Did playing a game of football kill six men?

It has been reported that six of the eleven Aston Villa players that took part in the 1957 FA Cup, may have died as a result of repeatedly heading old style  footballs.

West Bromwich Albion legend Jeff Astle, died at 59 and the cause of death was recorded as Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE).  The coroner ruled that this  Alzheimer’s-like illness was caused by his heading of heavy leather footballs.

As a result of this ruling, Astle’s wife  Laraine and three daughters, believe that more than half of the legendary FA cup winning team may also have suffered the same fate.

Johnny Dixon’s daughter got in contact with the Astle’s after her father, the Villa team captain, died in 2009 at the age of 85 having suffered from Alzheimer’s.

Also on the list of suspected sufferers are Pat Saward  and Stan Lynn who passed away in 2002 aged 74 and  73respectively and Peter Aldis who died in 2008 aged 81.  They also believe there may be two other team members who may have died as a result of CTE.

Claire Astle said, “Statistically you would expect, maybe 3 out of the 11 players to suffer Alzheimer’s, not 5 and we think it could be 6.  Our concern is old players are being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s when it is in fact CTE”.

CTE is a progressive and degenerative disease which currently can only be identified after death and is found in those that have a history of multiple concussions and other head injuries. It is also known as dementia pugilistica or punch drunk syndrome as the disease was initially discovered in those with a history of boxing.

Most commonly, CTE has been found in those athletes that take part in contact sports such as American football, ice hockey and wrestling. It has also been found in soldiers who have been exposed to a blast or sustained a concussive injury.

CTE is often mistaken and misdiagnosed for Alzheimer’s as it shares similar symptoms such as memory loss, confusion and depression.  These symptoms tend to appear years after the trauma has occurred.

The Astles are the force behind the campaign “Justice for Jeff” and are pushing for a foundation to assist ex-players affected by the disease. As well as a foundation, the Astles also want an independent inquiry in to the full extent of the health problems of former players.

The family have met with FA chairman Greg Dyke, who has publicly acknowledged that Mr Astle was a victim of CTE, has promised to back research and accepts that more could have been done.

Following the meeting with Dyke, Laraine Astle commented, “We have been through a long, dark tunnel and at last we can see light.  Ever since Jeff died it has been like a no-go area for the FA.  It was like they didn’t want to know and that is an insult to Jeff.  We all know how he died, the fans, the media”.

Astle goes on to say that her husband, who scored 174 goals for West Bromwich Albion during his career, was a shadow of his former self and was unrecognisable at the time of his death as he shuffled when he walked and was stooped over like an old man.

For more information on CTE or for advice on serious and catastrophic injury, call our specialist team on 0800 988 1548 or email Dianne Yates at dmyates@birchallblackburn.co.uk

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