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Former Manchester United player Sir Bobby Charlton diagnosed with dementia

Earlier this week it was revealed that England World Cup winner and Manchester United legend Sir Bobby Charlton has been diagnosed with dementia. 

Sir Bobby’s diagnosis follows the deaths of his older brother Jack in July and fellow World Cup-winner Nobby Stiles on Friday, both of whom had also been diagnosed with dementia. 

The 83-year-old won three league titles, a European Cup and an FA Cup with United during 17 years at Old Trafford. Manchester United FC said in a statement: "Everyone at Manchester United is saddened that this terrible disease has afflicted Sir Bobby Charlton and we continue to offer our love and support to Sir Bobby and his family." 

Sir Bobby’s wife, Lady Norma Charlton, said she hoped that the knowledge of his diagnosis - first reported by the Telegraph - could help others. 

Dementia in football 

Sir Bobby’s dementia diagnosis means he is now the fifth member of England's 1966 World Cup-winning side to be told he has the disease. 

Along with Bobby and his brother, Nobby Stiles, Martin Peters and Ray Wilson also suffered with dementia. The latter three only being in their sixties when they received the life-changing diagnosis, they died in 2020, 2019 and 2018 respectively. 

During a BBC documentary that aired in 2017, Stiles' son John told former England captain Alan Shearer that he was "utterly convinced" heading a football throughout his career was responsible for his father's dementia. 

Only last year, a study by Glasgow University found former professional footballers are three and a half times more likely to die of dementia than people of the same age range in the general population. Researchers compared the deaths of 7,676 ex-players to 23,000 from the general population. 

The study followed claims that former West Brom striker Jeff Astle died at the age of 59 because of repeated head trauma. The inquest into Astle's death found heading heavy leather footballs repeatedly had contributed to trauma to his brain, but research by the Football Association and the Professional Footballers' Association was later dropped because of what were said to be technical flaws. 

Dawn, John Astle's daughter, said "players who have suffered dementia must not be a statistic" after she was left "staggered" by the results of the study. 

In response, the FA launched new coaching guidelines to restrict the amount of heading by under-18 players in training

Gary Herbert, Partner within our Personal Injury team and a Head Injury specialist, comments:

"It is sad to hear that another former footballer has been diagnosed with dementia, especially one who has lived through the challenges Sir Bobby Charlton has faced. The link between dementia and heading footballs is becoming clearer and clearer. The worrying aspect is that whilst we can see the pattern with players who grew up heading heavy leather footballs, we are still completely unaware whether these risks are reduced by lighter modern footballs or if it is the heading motion that is causing the damage. This means that we will not know for another 40 or 50 years whether we are still exposing today’s children to the same risks. It is important that the game of football, with all of its resources, carry out full research into the mechanics of these injuries to avoid players of today facing an uncertain and upsetting future for playing the game we all love.” 

Gary is a Partner within the Personal Injury team here at Potter Rees Dolan. If you would like to speak with Gary regarding personal injury, head injuries or indeed any other aspect of this article, please call 0800 027 2557.