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Old 12th December 2016, 17:44   #1
Join Date: Oct 2004
Location: Houston Texas
Posts: 1,537
Default Lest We Forget Them - The Tragedy of Dementia in Football

Lest We Forget Them – the Tragedy of Dementia in Football

Dementia in any form is a debilitating form of sickness. It is not just a specific disease. It is an overall term which describes a wide range of symptoms associated with the decline in memory or other thinking skills, which is severe enough to reduce a person’s ability to perform every day activities. There are many different forms of dementia, the most common one being Alzheimers Disease, but other forms include Vascular Dementia, Mixed Dementia, Parkinson’s Disease, Frontotemporal Dementia, Creutzfeld – Jakob Disease, Huntington’s Disease, and there are one or two others. Sadly, there is no known cure for Dementia. The life expectancy of a person suffering from Dementia is unpredictable and the disease can progress for up to around ten years.

Losing cognitive skills is a problem most ageing people have. There are also some patients who may suffer from very poor memory or reduced mental abilities as a side-effect of a past or current illness. In many cases people suffer from Alzheimer’s disease gradually. There are 7 stages of dementia that may start without obvious symptoms such as forgetfulness or reduced learning abilities.

On average, people who suffer from Alzheimer’s related dementia usually live for around four and a half years after being diagnosed. There are also other factors that affect dementia life expectancy such as the age of the patient at the time of diagnosis and existing health problems such as heart problems and other serious life-threatening diseases. A few patients may last 10 years or more.

The second stage of this disease may involve minor cognitive decline. Patients may start forgetting where they have placed car keys, their spectacles, and forget names and simple words. At this stage, even friends or relatives will not notice that something is not right. The third phase indicates a mild form of forgetfulness that is noticeable to family members and friends.

The fourth phase involves a moderate decline of cognitive abilities. A medical check-up can reveal the presence of dementia at this stage. Planning dinner or performing simple mathematical tasks such as counting backwards become challenging. The patient may appear subdued during social gatherings. The fifth stage includes symptoms such as forgetting home addresses or the name of the school the patient attended.

The sixth level of Alzheimer’s will involve severe decline in cognitive abilities such as forgetting the name of their spouse. Most parts of their past personal history cannot be remembered. This is the time when Alzheimer symptoms are obvious, even to complete strangers. Common things that a patient may do are wearing underwear over daytime clothes or using mismatched shoes.

The final stages of dementia, the sixth and seventh, are marked with significant loss of bodily functions such as urine incontinence. Patients need help to feed, dress and groom themselves. Personality changes are defined and behaviour is repetitious. This is the point when someone with Alzheimer’s disease tends to get lost and have difficulty recognising their own face.

Dementia life expectancy becomes shorter once the last stage is reached. Symptoms in the seventh stage are severe. Patients will lose the ability to be responsive to their surroundings. They will have difficulty in controlling movements and need help to stand or sit properly. Speech may become unrecognizable, muscles go rigid, and it will be difficult to swallow food and water which leads to malnourishment and decline of general health. Death eventually follows soon afterwards even with proper care.

Because of the intensity of care that may be required to look after a patient, it is often difficult for even the most loving family to provide all the “around the clock” care that a demented relative may need. It is an extremely tiring and time consuming commitment to take on. The knock-on effects of caring for a patient with Dementia and the quality of family life are really serious and they face significant challenges. Family members and friends who do take the challenges on, face considerable long periods of stress. It is not uncommon for a spouse and other family members to feel isolated, and alone, and left to their own devices. They feel that they are dealing with the “unknown” especially when they see their loved one becoming more distant and estranged. It is easy for them to develop feelings of anger, resentment, even guilt and hopelessness. They feel that they have an impossible choice between being utterly overwhelmed or feeling that they are betraying their loved one if they decide to send them to a nursing home. This often leads them to becoming exhausted and depressed. Depression is an extremely common consequence of being a full-time caregiver for a person suffering from Dementia. Undoubtedly, people caring for loved ones with Dementia need professional help, not only with the caregiving, but also for themselves in the task of coping with their own lives. So where am I going with this?

On 19 January 2002, former West Bromwich Albion and England centre-forward Jeff Astle passed away. He was just 59 years of age. When the inquest into his death finished, the Coroner for South Staffordshire, Andrew Haigh, concluded that Astle had died from a degenerative brain disease caused by the constant heading of the heavy, and often wet, old type, leather footballs. His illness was later described as ‘chronic traumatic encephalopathy’ – a disease more common to boxing injuries than football.

At the time he died, he was a broken shell of a man, and he did not even know that he had been a professional footballer, let alone one of the finest of his generation. He could not even remember his wife’s, nor his children or grandchildren’s names, or any of the 174 goals that he had scored in a glittering football career, that included winning five full England international caps. Everything that he had won in the game was sadly taken away from him by it.

Shortly after he died, the Professional Footballers Association in conjunction with the Football Association, confirmed that they would be launching and funding, the FA longitudinal research study, an in depth research study in an attempt to find out the correlation between heading a football and dementia which at that time, they estimated could take some ten years to complete. Some fourteen years on and there have still been no official recordings of that study. In fact, it seems that the study was abandoned after five years and whatever the findings that research uncovered, have been allowed to lie dormant and unpublished in the bowels of both organisations. It is scandalous that this has been allowed to happen.

It appears that four years before Jeff Astle’s death, both the PFA and the FA were aware of the fear that heading the old leather football caused traumatic head injury to players in their later years. In The Independent newspaper dated 21 September 1998, it states that the PFA’s research was being conducted with younger players who were being monitored from the start of their playing careers and would go on for the next 10/15 years. Gordon Taylor, Chief Executive of the PFA, is also quoted as saying, “for the last year or so we have been made aware of this problem and it's one of the projects we are undertaking with the FA medical committee. Now that we have the funds, we have made preparations for our own research. We are taking youngsters coming into the game and monitoring them throughout their careers."

Shortly after Astle’s death, David Davies, then Chief Executive at the Football Association promised the family help. Between the FA and PFA, it seems that they became apathetic to the promises made, and allowed the project to become becalmed. In March 2014, Gordon Taylor is quoted as saying, “there was some difficulties in keeping track of the individuals who were being monitored, but it was completed (the inquiry) although it has never been published.” He went on to add, “this is still very much on the agenda and something we really want to continue. We have had approaches from two hospitals with a view to continuing the studies.”

That is all well and good. But what did those initial study findings reveal? Why have they never been published, and why were the promises to Astle’s family never kept? In my opinion, the PFA and the FA, are so lax in allowing such an emotive subject as the project on dementia to fester and lie dormant. The FA, the PL, and PFA are now trying to throw the responsibility onto FIFA, but there is no chance of that corrupt organization doing anything, nor funding better research.

As for the PFA, they have promised once again, that they are willing to deliver groundbreaking research into dementia. Two years after his last statement on the subject, Gordon Taylor said in June 2016 that his organization is "ready to provide funds to answer whether footballers are suffering disproportionately with degenerative brain disease." When asked whether the PFA was "willing to lead the research if other stakeholders do not step up," Taylor said, “That is our commitment. ... If FIFA are not going to do it, we have got to start taking a lead. Research is fundamental to enable the authorities to be more specific with regards to safeguarding and warnings." So how much progress was made between March 2014 and June 2016? It seems as though once again the subject has been allowed to stagnate and that once again, nothing at all has been done.

There is no doubt that the PFA can easily to afford to fund this much needed research. Back in November 1999, the PFA were sufficiently well off to go to Sotheby’s in London, and purchase at auction, the 1953 Lowry painting, ‘Going to the Match’ for the considerable sum of £1,926, 500. Since then, they have also splashed considerable amounts of money on other memorabilia as well. It saddens me when I hear stories of former ex-players who have, or are, suffering from dementia; particularly those from the 50s and 60s who stood up to be counted when the Player’s Union was fighting its cause for the repealing of a minimum wage structure, and the freedom of contract; now being totally ignored by the very organization who they fought for.

There must be hundreds, if not thousands of old ex-players who have suffered from this horrible, debilitating disease. One case in point was that of Tommy Cavanagh, coach/assistant manager at Manchester United during the reigns of Tommy Docherty, and also assistant to the late Dave Sexton, who later, also suffered dementia and passed away because of it. ‘Cav’ as well as being an assistant manager and coach, was also a leading figure in raising the status of coaches in British football through his work at Lilleshall, and as a PFA member for 40 years, he fought for the right of former players who took a coaching badge to stay within the players' union.

‘Cav,’ a football man all his life, was beset with dementia in 2004, and eventually passed away in March 2007.

As was reported in the Guardian newspaper 23 December 2004;

“Tommy Cavanagh was a football man to the core. The former Manchester United assistant manager now lies in a hospital bed with his mental state deteriorating rapidly. He and his family attribute his condition to his repeated heading of the ball as a player and coach.
"Unfortunately he missed out on today's big salaries and in his hour of need there is no help whatsoever," said his daughter Deborah. "We have inquired about help with respite care and long-term care and have been given a cold shoulder by the PFA [Professional Footballers' Association]."

The PFA has I know, been inundated with requests for financial help over the years, but Taylor claims (Guardian 23 December 2004) that paying out in heading-related cases would bankrupt the union. Families enquiring to the PFA are normally given the same rebuttal – ‘it would set a precedent.’ An enquiry today found out that the PFA says it defines hardship as the possibility of losing one's home due to rent arrears! Taylor actually said;
"The private cost for this kind of treatment is £30,000-£35,000 a year," he said. "For even a thousand former members it would cost us £35m."

It galls me when I read this quote, especially when I think of PFA member’s monies being squandered on paintings and the like, plus Mr Taylor’s own inflated mind boggling salary of some £3.5 million per annum – the highest paid Union Boss in the world! The PFA is a wealthy establishment with monies in several different accounts;

(a) The PFA General Fund. This is where subscription monies go, and also relates to staff expenditure and office and administration costs.

(b) The PFA Accident Fund. Basically provides that all Premier and Football League players are covered for £25,000 under the PFA Accident and Sickness Insurance Scheme should they receive an injury which curtails their football careers.

(c) PFA Enterprises Ltd. This is the commercial arm of the PFA.

There is also the PFA’s Benevolent Fund. This is the fund which is supposed to provide financial assistance for any member or dependent, past or present, who is facing financial hardship. There is also a death benefit payable to the next of kin of any member in the event of his death whilst under contract, up to a maximum of £1million. This fund is run by a Board of Trustees who determine the validity of each individual case. Sadly, it seems that requests from ex-player’s families who are supporting ex-PFA members with dementia, still, continually, do not meet the Trustee’s criteria for assistance, nor receive the Trustee’s compassion!

It is not only the FA and PFA who are culpable in my opinion. So are the Football Clubs themselves. Today’s players, especially in the Premiership are more than recompensed for their efforts. They should go down on their knees and give thanks for the efforts of those old players who stood shoulder to shoulder all those years ago to fight for the benefits that these guys enjoy today. Sadly, the clubs today are out of touch – and by that, I mean the human touch. They could not give a damn. At our own club, we have lost a good number of players to dementia; Johnny Carey, Jack Rowley, Noel Cantwell, Bill Foulkes, and just a few weeks ago, David Herd. I’m sure that there are a few others as well. At present, Albert Quixall, and Nobby Stiles, are fighting the disease, and I hear that both Tony Dunne and Wilf McGuinnes are in the first stages. From England's World Cup winning team, Ray Wilson, Martin Peters, Jack Charlton, and I hear Roger Hunt are also suffering. These are all proud men. Players who gave us so much pleasure, so proud, they would not ask for a penny in charity, but whose families would like some recognition of the difficulties they face caring for their loved ones, and also, for the promises that have been made to them, especially about the research being completed, kept. The clubs, and by that I mean ALL clubs, tend turn a blind eye to these old men, pretend that they are not there. Not even a ‘phone call, card, or good wishes. Sad really, especially when you think back over the years as to how much those clubs have benefitted from these player’s services.

In my old eyes, FIFA, the FA, the Premier League, and the Football League, should be ashamed of themselves. As far as I am concerned, all of them have a moral obligation to fund the research into the correlation between heading the football and dementia. Surely, in this day and age when such vast amounts of money are flooding into the game, and seeing so much of it channeled in the wrong direction, the subject of dementia and its research, should be a top priority. After all, without the players, these organisations are nothing.

The research into Dementia needs to be completed. The coroner after Jeff Astle’s death said that he had died from an industrial injury. Common sense says that there has to be some correlation between heading that old ‘caseball’ and this infernal disease. Thousands of players over the years have suffered this to their end and it’s about time the powers that be finally came clean, did the research, and accepted that these old guys did suffer from industrial injury!

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