Nigel Kahn’s Column

NOTE FROM IAIN: The Predictor League for Sheffield United on Sunday is open HERE. Entries can be submitted until 12 noon on Sunday.

The Daily Mail on Tuesday launched its enough is enough campaign into Football and its link to causing dementia in later years. This subject has been around for at least 20 years now, since the death of Jeff Astle who suffered in his later years with the awful disease. The startling thing for me that jumps out about Astle was that he died aged just 59 and had been diagnosed 5 years previously, for me that is very young to have suffered from this condition that we would normally expect to see in more later years.

It is said that as the population lives longer the amount of the population that will suffer from this will only increase, I’m sure many of the readers of this will have a story to tell of a loved one/relative that lived & suffered from this most terrible of diseases.

Is the link to football and the high rate of an effect it has had on old pros conclusive though, and if it is, what can the authorities do to help combat it.
In 1992 I bought my 1st house in Plaistow, a small terraced property a 10-minute stroll to the ground. My next-door neighbours were an elderly couple, Isabell and Bert and across the road was Len, another elderly gentleman who lived on his own.

Len was a character from the start, I pulled up one night outside his house, he came up to my van, tapping on the window. “Boy, Boy, come with me please all my lights stopped working” so into his house I stepped, in pitch dark, I tried nearly every light switch in his house to no avail. His Lights did not work at all.

To fix the problem I needed light to see, I walked over to my house to get a lamp to plug in.

Telling my wife the problem, she said, check the bulbs. Not everyone could have blown, must be the fuse.

On entering Lens house, just to check, I took the bulb from the lamp and put into the light in the hallway. On came the light. I changed every bulb in Lens house and that fixed that except that night as I went to bed, coming from Lens House I could see him standing there, switching the lights on then off, on then off, constantly. Bert next door had eyesight trouble so to be neighbourly I went in one day to see him to chat about West Ham, I had just bought an original 1930s cigarette card collection at a boot sale. I thought Bert would love hearing about this so took it in to read to him the blurb on the back of each card.

Here’s one for you Bert, Len Goulden, you must remember him. Remember him his wife replied, that’s Len across the road, let me go get him. Just a minute later she’s back, with old Len in tow, I show him my collection and Lens face lit up, Tommy Lawton was his favourite. Apparently, Len knew Tommy very well and told us in his eyes one of the best in the world at the time. Do you remember this player, Len, putting his card in front of him?

Len stared blankly at the card, I’m now looking at him thinking, is he playing a game. No, who is he? Sadly Len had failed to recognise himself.

The next year I spent many a night, getting Len back into his house after being locked out and sadly it was obvious that Len was suffering from problems and eventually he was moved into a care home by his family, where he would see out his days.

When the Jeff Astle case was highlighted by his family I had no doubt there must be a connection, but it took years of campaigning by the family to bring the authorities running the game to take notice. It is ok to take notice but what is needed is some kind of plan to try to stop the players of today joining those of yesteryear in suffering.

Firstly, The PFA and the FA should have set up a foundation to look into what are the links between footballers and the high rate of them that develop dementia. The cause is said to be heading the ball, is that being studied.

Care is next, PFA and the FA should have dedicated care home available to all ex-pros, this affects not only those that played at the top but it goes right through the game from top to bottom. If the Actors guild can have retirement homes for old actors then surely the PFA can have the same, after all, why pay your head the highest amount of money for any Trade Union chief without making sure you take care of those that fund that wage.

The Daily Mail listed 28 players including Dave Sexton and Martin Peters from West Ham, who have died or are currently suffering. For those who may still think that football and specifically the heading of the ball has no part, Only 1, Peter Benetti, was a goalkeeper.

In August this year the Daily Mirror reported on 4 ex-footballers all dying in 1 week, all suffered from Dementia, not 1 was a goalkeeper.

There was a study done in Scotland of over 7,000 footballers born before 1977,

Ex-pro footballers 3 times more likely to get dementia from heading balls,

The question of whether heading footballs can damage the brain has been debated for years and much of the UK media suggests it was the key reason why such a link exists.

But it’s important to note:

• the researchers did not look at possible reasons behind the results, such as heading footballs
• while the study found the risk of dying from neurodegenerative disease was almost 3.5 times higher for footballers, fewer than 2% of the footballers in the study died from these health conditions
• the researchers found footballers were less likely to die from some other conditions, such as heart disease, and were less likely to die before age 70
• the researchers do not know if the results are relevant for people who play football for fun or at an amateur level

In researching the study it seems it was funded by the PFA & The FA but then what was the outcome of the studies and why has it seemingly been put on a back burner so much that the Daily Mail saw fit to launch their campaign.

Chris Sutton the former Norwich Blackburn Celtic & Chelsea forward is now considering suing the PFA & FA as his family cares from his Ex-pro Dad.

The family of Chris Chilton, Hull City’s record goalscorer have resorted to setting up a go fund me page to help care for him. They raised £30,000 for Hull fans and some ex-players. Have the PFA stepped in to help though? I couldn’t find that answer.

The time for studies to prove the link is over for me, the link is proved. The list of ex-players is exhausting reading as it just grows and grows, and the only goalkeeper I found to have died suffering was Peter Benetti, Goalkeepers don’t head the ball anywhere near the number of times outfield players do.

I’m not expecting the FA nor the PFA to find a cure, but they need to show they care and start now to set up the network of specialist care homes needed to help look after those that helped to create the cash-hungry game with have now.