FOOTBALL Premier League

OPINION: The PFA’s new dementia project is a good start to fighting brain disease in football, but the EFL, FA and Premier League must do more

The PFA has announced that a new department has been formed to tackle the life-destroying neurodegenerative diseases ex-footballers are experiencing, but they are still in desperate need of support from their stakeholders. Whilst the Premier League, EFL and FA all sit on their hands, footballers are dying.

Dawn Astle, daughter of legendary West Brom striker Jeff Astle, will lead the new project. She has been the PFA’s most scathing critic in the past, after they had previously offered her father no support whilst he was dying of dementia and CTE, but has bravely put her grievances aside to work with them.

She is joined on the new team by Rachel Walden, the daughter of late Portsmouth and Bournemouth defender Rod Taylor, who also watched her father’s life be ripped away from him due to brain disease.

The PFA’s chief executive, Maheta Molango, was appointed in July 2021 and has stressed that the issue of brain diseases should be ‘football’s top priority’. After years of feuding between the PFA, Walden and Astle, Molango was able to recruit them so that they could work together to help the footballers who are suffering.

CTE is also commonly seen in American Football players, and is something medical professionals have only began researching in the last few decades

“We were the very first people to talk to Maheta when he joined,” Walden remarked. “The very first people who walked through that door was Dawn and I. We sat there for three hours, Dawn cried, and I cried. Maheta listened to us.”

“He totally gets it, he doesn’t make excuses,” Astle said about Molango. “He knows they haven’t done nearly enough about it. He’s already got the stakeholders, the Premier League, the EFL, the FA all round the table to talk about a care fund for these players.”

The family of Blackburn Rovers legend Tony Parkes, who is currently fighting Alzeimer’s, have recently been forced to open a Crowdfunding page to ask for people to donate money to pay for his care costs. The lack of support they have received from footballing authorities is appalling.

Blackburn have also stepped in to help raise money for Parkes’ care costs

A similarly tragic story is that of England and Manchester United great Nobby Stiles, who had to sell his 1966 World Cup winner’s medal in order to leave something for his children after his death. He had lost the majority of his wealth paying for dementia care.

Their stories are, unfortunately, not rare, with many ex-footballers and their families suffering on a daily basis fighting brain diseases. These players are dying not knowing they had ever been footballers.

“My dad was 74 when he died but he looked like 104, his last two weeks of hospital was horrendous. His illness was so horrendous leading up to that, so then you’re sort of grateful that he’s died,” Walden admitted.

“My dad’s death was brutal,” Astle said. “I knew that his death would be the tip of the iceberg, that there would be many more suffering from this.”

Footballing authorities profit so much from these athletes, yet they have turned their back on them in their darkest hour. The riches of football must be shared with those suffering from neurodegenerative diseases.

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