Neurodegenerative diseases were a factor in the death of 42% of footballers in the 1965-1966 season


A new study of top footballers playing in England during the 1965-66 season found that neurodegenerative diseases were a factor in 42% of deaths in this group so far.

This shocking new statistic confirms that professional footballers are dying of dementia at a rate between three and four times the general population.

The 1965-1966 season culminated with the best summer for English international football to date as Sir Bobby Charlton, Bobby Moore et al won the World Cup for the first and only time.

New study finds neurodegenerative diseases were a factor in 42% of deaths of top footballers playing in England during the 1965-1966 season

But the new research, undertaken by the Mail on Sunday, will only add momentum to the campaign for further investigation of the dangers of playing the game, and heading in particular.

The conclusions of the Mail on Sunday“The work of has been described as ‘surprising’ and ‘important’ by Dr Willie Stewart, foremost expert on the link between football and brain injury-related deaths.

Dr Stewart, a Glasgow-based consultant neuropathologist, led the largest study to date on the subject, published a year ago, comparing the causes of death of 7,676 former Scottish professional football players born between 1900 and 1976 to over 23,000 people of the general population.

Nobby Stiles (right) suffered from dementia and was part of the 1966 English Hero Group

Nobby Stiles (right) suffered from dementia and was part of the 1966 English Hero Group

New Mail on Sunday The study focused specifically on the group of 475 first-team players across 22 clubs in England’s Premier League in 1965-66.

Of this group, 185 have died to date, and at least 79 of them, or 42%, have died from neurodegenerative diseases or conditions associated with head trauma.

The vast majority of the 79 people died of Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias, Parkinson’s disease or related disorders, or motor neuron disease.

When a formal cause of death was a different condition, for example cancer or pulmonary embolism, but a player endured years of dementia, the Mail on Sunday included these players as having died with (if not of) dementia.

‘This [42 per cent] is a surprising number and should be a revelation of the football problem, ”Dr Stewart told the Mail on Sunday.

Manchester United legend Sir Bobby Charlton was also found to have dementia

Manchester United legend Sir Bobby Charlton was also found to have dementia

“The detail of your study is important. Just because someone has died of a pulmonary embolism doesn’t mean they don’t have dementia.

“One of the arguments used by critics of [our] job [published a year ago] – and these criticisms invariably come from football – is that we were specifically interested in the Scottish players.

“Your conclusions are important because the dataset is from England, with mostly English players. And let’s not forget that it was thanks to an English footballer, Jeff Astle, that we proved a link between football and irreparable brain damage.

Astle, an England striker who played nearly 300 league games for West Brom between 1964 and 1974, died aged 59 in 2002.

He became a landmark case in the fight for the truth about dementia in football after his brain was reexamined in 2014 by Dr Stewart, who discovered that Astle had in fact died of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE ).

Dr Stewart was introduced to Astle’s family by reporter Sam Peters of the Mail on Sunday.

Jeff Astle (above) died in 2002 and is a landmark case in the fight for the truth about dementia

Jeff Astle (above) died in 2002 and is a landmark case in the fight for the truth about dementia

This journal began campaigning in 2013 for more research into the effects of concussions in rugby and then dementia in football. Seven years later, awareness is widespread and increasingly urgent campaigns, particularly Mail on Sunday and our sister title.

Main conclusions of the news Mail on Sunday the study show 42 percent of the deaths linked to neurodegenerative diseases and traumatic brain injury, with at least 25 of 290 players still alive having dementia. The latter figure is certainly higher in reality.

Many clubs, former players’ associations and individuals have let us know that they know of cases that are not in the public domain, but that they want to keep these details private.

Of the 79 players known to have died from neurodegenerative diseases, the average age of death was 74 and the median age 75. This too is shocking. The odds of a British man dying from such a cause (across all age groups) is around 13%, ranging from around 6% in 70-year-olds to around 10% of 75-year-olds at around 25% one hundred at the age of 90.

Six members of England's World Cup-winning team, including Jack Charlton, have died of Alzheimer's or dementia

Six members of England’s World Cup-winning team, including Jack Charlton, have died of Alzheimer’s or dementia

Of England’s 22-man squad for the 1966 World Cup, 13 died and six of them (46 percent) with Alzheimer’s or dementia.

“It’s high,” says Dr. Stewart. But also consistent with what we’ve shown so far – that no matter how you calculate the numbers, the odds of a professional footballer dying from a neurodegenerative disease are 3.5 to 4.5 more likely. than the general population.

“In a squad of 22, you might expect two or three. We are already six years old [from England’s 1966 squad] and will end with two digits.

The six 1966 players who died of Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias are goaltender Peter Bonetti, defensemen Nobby Stiles, Jack Charlton, Ray Wilson and Gerry Byrne, and midfielder Martin Peters. A seventh player, Sir Bobby, was recently diagnosed with dementia.

Other significant deaths linked to dementia or CTE include Tommy Smith of Liverpool, Bill Foulkes of Manchester United and Dave Mackay of Tottenham.

“The frustration is that this problem has been staring the sport in the face for decades,” says Stewart. “It took until 2019 and 2020 to recognize it. And yet the game does not really advance on the question.

“Rugby in the last decade has changed dramatically and they haven’t even [expanse of] data and evidence that football has. Sam Peters and the Mail on Sunday [concussion campaign from 2013] was at the heart of it.

“Simply put, football needs to enter the 21st century on this. “


1: The Courier on Sunday’s squad lists compiled the 475 first-team footballers who played for all 22 clubs in England’s top division in the 1965-1966 season.

Ces clubs étaient: Arsenal, Aston Villa, Blackburn, Blackpool, Burnley, Chelsea, Everton, Fulham, Leeds, Leicester, Liverpool, Man Utd, Newcastle, Northampton, Nottm Forest, Sheff Utd, Sheff Wed, Stoke, Sunderland, Tottenham, West Brom et West Ham.

2: We first established how many of these players have died to date (185 out of 475), and then, through public (“open source”) statements such as obituaries and funeral notices, recorded the death toll of neurodegenerative diseases.

3: We then contacted the clubs and associations of former club players and, in some cases, individual living players, and asked about cases where the reported cause of death was not clear at this time. day and had often been reported non-specifically as a long illness ”. We also asked about players who still have dementia.

4: Several clubs, player associations and parents of players have helped with advice for accuracy. Some, quite reasonably, said they knew of cases but did not want to share it, even confidentially.

5: We found that 185 of 475 players died and that 79 (42%) died of disease or neurodegenerative or conditions related to traumatic brain injury; and at least 25 of the 290 surviving players (or 8%) are currently suffering from dementia, although we know the number is higher, but not by how much.


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