Roger Alton

Football needs its own Mr Bates


Did football officials watch Mr Bates vs The Post Office? They should have – and learned from it. Otherwise they could be next in the crosshairs of a TV dramatist. Just as the Post Office failed to act as they should have done to protect sub-postmasters, football – and rugby for that matter – is showing no noticeable signs of urgency to look after its players despite growing evidence that both sports are contributing to long-term brain damage.

Day after day we see young men heading the ball with an indifference that gives you a headache just to watch

A debate in parliament on the issue last September which referred to one report that the dementia risk to footballers was ‘phenomenal’ seems to have caused as much of a stir as a WI knitting competition. And yet day after day we see young men heading the ball with an indifference that gives you a headache just to watch.

We were reminded of the damage that heading a ball can cause by the death last October of Bobby Charlton, who had been diagnosed with dementia in 2020. Maybe that was Sir Bobby’s fate anyway; but what surely can’t be dismissed as fate is that seven members of England’s 1966 World Cup winning team suffered from some form of brain disease, including Bobby’s brother Jack.

While officials dither, footballers themselves are taking strong action. More than 50 former professional players, including Paul Scholes, Dom Matteo and Jill Scott, have signed up to join a 175-mile walk in March in support of two colleagues, former Liverpool player Stephen Darby, 35, and Marcus Stewart, 51, who have both been diagnosed with motor neurone disease (MND). This will add to the pressure for action already simmering away thanks to the efforts of rugby players Kevin Sinfield, Rob Burrow and the late Doddie Weir.

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