Nobby Stiles’ family donate World Cup winner’s brain to scientists

The widow and children of World Cup 1966 winner Nobby Stiles have donated his brain to science to research sports-related dementia.

Ex-Manchester United star Stiles, who won 28 England caps, died aged 78 last October after being stricken with Alzheimer’s.

Now his family have revealed they donated his brain for a specialist autopsy by the Glasgow Brain Injury Research Group.

They – along with Dr Judith Gates, wife of dementia-stricken Middlesbrough defender Bill – are now urging other ex-players with dementia to sign up for brain donation.

Nobby’s widow Kay Stiles – sister to Leeds United legend Johnny Giles – said: “We had briefly spoken about the donation of Nobby’s brain during his illness.

“But it is a very hard thing to think about when you’re still seeing the person every day.

“However, when Nobby passed away I thought of how much he had suffered.

“If by donating his brain it could help stop one person suffering as he did, then we must do it.”

GBIRG is based in the Laboratory Medicine building at the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital, Glasgow and led by leading neuropathologist Dr Willie Stewart.

His son, retired midfielder John Stiles, 56, made over 150 League appearances for teams including Leeds United and Doncaster Rovers.

John said: “To me it was crucial we donated his brain to help the cause of former players, of which I am one, and current players, many of whom are suffering and will suffer the horrors of dementia.

“The decision, however, was my mother’s and I’m proud to say she had the courage to do so.

“It is a hard decision to make, but I ask all football families to consider the fact that by getting definitive proof it can make a real difference.”

Nobby’s other son Rob, 52, said: “We knew if dad was asked whether he would donate his brain to help other players, the answer was obvious – of course he would.

“It was also important to us as a family to find out whether dad’s dementia was caused by the game he loved.

"Our aim was to ensure that Nobby’s suffering was not in vain.”

Last year British sport was rocked when Sir Bobby Charlton became the fifth of England’s 1966 World Cup winners to be diagnosed with the condition.

In 2014, ex-Middlesbrough defender Bill Gates, now 76, was diagnosed with CTE also caused by repeated head impacts.

Day-by-day wife Judith, 75, has seen the “lights dim” in her husband’s eyes but it’s lit a fire within her family – to wake sports up to “the fragility of the brain”.

She has launched her ‘Head For Change’ charity for “the future of the game” and generations of new sports stars.

Mother-of-two Judith said: “We can’t change the trajectory of Bill’s disease.

“However, as his legacy, we can try to prevent future families from experiencing our sadness.”

Last November Sir Geoff Hurst told the Daily Mirror he had offered to donate his own brain for dementia research after watching 1966 teammates die in an “unbelievably brutal” year.

Former England striker Hurst admits he has been left deeply “shocked and saddened” to see his friends and team mates pass away down the years.

Hurst believes more must be done to combat dementia and Alzheimers disease which has been closely associated with heading footballs and the deaths of former England players like Martin Peters, Ray Wilson and ex-West Brom striker Jeff Astle.

West Ham legend Hurst says there should be a ban on kids being allowed to head footballs at too young an age while he also says he would also be willing to play his part after his own death if it helps research on the impact of heading footballs.

He said: “If I could help, families who have people die and donate their organs, I think that’s a fantastic thing for other people.

“So if I could help in that way, I would discuss it with my wife and she would have no objections to me doing. The straightforward answer would be yes.”

“I’ve got no-one immediately close to me who has it, but through my daily conversations with Martin Peters and our wives, we were very much aware how unbelievably difficult it is for a family member to deal with someone who has dementia. It’s so difficult.

“I go back to my practice days at West Ham, we had a ball hanging from the ceiling, we would head it for 20 minutes.

“Then we’d play head tennis in the gym and, in the practice on the field, we’d be practising near post, far post headers and you could head 20 or 30 balls in the space of half an hour. I personally feel it’s more about the practice.”

Sir Geoff has given his support to an lzheimer’s emergency campaign.

The Alzheimer’s Society’s Emergency Appeal is appealing for support and for the charity’s Connect Support Line. To support Alzheimer’s Society’s Emergency Appeal, please visit alzheimers.org.uk/emergency.

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