AT long, long last the PFA are tackling the dementia crisis that has cast a doom-laden shadow over the game.
As more shocking cases of the brain disease piled up, the union acted with all the speed of a geriatric former winger, which is exactly what the greedy chief executive Gordon Taylor was — overpaid, underperforming and weary as hell.
Ex-PFA supremo Gordon Taylor oversaw little action to tackle dementia in former footballers – despite the issue being raised decades agoCredit: PA
West Brom legend Jeff Astle, who won five England caps, died aged just 59 in 2002Credit: PA:Press Association
Last year the 76-year-old was dug from his Manchester den and retired with a £3.1million bounty for doing not very much — including not very much about dementia — as relatives of footballers cried out for help.
This week, Taylor’s successor, Maheta Molango, did what has been necessary since 20 years ago Jeff Astle’s daughter, Dawn, first began to pressurise the union — and anyone else who would listen — to act on behalf of ailing members.
Dawn’s crusade featured female relatives of other damaged footballers including Penny Watson, daughter of former England captain Dave Watson, and Rachel Walden, daughter of the late Rod Taylor.
Astle, of West Brom and England, was known by the Baggies supporters as ‘The King’, chiefly for his bullet-like headers.
He would have been happy for the crusaders to be his “Queens” and happier still that the trio will take leading roles in the PFA project on NDD (neurodegenerative disease).
When Astle was in his prime, balls were heavy, leather objects — more dangerous still when wet and stitched together with ties that were so painful it was claimed Sir Stanley Matthews would centre the ball lace outwards.
Today’s plastic balls are much lighter — but convey danger because of the velocity with which they may be delivered.
There appear to be obvious solutions to be considered by Dawn, the project leader, one of which is head protection. This line of inquiry is being pursued in all manner of research centres and for all sorts of sport.
Boxers in training and in the amateur sport wear headguards.
Long ago, fighters with dementia were described as “punchy” and often allowed to carry on regardless.
Films of old fights show men being knocked senseless long after bouts should have stopped. Remembering it makes me feel ill.
There are safeguards in rugby — but again there is much to do.
Enormous men crashing into one another, then their whole frames shuddering, is damaging enough and today the little guys have gone missing altogether.
Each sport has been slumbering, yet so has society itself. Dementia should have been a major concern well before a succession of our 1966 World Cup winners succumbed.
Gordon Taylor’s successor Maheta Molango has grasped that dementia from heading is a serious issue for football to considerCredit: Rex
Nobby Stiles and Jack Charlton died suffering from it and Bobby Charlton is no longer in the Old Trafford directors’ box, all wrapped up against the cold.
We owe it out of respect to players and relatives to take care of victims, by encouraging the PFA to take steps they seemed reluctant to under Taylor.
Measures to control the number of headers by young players are a start but there have to be better answers, not least because there will soon be demands for heading to be banned, or at least controlled.
This would prevent one of the beautiful spectacles of our game, men rising to head goals like ‘The King’.
I refuse to believe headgear similar to that worn by Wolves star Raul Jimenez cannot be designed. The game needs it, the players must have it. All power to Dawn’s project.
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