A NEW study has revealed that a footballing great died from a brain condition normally linked to boxers – rather than Alzheimer’s disease as previously thought.
Laraine Astle, widow of former West Bromwich Albion and England star Jeff, confirmed that neuropathologist Dr Willie Stewart’s examination of his brain found he was killed by chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).
He said this had been caused by heading footballs.
Dr Stewart said CTE was formerly known as dementia pugilistica, a progressive degeneration of the brain caused by repeated head trauma.
He said the condition was frequently mistaken for dementia, as happened in the case of Mr Astle when he was incorrectly diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.
Dr Stewart said he believed a number of footballers could be affected by CTE.
He said: “Jeff’s case is not unique. In football there will be more, and what will be happening is that this diagnosis may be seen as unusual in that sport.
“This is the first case that we know of.”
The condition can only be definitively diagnosed after death.
Mrs Astle, who lives in Netherseal, has long been campaigning for more to be done over the effects of heading footballs.
Jeff Astle played for the Baggies from 1964 to 1974.
He scored 137 goals in 292 league appearances for the club and is recognised as one of its greatest ever players. He also represented England.
Mr Astle’s daughter Dawn said the family had always believed heading balls had caused her father’s death, but it had still been ‘shocking’ to hear the results of the new tests.
“When the doctor explained, he said to mum if he hadn’t known he was looking at the brain of a 59-year-old man he would have thought it belonged to an 89-year-old,” she said.
“That was the extent of the damage.”
Football Association (FA) bosses have said that a commission has been set up to investigate head injuries, which includes representatives from the FA, the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA) and the Premier League.