Chris Sutton says 'Gordon Taylor has blood on his hands' over dementia

Chris Sutton tells MPs PFA chief Gordon Taylor ‘has blood on his hands’ after ‘hundreds of players have died’ from dementia as a result of playing football while the FA and PFA have ‘ignored and shunned’ the issue

  • Former  Blackburn and Celtic striker Chris Sutton has given evidence to MPs investigating the risks of heading the ball and development of dementia
  • Sutton has spearheaded Sportsmail’s campaign to better protect players
  • MPs also heard from campaigner, Dawn Astle, whose dad Jeff died from a degenerative brain disease linked to heading during his career at West Brom
  • Bobsleigh, boxing, ice hockey, rugby and the FA also gave evidence to MPs

Premier League winner Chris Sutton has told MPs that the authorities have stood by while players have died as a result of dementia they developed through playing professional football.

The former Blackburn Rovers, Celtic and Norwich City striker pulled no punches when he met politicians, who are gathering evidence on the links between sport and brain injury.

Sutton’s professional footballer father, Mike, died on Boxing Day following a 10-year battle with dementia.

Former striker Chris Sutton is fighting for football to change its attitude to dementia

And the player-turned-pundit has spearheaded Sportsmail’s campaign for research funding, temporary concussion substitutes and limited heading in training to protect players.

Mike became a professional footballer for his hometown club Norwich City, as well as Chester and Carlisle United before a knee injury ended his playing career at 28

‘This meeting should have happened 20 years ago,’ said Sutton.

‘The fact is the FA and PFA [Professional Footballers’ Association] have not done anywhere near enough. They have ignored, shunned, turned their backs on a massive issue.

‘Hundreds of players have died. My father among them. And we do not even know what has happened in the amateur game.’

‘They have not been interested,’he added. ‘Gordon Taylor has blood on his hands. 

‘We have to recognise this and we cannot keep talking about it. There are things we can do and we can put in place.’ 

The MPs on the Department of Culture Media and Sport select committee heard from 10 experts at the hearing on Tuesday, including Dawn Astle, the daughter of West Bromwich Albion forward, Jeff.

Jeff Astle died Astle aged 59 in 2002 from a degenerative brain disease due to heading the ball and Dawn has been an indefatigable campaigner.

Mike was a teacher after having been a professional player for Norwich, Chester and Carlisle

Representatives from ice hockey, bobsleigh, boxing and rugby also gave evidence.

The MPs have already heard from scientists, including neuropathologist, Dr Willie Stewart.

Stewart’s research, called the FIELD study, has established former players are 3.5 times more likely to die of neurodegenerative diseases than the general public.

The University of Glasgow academic told the MPs earlier this month that while it will be difficult to demonstrate a direct causal link between heading a football and suffering dementia forty years later, he said, ‘on a balance of probabilities, I think we are there’.

MPs on the DCMS Committee are investigating the connection between sport and brain injury 

CONCUSSION SUBS

Football’s rulemakers decided to introduce permanent concussion substitutes, not temporary ones.

The reasons for the move, given by the International Football Association Board, were to:

  • prevent a player sustaining another concussion during the match as multiple head-injury incidents can have very serious consequences 
  • send a strong message that, if in doubt, the player is withdrawn but there is no numerical or tactical disadvantage by prioritising the player’s welfare 
  • reduce the pressure on medical personnel to make a quick assessment

The link is clear to Sutton and Astle, as are some of the solutions set out in Sportsmail’s seven-point charter.

This includes more research, more support for ex-players and their families, limiting heading in training and crucially introducing temporary concussion substitutes.

‘Even if you do not agree with any of the research that is out there, there are simple preventative measures you can put in place that can help generations to come,’ said Sutton, whose father played for his hometown club Norwich City, as well as Chester and Carlisle United before a knee injury ended his playing career at 28.

Football’s law-making body, the International Football Association Board, agreed in December to trial permanent concussion substitutes at ‘all levels of the game’ from January this year.

The move came after a sickening clash of heads between Arsenal’s David Luiz and Raul Jimenez, which left the Wolves man with a fractured skull. The Brazilian Luiz played on for the rest of the first half — a move that received criticism.

But critics fear that change does not help medics make a carefully considered judgement on a player, since they still have to conduct their assessment in the brief moments available on or by the pitch. 

‘This is one area that must change immediately,’ added Sutton.

‘They must ratify temporary concussion replacements. Permanent replacements do not have players’ welfare at heart.  And clubs should limit heading in training.

‘We do not need meetings about meetings. It needs to happen immediately.’

Sutton told the MPs that he estimated he had headed 72,000 balls in his career. He said by limiting heading in training to 20 headers in a session, with a break of 48 hours, the impact could be lessened.

The DCMS want to know what actions might be taken to mitigate risks for players in sport

The ex-striker spoke passionately about his father.

‘The way my father died, 10 years of just slipping away, it was a horrible, horrible death.,’ said Sutton.

‘We could not visit him. This was a strong man who could not talk in the end. He just lay on the bed, weeing himself. It was awful.

‘The FA and PFA have, quite frankly, not stepped up for the last 20 years. There are still people in the PFA who were part of the decision making process with Gordon Taylor, who are still part of the decision making process.

‘There are simple things we can do. Why are we not doing them? What is the downside?’

MP Julian Knight chaired today’s parliamentary inquiry into brain injury and sport

Dawn Astle told MPs she had taken up the campaign over football and dementia after her father had been badly let down.

‘Football doesn’t want to think that football can be a killer. But I know it can be, because it’s on my dad’s death certificate,’ she said.

‘I want to make sure players affected are looked after properly,’ she added. ‘And I want to make sure the game is safe for players now and in the future.

A coroner ruled Jeff  Astle died from dementia brought on by repeatedly heading the ball

‘The sport has not done enough, they should hang their heads in shame.’ 

Astle demanded more money be invested in research into dementia and football, but also that funding should be available for care costs and rehabilitation for stricken players.

 

But, she said, government needed to demand action.

‘Only people in your position have the power to hold football to account,’ she said. ‘Football will continue to kick the can down the road, if it is able to.’ 

The chairman of the DCMS committee, Julian Knight, noted that Dr Willie Stewart’s entire research budget of £250,000 is just six week’s salary for Gordon Taylor.

‘I think that says an awful lot,’ added Knight.

The last 12 months have seen a number of deaths and diagnoses relating to dementia among former footballers, including the passing of England World Cup winner Nobby Stiles aged 83 in October.

He was suffering from the Alzheimer’s for more than 10 years, and Stiles’ death was followed by the announcement that Sir Bobby Charlton, 83, had been diagnosed with the condition. 

The Astle family have campaigned for research into links between brain disease and football

This came hard on the heels of the death of Jack Charlton aged 85, who had dementia and lymphoma.

In all, five members of the England World Cup-winning side, including Ray Wilson and Martin Peters, have now suffered with dementia.

Meanwhile, former international scrum-half Kyran Bracken, who was capped 51 times for England, told the committee rugby needs to do more at a professional and amateur level to protect players.

He called for an extension to the ‘return to play’ rule following concussion from six days to 14 days, contact should be limited in training, rules should be changed to reduce impact and there needs to be more education for players and coaches to make them aware of how head injuries can cause long term damage.

Dawn Astle wants brain degeneration in footballers to be declared an industrial disease

Sportsmail’s dementia campaign was launched last November and has received backing from former footballers, as well as MPs

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