THE widow of a Midlands football legend who died from injuries sustained during his playing career says she is continuing her efforts to get changes made in the sport.
Laraine Astle, the wife of former West Bromwich Albion and England striker Jeff Astle, from Netherseal, has appealed to the Football Association to conduct more research and take more action to prevent modern stars from suffering the same fate as her husband.
The death of the former Baggies hitman in 2002, at the age of 59, was later found to have been caused by repeatedly heading heavy leather balls during the 1960s and 70s, with a coroner ruling it was the cause of serious brain damage.
A recent study from across the Atlantic found that even with today’s lighter balls, players whose heads come into contact with them over a sustained period of time could be at risk in later life.
Mrs Astle (right) said: “Should they play in skull caps? Yes, if it is going to save a life. But they are afraid of it, to acknowledge what is there.
“Jeff couldn’t remember his daughter, he kept forgetting her name, he couldn’t remember that he had played football. It was heartbreaking.
“It’s like giving a child a cigarette and telling them to smoke it. This is the brain. Once you get trouble there it’s a slippery slope.”
Following his death, and aware who Astle was, a quick-thinking doctor at Burton Queen’s Hospital sent his body to Queen’s Medical Centre in Nottingham, where one of the world’s pre-eminent neuropathologists, Dr Keith Robson, carried out a post-mortem examination.
When he inspected Astle’s brain, Robson discovered levels of catastrophic damage more usually associated with boxers and, at an inquest, the coroner Andrew Haigh deemed it beyond reasonable doubt that Astle’s death had been caused by his heading of footballs.
Astle (left) played 292 games for West Bromwich Albion between 1964 and 1974, scoring 137 goals. He also played five times for England.
Mrs Astle said: “Everything he’d won in football, in the end football took away from him.”