Professional footballers are at an increased risk of developing dementia depending on the length of their careers and their playing position, according to a landmark study.
The research was based on the health records of around 8,000 former professional footballers in Scotland and found the risk of goalkeepers developing a neurodegenerative disease was similar to general population levels.
Outfield players, however, were almost four times as likely as an ordinary member of the public, with defenders developing dementia in later life roughly five times more often than the public at large.
The findings were the same for players regardless of the era in which they competed, with the study including data on players who played in the 1930s all the way through to the 1990s.
The research was conducted by researchers at the University of Glasgow and was led by professor Willie Stewart at the university, and is published in the journal JAMA Neurology.
It adds to the findings of a previous study of 7,500 former professional footballers that found they were three-and-a-half times more likely to die from dementia than non-players in the same age range.
The new research finds that despite changes in football technology and head injury management over the decades, there is no evidence the risk of neurodegenerative disease risk has changed among professional footballers from around 1930 to the late 1990s.
It follows the deaths of two of English football’s greatest heroes – Jack Charlton and Nobby Stiles – who suffered with dementia before their deaths. Jack’s brother, Sir Bobby Charlton, has also been diagnosed with dementia.
An investigation by Martha Kelner, Sky News’ sports correspondent, has found more than half of Burnley FC’s first 11 in their championship-winning 1959/60 season have died from or are suffering with dementia.
By Rob Dorsett, Sky Sports News reporter
Dementia has devastated the Boys of ’66.
In total, five members of England’s World Cup-winning team have developed dementia. It’s led to the death of four of them.
Ray Wilson was the first to succumb, in July 2018, with Martin Peters also dying of dementia, just over a year ago.
Jack Charlton died of the debilitating illness in July 2020, Nobby Stiles in October. A month later it emerged that Sir Bobby Charlton is also suffering from the same condition.
“I think we knew they weren’t well, but it’s always a huge shock when you hear they’ve passed,” says Sir Geoff. “We knew Nobby had been in a home for some time, and we knew Jack hadn’t been out and about.
“It’s just been a nightmare year. The pandemic has meant you aren’t out and about talking to people about your emotions as you usually would. In fact, this is the only time I can talk about it, and I’m getting a bit emotional now with you, because it’s the first time I’ve really got to talk about my team-mates.”