Sir Geoff Hurst says training sessions where footballers head ‘up to 30 balls in half an hour’ are worse for the brain than matches as dementia crisis sweeps his 1966 World Cup-winning teammates
- Sir Geoff, 78, said regular heading contributed to players developing Alzheimer’s
- Bobby Charlton, brother Jack, Ray Wilson, Martin Peters and Nobby Stiles had it
- Former England striker Jeff Astle died in 2002 at 59 due to trauma from heading
- FIELD study found players were at heightened risk of neurodegenerative disease
Sir Geoff Hurst has backed a ban on children heading footballs after sweeping dementia diagnoses and deaths among his 1966 World Cup-winning squad.
The football legend, 78, said heading ‘up to 30 balls in half an hour’ in training contributed to a number of players from his era developing Alzheimer’s.
Sir Bobby Charlton, brother Jack, Ray Wilson, Martin Peters and Nobby Stiles have had the disease, and Jack, Wilson, Peters and Stiles all died in the last few years.
Former England striker Jeff Astle died in 2002 aged 59 because of repeated trauma from heading footballs, described by a coroner as an ‘industrial injury’.
It comes after the FIELD study – funded by the FA and PFA – last year found players were at a significantly heightened risk of developing neurodegenerative diseases.
Sir Bobby Charlton, brother Jack, Ray Wilson, Martin Peters and Nobby Stiles have had the disease, and Jack, Wilson, Peters and Stiles all died in the last few years
Former England striker Jeff Astle died in 2002 aged 59 because of repeated trauma from heading footballs, described by a coroner as an ‘industrial injury’
Sir Geoff told the Mirror: ‘There seems to be a particular group of people who were suffering.
‘I go back to my practice days at West Ham, we had a ball hanging from the ceiling, we would head it for 20 minutes.
‘Then we’d play head tennis in the gym and, in the practice on the field, we’d be practising near post, far post headers, and you could head 20 or 30 balls in the space of half an hour.’
Sir Geoff said a ban on kids heading the ball ‘would be a very strong and sensible suggestion’.
‘I think stopping at that young age, when the brain has not matured, must be looked at.’
He added: ‘I don’t think it would destroy the enjoyment of kids’ football or grassroots football.’
Sir Geoff also told the paper he would ‘absolutely’ be willing to donate his brain to dementia research after his death.
His comments follow the FA saying it holds a ‘clear and unwavering commitment’ to battle dementia.
Stiles’s family had hit out at a failure to ‘address the scandal’ of the illness in the game, with his funeral and cremation taking place in Manchester last week.
The family of Nobby Stiles have called on the PFA to do more to help suffering former players
Stiles’ family have thanked those who cared for him but hit out at the PFA’s lack of support
On Tuesday, the family issued a statement which said there was ‘a need for urgent action’ and that older players had ‘largely been forgotten’, with many in ill-health.
The FA maintains more collaboration is needed across football’s governing bodies to help better understand the issue.
The FA said: ‘Dementia is a debilitating disease across wider society, which places extraordinary emotional and physical burdens on people living with dementia, their families, and those close to them.
‘The FA has helped to lead the way in ground-breaking research into the links between football and we have a clear and unwavering commitment, both financially and with resource, to support objective, robust and thorough research going forward.
‘This area of work will be a key part of The FA’s 2020-24 Strategy as we recognise the importance of this issue.
‘Collaboration across football’s governing bodies is key in order to better understand this important issue collectively, and we firmly believe that all areas of football should come together for this meaningful cause.’
The Stiles family have been approached for further comment.
England manager Gareth Southgate has stressed the importance of continuing research into the issue.
England manager Gareth Southgate has stressed the importance of continuing research into the issue
Asked if heading could be banned in the future, he replied: ‘Who knows what the future might hold?
‘I think it is important, with children’s football especially, we are careful when that (heading) is introduced and the neck muscles have to be strong enough.
‘We don’t want any risks taken and there will be ongoing research I am sure – the frustration for everybody is that it isn’t quite clear at the moment so we have to keep investigating.
‘I think in terms of what is happening research is continuing and I know that the initial study threw up certain observations and there is a desire to look at other groups who have played in the past and get a better understanding of what the initial studies threw up.’
Enough is ENOUGH: Sportsmail launches campaign to tackle football’s dementia scandal with a call for immediate action amid a growing number of former players affected by brain disease
- Sportsmail has started a campaign to finally tackle football’s dementia scandal
- We have announced a seven-point charter for the FA to address immediately
- Five of the 1966 World Cup winning team has been diagnosed with dementia
- Sportsmail columnist Chris Sutton is at the forefront of the campaign
Sportsmail launches a campaign for football to finally tackle its dementia scandal.
In conjunction with Alzheimer’s Society’s Sport United Against Dementia, we are calling for meaningful action to battle the disease.
Sportsmail are announcing a seven-point charter for the Football Association, Professional Footballers’ Association and the game’s governing bodies to address immediately.
Sportsmail launches a campaign for football to finally tackle its dementia scandal
The campaign comes after the diagnoses of ex-footballers such as Sir Bobby Charlton (above)
Our wide-ranging campaign asks for further funding into crucial research around football’s link to the disease and for lawmakers to ratify temporary concussion replacements.
The 28 players you see above are just some of the footballers who have died or been diagnosed with dementia.
Studies have found that those who played the game professionally are 3.5 times more likely to die from neurodegenerative disease than the general population. It is a shocking statistic that needs to be addressed urgently.
Sportsmail columnist Chris Sutton is at the forefront of our campaign, having courageously spoken about how his father Mike, also a former footballer, is dying of dementia.
Chris Sutton (left) is leading the campaign and has spoken about his father Mike’s struggles
‘It wipes you out as a person and leaves a blank page,’ Sutton says. ‘I visit him and he doesn’t know who I am. He can’t talk or feed himself. My dad and countless others have been let down.’
Our plan has been developed with the assistance of Sutton and leading neuropathologist Dr Willie Stewart. Dr Stewart’s FIELD study identified the increased risk of footballers suffering brain disease and his research is ongoing.
There were concerns that the PFA and FA were to stop funding the project in March of next year.
But in a victory for Sportsmail’s campaign on Monday night, just hours after being contacted for comment the PFA announced they would continue to meet Stewart’s costs.
The campaign asks for more research into the link between football’s link to dementia
Sutton has teamed up with leading neuropathologist Dr Willie Stewart (above) in the campaign
This news took Stewart by surprise as he had received no correspondence from the PFA.
Also among our demands is a call on the PFA to appoint a dedicated ‘dementia team’ to deal with concerns of those connected to the game and to help fund Alzheimer’s Society’s Dementia Connect support line.
We ask the PFA to start providing respite for families and carers of former footballers and explore funding regular social events for those living with dementia and their carers.
We are also calling on clubs to limit heading at all levels, including professional. After speaking to Dr Stewart, Sportsmail recommends a maximum of 20 headers per session in training and a minimum of 48 hours between sessions.
Dawn Astle, the daughter of Jeff, whose death in 2002 was ruled by a coroner to have been as a result of heading footballs, joins us in calling for dementia to be ruled as an industrial disease.
ENOUGH IS ENOUGH: SPORTSMAIL’S CAMPAIGN TO TACKLE DEMENTIA
EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: ‘He’s a shell, he can’t get up… he’s just lying in a nappy’: Chris Sutton opens up to Martin Samuel on his former footballer dad’s battle with dementia and how the game is turning a blind eye
JOSEPHINE SUTTON: The specialist said my husband Mike had severe brain damage caused by heading footballs… if he had any realisation of what dementia has reduced him to now, I know he would feel humiliated
MARTIN SAMUEL: Headaches after just eight games? Thiago Silva’s revelation about ‘non-stop aerial duels’ should have set alarm bells ringing… is it too much to ask to explore this conversation to its logical end?
EXCLUSIVE: Football could soon be FORCED to introduce rules to tackle the risk of brain injury by the Government as MP admits he is ‘amazed’ that authorities have not faced a lawsuit over inaction
EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: ‘It was fury that drove me at the start’: Tireless campaigner Dawn Astle, daughter of former West Brom forward Jeff, wants brain degeneration in footballers to be declared an industrial disease
RICHARD THOMPSON – SURREY CHAIRMAN: Dementia is Britain’s biggest killer and something must be done… the cost of care, support and helping people must be a priority
Dawn Astle (above) joins Sportsmail in calling for dementia to be ruled as an industrial disease
MPs joined in last night by warning football’s governing bodies that they face legislation forcing the sport to tackle the risk of brain injury among players, having been ‘knowingly negligent’ for years.
Kate Lee, chief executive at Alzheimer’s Society, said: ‘It’s fantastic to see the Daily Mail launching such an important campaign to help get answers where dementia is concerned.
‘We want to see much more research into the links between dementia and football. Until then, we have set up Sport United Against Dementia to spearhead change by making sure that the very best support is available to all sportspeople.
‘We are calling for clubs and bodies like the PFA and FA to work with us to ensure that past and present players, families and also fans affected by dementia get the help they need, through our Dementia Advisers and Dementia Connect support line.’ The support line number is 0333 150 3456.
Kate Lee, Alzheimer’s Society CEO, wants to see more research into the links between dementia and football
The FA said in a statement: ‘The FA has helped to lead the way in ground-breaking research into the links between football and dementia.
‘We have made changes to the way the game is played in England, including updated guidance on heading for all age groups between Under 6 and Under 18.’
The PFA said they supported the request that neurodegenerative diseases be prescribed as an industrial disease in ex-professional footballers and said they were part of a taskforce ‘to ensure a co-ordinated approach to research’.
The PFA also said they supported and had lobbied for the introduction of concussion substitutes and were an active member of an FA working party looking into guidance on heading.
With regards to care, the PFA claimed respite care for carers, financial assistance towards provisions such as home improvements, independent benefits advice, counselling provisions for family members and help with care costs were all available, but added that details of such assistance provided were confidential. They added that they were funding a number of research projects.
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