FORMER Dorset Echo sports editor Brian Copp has written to us remembering Weymouth FC player Jeff Astle.
His letter comes after reports highlighting the physical dangers risked by football players when they head footballs with great force.
Jeff died of degenerative brain disease in 2002 and the coroner ruled that successive mental traumas – caused by heading heavy leather footballs when he was a player – caused the damage.
Brian writes: “One of the most popular Weymouth players to fire-up back in the Terras’ days at the Old Rec, and still within living memory of veteran fans, was Jeff Astle, the former West Bromwich international striker who spent two great seasons at Weymouth.
“He came to live in a flat near Weymouth’s seafront with his wife and was a well-liked Terra who thrilled the fans with his outstanding performances and he made many friends in the town with his great attitude, always with a smile on his face.
“With the strong Anniello Ianone he was a hard player, running strongly from the start and obviously delighting in scoring goals.
“He encouraged others and I became very friendly with him, often sitting with him on the team coach and always having cheerful and interesting interviews with the Midlands Player of the Year every so often.
“I was reminded of him well this when this week I read in a national newspaper about his wonderful duelling in the air and how he could really hit the ball in the air and on the ground. Many a goalkeeper was taken by surprise by his striking powers.
“It was Jeff’s heading which drew attention to his abilities and the ‘danger’ that was also made evident.
“He was used as an example of what could have happened by continually heading without any fear of the tough, much heavier leather balls used in those days.
“In fact, fears were expressed about heading the heavier balls and a call was made by research scientists suggesting restrictions on headers, wearing protective headgear or limiting heading exposure to try and decrease the incidence of brain injury.
“Similar fears arose in 2002 after a coroner ruled that the dementia that killed Jeff was caused by heading.
“Leather balls in Jeff’s era were so much heavier than now and I recall the player saying it was like heading ‘a bag of bricks’. He often went to sleep on the coach on the way home saying ‘I sure felt the ball today’.
“But he gave the Terras great service. He was a star and loved by many.”