CHRIS SUTTON: Football's fight against dementia is not over yet

CHRIS SUTTON: This year of football’s battle against dementia has been inspiring, promising and also infuriating – families have been on their knees for too long and our fight is NOT over yet

  • It has been a long, difficult year in football’s ongoing battle against dementia 
  • The PFA set up a dementia department and Gordon Taylor cleared out his desk 
  • Sir Alex Ferguson said football had a duty to act and the momentum is flowing 
  • Yet too many families have still been left on their knees and this must change

More former footballers disclosed their diagnoses. And more former footballers died.

Nobby Stiles’ family were told his dementia was caused by heading after donating his brain to Dr Willie Stewart.

The Professional Footballers’ Association set up a dementia department and Gordon Taylor cleared out his desk.

The family of Nobby Stiles (right) were told his dementia was caused by heading after donating his brain to Dr Willie Stewart, while Bobby Charlton (left) was diagnosed last November

The Digital, Culture, Media and Sport select committee grilled football chiefs and I gave evidence to MPs. Sir Alex Ferguson said football had a duty to act.

Thiago Silva said he was getting headaches after games. English football introduced heading limits for the first time ever, then we found out clubs were ignoring them, hiding behind the fact they’re only classed as ‘guidance’.

Terry Butcher called for a ban on heading. We discovered FIFA knew about the potential for brain damage in 1984 when they published a piece in their own magazine but they did nothing.

We heard how the FA and Premier League were alerted to a potential problem as early as 1996 but again, they did nothing.

Sir Alex Ferguson (left) was one of the key voices to come out and urge football to do more

My dad, Mike, died, after a decade of living with dementia — I say ‘living’, but it was no life for him. What a promising, pathetic, inspiring, infuriating, super and yet downright s***ty year it’s been. Forgive me for writing such a contradictory sentence but it’s hard to sum up how I feel.

I am happy, because the authorities have finally deigned to lift a finger. I’m sad, because they spent decades sitting on their hands and there’s still so much more to do.

What needs to happen, you ask? For me, temporary concussion substitutions are a must. The additional permanent concussion substitutions, which are currently being trialled in the Premier League, are a nonsense.

Players are hurting their heads and minutes later, they’re playing on. Club medics are still waiting to be invited on to the pitch.

They are still conducting an assessment there and then, in front of thousands of fans. They are still holding up a game being broadcast worldwide. 

Sportsmail pundit Chris Sutton pictured with father Mike before his passing last year

Whereas if these potentially concussed players could be temporarily replaced, they would receive a more thorough assessment in private and in a proper environment. Then, at the end of this 10-minute evaluation, they can either return or remain on the sidelines. It’s win-win.

It is a shame the International Football Association Board, the game’s rulemakers, have not realised that yet and, by the sounds of it, they are not close to opening their eyes.

Another must is for dementia in football — and other relevant sports — to be recommended for Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit. That way, those impacted could claim for help from the Government.

It’s good that football is taking it upon itself to create its own industry-wide dementia care fund. There is no time to lose with that. Families need financial assistance, and they need it now.

More needs to be done and temporary concussion substitutions are a must – the permanent concussion substitutions, which are currently being trialled, are a nonsense

They aren’t claiming for a stairlift to be installed around the spiral staircase of their mansion on Millionaire’s Row. These are normal families in need, because too many of them have been on their own and on their knees for too long.

I won’t name the ones struggling but, believe me, they’re out there and the PFA have known about them for some time.

Since Sportsmail launched their campaign in November 2020, saying ‘enough is enough’ with a powerful back page which showed 28 players diagnosed with dementia in black and white, we have seen real pressure placed on the authorities. They’ve felt it, and they’re acting.

Maybe the authorities have done it out of fear that the sorts of lawsuits which have cost the NFL more than a billion dollars in compensation will make these shores. But you hope football’s current regimes also realise that it’s the right thing to do. The old guard never seemed to grasp that, did they?

A year of campaigning later, we have managed to tick off a few boxes but we won’t stop until they’re all ticked.

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