Donate ex-footballers' brains for head injury research - Jeff Astle's daughter

From 1980 to 2010, 14 male, retired footballers with dementia regularly met with the researchers.

Repeated blows to the head suffered on the field, from headers and colliding with other players, are thought to be the cause.

They also pointed to a new head injury protocol introduced in 2014 and suggested that head injuries could be "reduced significantly" by The International Football Association Board's (IFAB) 2006 rule change that deemed elbows to the head to be worthy of a red card.

The research, conducted in collaboration between University College London and Cardiff University, involved the examination of six people who played football for an average of a quarter of a century.

However, Professor Huw Morris from the UCL Institute of Neurology said more research to establish a definitive link and stressed any risk to people playing football in their spare time was low. The union has been under fierce scrutiny since The Independent last month revealed the light of Nobby Stiles, one of at least four members of the 1966 World Cup winning team to have suffered from dementia.

Professional footballers are at heightened risk of developing a brain disease that can cause dementia and is usually found in boxers and American football players, a study published on Wednesday suggests.

Dr Elizabeth Coulthard, consultant senior lecturer in dementia neurology at the University of Bristol, said the study was "detailed and robust", although small.

But Dawn Astle, the daughter of former England and West Brom striker Jeff Astle who died from a degenerative brain disease in 2002, said a lack of action by authorities earlier was "indefensible". Fortunately, football (soccer) does not belong to the high-risk sports for brain and head injuries.

Twelve out of the 14 eventually died of advanced dementia.

Astle once commented that heading a football was like heading "a bag of bricks". These include Danny Blanchflower, the former Tottenham captain, Bob Paisley, the former Liverpool manager, and Astle.

His death has also been linked to heading the heavy, leather balls of the 1940s and 50s, along with fellow Tottenham players Dave Mackay, Peter Baker and Ron Henry.

In 2014, the daughter of another former Canaries star and World Cup victor, Martin Peters, spoke about her father's battle with Alzheimer's.

The results provide a platform for a "pressing research question" on whether dementia is more common in footballers than the general population, the authors said. 'However, we have yet to prove this with prospective studies'. A coroner ruled that the 59-year-old, who was left unable to recognize his children, probably died from brain injuries from repeatedly heading a ball over his 20-year career. Footballers are exposed to repetitive blows to the head from heading the ball and from head-to-player collisions. The rate of CTE in the brains of the footballers, whose careers had averaged 26 years, was greater than the 12 per cent average found in the general population.

"O$3 ur findings support the need for further systematic investigation, including large-scale case-control studies", the University College of London researchers wrote, noting that the the potential connection would be "of considerable public health interest".

Dr David Reynolds, at the charity Alzheimer's Research UK, said: "The causes of dementia are complex and it is likely that the condition is caused by a combination of age, lifestyle and genetic factors".

The FA's Head of Medicine, Dr Charlotte Cowie, welcomed the researchers and cited the establishment of an Expert Concussion Panel in 2015 as evidence of the seriousness with which the FA viewed the issue.

  • Joanne Flowers