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‘Dirty secret’ Family of West Bromwich Albion legend call for inquiry after dementia and football study results


The family of West Bromwich Albion legend Jeff Astle has called for a public inquiry into football’s “dirty secret” after a landmark study revealed former players were three times more likely to die of dementia.

Known affectionately by Baggies fans as The King, Astle was only 59 years old when he died of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a brain disease more commonly associated with boxers.

Astle was one of the club’s greatest ever strikers and scored many of his 174 goals in Albion stripes with his head.

Jeff’s daughter Dawn and widow Laraine have long campaigned for football to investigate links between heading footballs and the onset of brain disorders in later life.

Only now, nearly 18 years after his death and after countless calls from the families of thousands of ex-players suffering with brain disease, has independent research been completed.

And the results are chillingly conclusive.

 

 

 

Led by the University of Glasgow and funded by the FA and PFA, the FIELD study researched more than 7,000 former Scottish players and found they were three and a half times more at risk of dying from neurodegenerative disease than the general population.

Speaking to the Birmingham Mail, Dawn described the findings as “absolutely shocking” and said: “We think there should be a full parliamentary inquiry into this now.

“The link is there, it’s been proven. But we want to know what football has known about it for perhaps decades and decades.

“What did they know? Who knew it? What did they do about it? That’s what we need to get to the bottom of now – to make sure it hasn’t been a dirty secret as such.

“God forbid, if anything likes happens in the future again, it’s not down to a family like ours – a family that should have been grieving for a husband, a father, a granddad – to have to take on the responsibility for it because of the failings of authorities that didn’t take action.

“The players who have died and those living in care homes should not be a statistic. They should never be forgotten and on the conscience of the game forever.”

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Led by Dr Willie Stewart, the neuropathologist who found the cause of death to be CTE when he re-examined Jeff Astle’s brain in 2014, the study also looked into rates of other brain diseases in ex-players against a general population sample of 23,000 people.

Dr Stewart said: “This analysis revealed that risk ranged from a fivefold increase in Alzheimer’s disease, through an approximately fourfold increase in motor neurone disease, to a twofold Parkinson’s disease in former professional footballers compared to population controls.”

FA chairman Greg Clarke described the research project, which stands for Football’s Influence on Lifelong Health and Dementia Risk, as the “most comprehensive study” of its kind, but said the game must “recognise this is only the start of our understanding and there are many questions that still need to be answered.”

“It is important the global football family now unites to find the answers and provide a greater understanding of this complex issue,” he said. “The FA is committed to doing all it can to make that happen.”

But the FA’s Football and Medical Advisory Group has said there is insufficient evidence to recommend changes to the game – a move slammed by the Astle family.

PFA chief executive Gordon Taylor, who Dawn has previously accused of failing the Astle family and thousands more, said it was “incumbent on football globally to address this issue in a comprehensive and united manner.”

He added: “Research must continue to answer more specific questions about what needs to be done to identify and reduce risk factors.”





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