The Professional Footballers’ Association have taken major steps towards addressing the sport’s dementia scandal.
In a victory for Sportsmail’s campaign – but more importantly in a significant move which could help those in dire need – football’s trade union announced measures aimed at assisting the large number of former players with cruel, neurodegenerative diseases.
A wide-ranging statement, released by the PFA on Thursday night, answered several of the demands this publication made when it launched its drive in November. A dedicated dementia department is to be created, and the PFA will fight harder to have brain degeneration in footballers defined as an industrial disease.
Dawn Astle is being appointed in advisory role by the Professional Footballers’ Association as they take a major step towards tackling dementia in football, a campaign led by Sportsmail
Her father Jeff (right) was the first footballer to be diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) – a type of dementia associated with repeated head impacts – following his death
Sportsmail have also called on the union to fund respite care for those looking after sufferers.
That will be one of the key areas Dawn Astle, daughter of the late West Bromwich striker Jeff and a supporter of our campaign, will examine after the PFA announced that she is being appointed in an advisory role for an initial six months.
We have also called on the union to fund regular social events for people living with dementia and their carers. They are now to work with clubs nationally to ‘help create dementia-friendly environments and activity groups’.
Chris Sutton, the driving force behind our campaign, described the move as ‘excellent news at last’. He added: ‘This is welcomed with open arms. My only complaint can be how long it’s taken to come to fruition.’
John Stiles, son of England World Cup winner Nobby who passed away in October after suffering from dementia, voiced ‘cautious optimism’. And Dr Willie Stewart, who was instrumental in the drafting of Sportsmail’s seven-point charter and whose research has identified an increased risk of neurodegenerative diseases among footballers, described the development as ‘great news’.
Chris Sutton’s father, Mike (left), passed away on Boxing Day after a long battle with dementia
England World Cup winner and Manchester United legend Nobby Stiles passed away recently after suffering a battle with dementia following his playing career
Former footballers and MP’s had taken Sportsmail’s dementia campaign to the Government
Dawn Astle will be joined by Rachel Walden, whose father, the former Portsmouth wing-half Rod Taylor, was the second British footballer after Jeff Astle to be diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) following his death at the age of 74 in 2018. CTE is a type of dementia associated with repeated head impacts.
Astle and Walden will examine areas including the protection of current players. Sportsmail wants a reduction of heading in training, something the PFA now backs. The care of former players will be examined closely, with the pair given a ‘remit to scope a dedicated department within the PFA’.
The PFA says it wants a ‘global strategy for dealing with dementia and neurodegenerative diseases in football’ and will lobby FIFPRO, the world players’ association, for change.
Immediate assistance is being offered to those in need via a helpline. ‘Actions speak louder than words,’ said Dawn Astle. ‘But I’ve been encouraged and it’s now time for the PFA to act. This is a start.’
She believes staff for a dementia department could be in place within two months.
‘We want them in different areas of the country so people can get support wherever they are,’ she explained. Dawn will also push hard for vital respite care. ‘I don’t like limits,’ she said.
‘One family might need an afternoon off here and there, but another might be really struggling and need 16 weeks. Why should they not get that?’
United and England icon Sir Bobby Charlton (right) was diagnosed with dementia late last year
She hailed the role played by Sportsmail and PFA chairman Ben Purkiss, whose explosive interview with this newspaper triggered the review that will see much-maligned PFA chief Gordon Taylor depart in June.
‘Without a doubt the campaign from the Daily Mail has been a tremendous help,’ said Dawn.
‘People have also asked me if the independent review made a difference and, if that is the case, we have to be extremely grateful to Ben for what he did.’
Sutton added: ‘Over the coming months, I hope to see real change. From protecting current players to looking after the old ones and their families, these are positive steps being taken.’
Stiles said: ‘It comes as no surprise that this has happened after the Mail’s campaign and the pending regime change (at the PFA). It seems positive but we await action and real change.’
PFA chief Gordon Taylor once admitted he did not know how many of the PFA’s 50,000 members were sufferers of dementia, during an interview with Alan Shearer
Dr Stewart, who found clear evidence that repeated heading of the ball triggered Nobby Stiles’ dementia, added: ‘This is great news. It’s very encouraging and I hope it translates into action.’
PFA assistant chief executive Simon Barker said: ‘The PFA have publicly committed to improving the support provisions for families living with dementia and other neurodegenerative diseases. This is a first and essential step in trying to provide a comprehensive and holistic service.’
Sportsmail’s campaign also calls for temporary concussion substitutes and for more research. The PFA and FA have already agreed to keep funding Dr Stewart’s research for another year.
As well as monitoring the PFA’s response, this publication will still press for more to be done.
The PFA’s dementia helpline number is 0800 048 9560.