get CTE recognised as an industrial illness in football.

Jeff Astle

Jeff Astle

The degenerative plight of well-paid footballers can’t really be compared to horrors suffered by Victorian ‘match girls’ whose bones would glow green as they rotted from long-term exposure to the white phosperous used to make matches.

But match girls don’t die from that any more, we put an end to it.

Will we have the guts and the evidence to eventually ban the heading of a football?

If it’s a preventable industrial disease shouldn’t we be protecting our kids from growing up thinking that repeated moderate head trauma is normal? Yes we should.

Heading a ball is banned in the US for under 10s and restricted in older age groups.


Maybe, but the key thing is that we don’t know.

More people are getting dementia partly because we are living long enough to get it. But there may be more to it than that.

Many sneer, dismiss such namby-pamby talk and quote players’ love of the game and the money they made. But no amount of ex-footballer’s money can buy their brains back.

And what about the rest of us who headed a ball two days a week instead of six?

We need to know more and the players union, the Premier League and the FA need to step up NOW to fund research.