Dementia and football: ‘Beautiful game is heading for trouble if we don’t take action now’ - FootballTalk Podcast
Speaking on a special one-off edition of The Yorkshire Post’s Football Talk podcast to look in depth at the issue, Dr Michael Grey said he thought football was still putting business before player welfare in this area.
Dr Grey leads the SCORES project at the University of East Anglia which is one of a number of studies into the subject.
“We can’t wait for conclusive evidence to prove this beyond a shadow of a doubt – that will take years and during the intervening time we’ve got players on the pitch or more importantly players in practice behind closed doors heading the ball, some clubs following the guidelines, some clubs ignoring the guidelines,” he said. “We can’t wait for conclusive evidence, we just need to act now.”
A host of top players have been diagnosed with or died of dementia, such as former Leeds United players John Charles, Jack Charlton, Gordon McQueen and Brendan Ormsby, Huddersfield Town legends Denis Law, Ray Wilson and Frank Worthington (who also played for Leeds), record Hull City goalscorer Chris Chilton and many more besides.
Dr Grey is concerned the protocols in place around head injuries and how many times players head the ball in training are not always being followed.
“We have some very clear guidelines as to what we should be doing and those guidelines aren’t always followed,” he said.
“The guidelines are very clear – they say if there’s a suspected concussion the player should be removed from play and not be allowed to play again for that day.
“There’s only so much one can do in the very short period of time but the key thing is if we suspect the concussion, we bring them off the pitch.
“Still, unfortunately, in my view, the business of the game is more important than player welfare and that needs to change but it’s going to take time so we can’t take our foot off the accelerator.”
Dr Grey says the football authorities have shown little interest in his research.
“Willie Stewart (clinical associate professor at the University of Glasgow) sits on the board that advises them but I’ve been trying to engage with football authorities for years and have not had a great deal of interest, to be honest,” he said.
“People are doing brilliant work at keeping this issue at the front of people’s minds and that’s the only way in my view that we are going to see the change that needs to happen in the future.”
Former Leeds United and Doncaster Rovers midfielder John Stiles, whose father Nobby died having suffered dementia, is one of those campaigning on the issue, but says football clubs are reluctant to listen, having offered to speak to players at all 92 English league squads.
“When I wrote to the clubs I said that Willie Stewart would speak to them as well and we’ve still been knocked back, had no progress,” he said.
“When I said I was going to speak to them it was not just me as a grieving son and a worried ex-player, it was also based on silence and they still won’t let us talk to them.
“Given the information I’ve gathered, I can’t stop now. I wouldn’t be able to look myself in the mirror if I don’t do everything I can to inform these players but I believe the authorities are terrified of being litigated against.”