Gareth Southgate admitted he fears suffering from dementia in the future due to the impact of repeatedly heading footballs during his 18-year playing career, following the death of former England international Nobby Stiles and the diagnosis of his 1966 World Cup-winning teammate Sir Bobby Charlton.
Southgate said that he is aware he “headed a lot of footballs” during his career, having won 57 caps for England and represented Crystal Palace, Aston Villa and Middlesbrough, with a new focus put on the impact of heading within the game after a series of dementia illnesses across former professional footballers.
Ex-Manchester United midfielder Stiles died last week after a long battle with dementia, and three other members of the famous 1966 team who have died in the last two and a half years in Jack Charlton, Ray Wilson and Martin Peters were all suffering from the same illness.
Stiles’s death was followed by the admission from Lady Norma Charlton that her husband Bobby had also been diagnosed with dementia.
Following the death of former Notts County and West Bromwich Albion forward Jeff Astle in 2002, wife Dawn launched The Jeff Astle Foundation with the aim of gaining a greater understanding of brain injuries within sport and how chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) was brought on by repeatedly heading heavy leather footballs. The Foundation, which was launched in 2015, has repeatedly called on football authorities to do more to address the issue as more and more players are diagnosed with brain disease.
"Of course at my age, having headed a lot of footballs, I do have concerns,” Southgate admitted on Wednesday.
"But I also recognised that whenever I took the field I was taking that risk of injury, short or long term and I knew that, and I would always have wanted to have the career and the opportunity to play, even if it meant longer-term that there might be physical issues for myself or health issues.
"Most athletes would go that way, I think. That's not to undermine the situation by the way.
"In terms of the link, there is research going on. That's a little bit inconclusive at the moment, which is a bit frustrating for everybody because we'd love to have a clear solution.
"And so of course it's a concern for everybody and we have to keep supporting that research. Part of the issue with dementia is age and one of the positives of being involved in sport is that people tend to live longer, they're healthier, they live longer.
"And so there's a possibility that that could be part of the link with the dementia as well.
"Unfortunately we don't have all the answers we'd like at the moment. I know some of that work is going on in the background.
"But yes, do I have concerns? Of course I do. I've had people in my own family who've suffered with dementia and it's a terrible, terrible illness."
A study, led by consultant neuropathologist Dr Willie Stewart of Glasgow University and published in 2019, revealed that former footballers are approximately three-and-a-half times more likely to die from neurodegenerative disease than the general population.
The report, commissioned by the Football Association and the Professional Footballers' Association, assessed the medical records of 7,676 men who played professional football between 1900 and 1976. Their records were matched against more than 23,000 individuals from the general population.
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Additional reporting by PA
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