PFA hit back following criticism over links with football and dementia

‘Why is it only the PFA’s job to tackle dementia? We’re NOT medical experts’, says PFA chief executive Gordon Taylor following Sir Bobby Charlton’s diagnosis and Nobby Stiles’ passing

  • Football’s link with dementia has come up after Sir Bobby Charlton’s diagnosis 
  • The anecdotal evidence is overwhelming and scientific research supports it
  • Campaigners such as Dawn Astle and Chris Sutton demand more from the PFA
  • Sportsmail spoke to PFA supremo Gordon Taylor on a range of issues 

Confirmation of Sir Bobby Charlton’s diagnosis with dementia, soon after the death of his teammate and fellow World Cup legend Nobby Stiles has retrained attention on the link between football and brain disease.

The anecdotal evidence is overwhelming, not least among the World Cup heroes of 1966, and what scientific research there is supports it.

Everyone agrees something must be done. Expectant eyes turn towards the players union, to lead the way. Powerful campaigners such as Dawn Astle and Chris Sutton demand more from the PFA supremo Gordon Taylor. 

Sportsmail spoke to Taylor on a range of issues.

The PFA have faced critiscm as more former footballers have been diagnosed with dementia

Bobby Charlton, the England and Manchester United icon, has been diagnosed the disease

Former England World Cup winner Nobby Stiles passed away after suffering from dementia


Gordon Taylor: ‘People say, ‘why aren’t the PFA sorting it out?’ and you think hang on a minute, this is a world-wide issue that Governments can’t get to grips with. There are different types of dementia. People get it who never played football. We’re not medical people.

‘I speak to Chris Sutton who tells me we’ve got to do more and I say we’ll do whatever we can but the best neurologists in the world still can’t deal with exactly what causes it whether it’s genetic or down to other issues, lifestyle, etc. The brain is a difficult thing to be exact about at times. All we can do is rely on research.

‘We’ve said research is needed into heading the ball, repetitive heading and concussion. We’ve tried to lobby the FA on that. We lobbied the FA after Jeff Astle died and they started research that wasn’t conclusive. We helped the family. We helped Jeff when he was living. We also helped set up the [Jeff Astle] Foundation but these people think we’re not doing enough.

Gordon Taylor revealed he spoke to Chris Sutton on dementia and said PFA do what they can

‘We’re supporting the FA with the Willie Stewart [University of Glasgow] enquiry, and paying for that together with the FA.

‘We’re working with about three projects now where we’re trying to get former players to volunteer for testing, to get as much data as we can. The data from Scotland has encouraged us to keep going and the FA are prepared to work with us on that.

‘We’ve also lobbied regularly with regards to the Industrial Injuries Commission to try and get it established as something.

‘It’s a big responsibility for FIFA as well, because it’s about a duty of care and they have not always been quick to react. There’s been some changes: more concentration on concussion but the long-term effects of dementia is still an issue we have to deal with.

Powerful campaigners such as Dawn Astle demand more from the PFA supremo Gordon Taylor

‘It’s important we keep researching and analysing and then if necessary you’ve got to look to change the rules and be careful about repetitive heading.

‘There’s lots people frustrated. Every family is touched by dementia, including my own. I’m aware of it with my mother. She had dementia and I do know what it’s like to deal with.

‘A lot of the work we do is giving respite to families, to get carers into the home. In this pandemic it’s not been easy. We cover care home charges and work with companies like Sporting Memories, and we work closely with the Alzheimer’s Society.

‘We’re trying to cover every corner. It’s quite a big jigsaw to put together but we’re keeping going. You’ve got to put your head on the pillow at night and I’m thinking we’re doing everything we can. If somebody knows what more we can do we’re open to that all the time.’

Jack Charlton, brother of Bobby, passed away earlier this year following a fight with dementia

Former Tottenham star Martin Peters is another of England’s 1966 heroes to suffer and pass 

Ray Wilson passed away in 2018 as the statistics show links between the disease and football


The PFA will donate £500,000 to the Reposm Sporting Housing Trust, a new charity aimed at providing affordable sheltered accommodation for former sportspeople in financial trouble, devised by former Surrey CCC chairman Mike Soper and former Tottenham manager David Pleat. It is not dementia care but Soper believes the social aspect of the project will help mental health.

Taylor: ‘People are living longer these days, and that’s a reason why we’re looking at supporting the issue of retirement housing and care homes around the country. Not only Mike Soper’s initiative, which was brought to us by David Pleat because we work with the LMA and something I was keen for us to be involved with.

‘When you bring sportsmen and women together talking about the times when they were playing it is most uplifting for them. We find it’s really good for memory recall. It just makes it a lot better than being on your own.

‘It’s just one of many areas we’re looking at now and to have a spread around the country would be good. We hope it can succeed.’

The PFA will donate £500,000 to Reposm Sporting Housing Trust to support former players


Taylor: ‘We have a constitution that says anything affecting the players would be done in agreement with the PFA. That’s the major thing. With the Premier League we’ve worked extremely well with them. With the Football League, I appreciate it’s much more serious, and rather than not engaging with them they’ve not engaged with us. That’s the point.

‘We’re more than happy to talk about sustainability, things that have worked around the world and things that can work for the future, rather than just suddenly imposing things. Everybody knows we’re in a pandemic. I didn’t want us acting in haste and repenting at leisure.

‘We’ve a job to do for our members. They have special ability and we want to make sure they have the right to earn what a club is prepared to pay them. Not just to come down to a lowest common denominator and look at that as the only way of surviving, when there has to be a flexibility.

Taylor said that more talks must be had if the PFA are to support salary caps in the EFL

‘Putting salary caps in and saying that has to include private medical care: well, we pay towards the Football League to make sure every player has immediate private medical treatment. Then it says any money paid to agents have to be part of the salary cap. Well, what’s that got to do with the player’s salary if clubs choose to pay agents?

‘There were so many exemptions with players under contracts, and players under 23 have no limits to what they can earn, so it’s all a little bit thrown together in the kitchen without thinking what ingredients are suitable and what aren’t.

‘One of the biggest things is we think there should be an independent check on whatever sustainability rules are brought in.’


Taylor: ‘It’s about changing and evolving. I can’t be at the PFA forever and it’s a matter of looking at how we keep going in the future and hopefully stay as strong and be even stronger to cope with the challenges.

‘One of our biggest challenges has been this pandemic. So many things have tested us. I’ve been really proud of my staff.

‘(The independent review into the PFA’s leadership) is in the process of looking at recommendations for the future but that’s not in my hands, that’s for the management committee of the PFA to decide. And there’s likely to be new personnel involved on there and different structures to the future.

‘In the process of time, that will come through and we’ve got an AGM at the end of this month to bring our members up to date with what’s happening.’

Taylor admitted that the coronavirus pandemic has been his toughest task while at the PFA

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