A LEADING brain doctor has confirmed that former Weymouth striker Jeff Astle died of brain injuries as a result of consistently heading heavy leather footballs.
Dr Willie Stewart, a neuropathologist at Glasgow Southern General Hospital, was granted permission by Astle’s family to re-examine the centre forward’s brain and yesterday confirmed his death was as a result of a condition called CTE, chronic traumatic encephalopathy.
The disease, more commonly found in boxers and American footballers, is a progressive degenerative disease which can only be definitively diagnosed post-mortem in individuals with a history of multiple concussions and other forms of head injury.
Astle died aged 59 in 2002 and the coroner ruled that successive mental traumas – caused by heading heavy leather footballs when he was a player – caused the damage.
Dr Stewart also told the family that Astle’s brain resembled that of an 89-year-old, and not that of a 59-year-old.
Dr Stewart found traces of proteins in Astle’s brain consistent with CTE, making him the first professional footballer to be diagnosed with the disease.
Astle’s widow, Laraine Astle, said: “When I spoke to Dr Stewart he confirmed that Jeff had CTE.
“I asked him several things about Jeff’s brain and it was deeply upsetting to understand just how badly damaged it was.
“He said to me had he not known that Jeff was only 59 when he died he would have thought his brain was that of someone at least 89 years old. I think that says it all.
“It was very badly damaged and it showed that Jeff had been misdiagnosed with Alzheimer’s when he was alive when in fact he had CTE.
“I wonder how many other footballers there are out there in the same position.”
Astle, who played for Weymouth in the 1975-1976 season, was a popular member of the team with both players and fans, bagging 35 goals in 50 appearances.
Following his death, Astle’s family were promised a long-term study into the link between head injuries and dementia by the FA and PFA in 2002 but so far no such study has been carried out.
As reported in the Echo last month, his family have now launched the Justice for Jeff campaign to try and pressurise the FA into holding this enquiry, and are calling on fans of Astle’s former clubs, including Weymouth, to back the campaign and to lobby the FA.
At the launch of the campaign, Dawn Astle, Jeff Astle’s daughter, said: “We can’t describe how let down we feel, it’s a real kick in the teeth. The delay is not fair for us, or for dad.
“The FA said they would conduct the research and publish the information, but they never have.”