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Reds legend St John demands PFA backing on dementia issue

By Ian Herbert

Former Liverpool player Ian St John has said that his attempts to persuade the Professional Footballers' Association to commission research examining possible links between dementia and football failed because the union told him "women get it too".

As new research put the union under renewed pressure from its members to set a timescale for a detailed examination of possible risks and how they might be mitigated, St John said that he had been trying for several years to push the PFA to launch research because a number of Bill Shankly's former Liverpool team are struggling.

As "women of our age suffer from dementia" the PFA had said there was "nothing they could do," the 67-year-old said.

Both St John and the family of Jeff Astle, to whom the PFA first promised research 15 years ago, spoke at length yesterday, with St John reiterating his frustrations with a union he feels should take responsibility for research.

St John also addressed the issue last year in an interview for a book, Liverpool Captains, which revealed the struggles his ex-teammates Ron Yeats and Tommy Smith have experienced with neurological disease.

"It's true that women our age suffer from dementia too, but in the same numbers as men in our industry?" St John asked.

"I'm not talking about men in our country in general who get Alzheimer's. I'm talking about the percentage of our little group of professional footballers from the 1960s. I believe this is an occupational injury, a health condition caused by our job as footballers."

The family of World Cup winner Nobby Stiles, who is now extremely frail after nearly 15 years struggling with dementia, expressed hope yesterday that the new research published this week by Swansea University and University College London would be a "game-changer" in securing the research which might help future players to comprehend the risks attached to being among the most frequent headers of a football.

The research included post-mortem examinations on six players who suffered dementia and revealed that all of them had suffered from a tearing to a brain membrane consistent with chronic, repetitive head impacts from playing football. This might point to a link, though further study is needed, the researchers said.

Stiles's son, Rob, said that the family believed the football authorities were reluctant to take up the problem for fear of a legal case and the need for a settlement similar to that made by the NFL in the United States. There has been no finding or admission of liability by the NFL under the terms of a class action settled by the league at a very early stage.

"We are not looking to sue anyone," Rob Stiles said.

"We are just asking for some kind of research to help future players have an understanding about any risk and make an informed choice about how they play and train.

"No-one is suggesting heading should be taken out of football. If you look at a lot of the players who we know have been affected, you see that many are centre forwards and centre halves or players who headed the ball repeatedly.

"Dad was so determined when it came to heading the ball."

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