Sport Scots football legend Denis Law says he cries for former teammates as they battle dementia

07:05  29 november  2020
07:05  29 november  2020 Source:   msn.com

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Football legend Denis Law has revealed he spent days crying after teammates Nobby Stiles died having battled dementia and then Bobby Charlton was diagnosed with the illness.

The 80-year-old Scotland hero said he expects to lose more of his friends to the brain disease after it was linked to the sport.

Denis played alongside Nobby and Sir Bobby in a Manchester United team that won the English First Division in the 1960s.

He was also coming to terms with the loss of Bobby’s brother Jack, an ex-Leeds United player, who also passed away earlier this year after being diagnosed with the degenerative condition.

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Aberdeen-born Denis said: “The last few months have been so hard and sad as more players and friends suffer with dementia. It doesn’t get any easier to lose people as you get older.

“Nobby had been ill for quite some time so it was no surprise when he passed away but it was still very upsetting. He was one of the best players in the world and was a great teammate and leader.

“Now we are coming to terms with the diagnosis of Bobby too. And that was not long after Jack’s death.

“Sadly, I don’t think they will be the last. I’m resigned to losing more friends to dementia. It seems to be the price we have paid for playing football in those days. I’ve spent days crying over what dementia has done to my former teammates.”

a group of people posing for a photo: Manchester United with the European Cup at Old Trafford, Manchester, July 1968 © Popperfoto via Getty Images Manchester United with the European Cup at Old Trafford, Manchester, July 1968

Earlier this month it was revealed Bobby, who alongside Nobby and Jack led England to World Cup glory in 1966, had been diagnosed with dementia.

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He joins Denis Law on 237 goals and is now the joint second highest scorer. In doing so he drew level with Law , and Rooney says he is over the moon to share second spot with a legend before aiming for Sir Bobby Charlton's overall record of 249.

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The 83-year-old ­former striker – who formed Manchester United’s “Holy Trinity” with Denis and George Best in the 60s – was the fifth member of England’s world-beating squad to be told they were suffering from the debilitating neurological condition.

It came just two days after a small group of mourners – kept to just close family and friends due to the coronavirus

pandemic – had gathered to say goodbye to ex-midfielder Nobby.

The 78-year-old made more than 300 appearances in the famous red Manchester United shirt and earned a place in history as an England World Cup winner. He famously danced around Wembley with a trademark toothless grin following the triumph over West Germany.

Nobby also won the English First Division with Denis – Scotland’s only Ballon D’Or winner – in 1965 and 1967.

Father-of-five Denis said he believed dementia in football had been caused by players repeatedly heading a heavy ball. He added: “It’s hard to get across just how different the game was in the 50s, 60s and 70s to today.

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“Nowadays I’ll watch a game and it’s like it is being played on a bowling green.But before it was completely different. From about October until March, the pitches were dug up like potato fields. And that’s when most of the football was played. Even stadiums like Hampden, which was among the world’s best stadiums, had holes all over the pitch.

“Teams had no choice but to get it up in the air and that meant players had to head the ball more. These were heavy leather balls. It now seems it was doing damage to the players.

“My saving grace might have been I headed the ball less. It was only during games where I was going up to challenge for the ball with my head. In training, I never headed the ball at all.

“But you had defenders who would be practising all week with headers and going out on Saturday and doing it for 90 minutes. Who knows what that has done to them over their playing careers.”

Last year, a study by Glasgow University found ex-professional footballers were three-and-a-half times more likely to die of dementia than people of the same age range in the general public.

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The peer-reviewed study had investigated fears heading the ball could be linked to brain injuries. The study began after claims former West Brom striker Jeff Astle died because of repeated head trauma.

It compared deaths of 7676 ex-players to 23,000 from the general population.

The sample was taken from men who played professional football in Scotland and were born between 1900 and 1976. The findings sparked football authorities to take action. Last year we revealed how Scotland would be the first European country to ban primary schoolchildren from heading the ball.

Denis said the move was welcome. He added: “The action they’ve taken has been largely positive. My generation has been greatly affected by this.

“But it’s great to see young players getting added protection from the authorities and the condition is getting the recognition it deserves.”

The Sunday Mail has led the way in campaigning for more research to be carried out linking brain damage suffered by former players to the game in recent years.

We revealed the dementia battles of a number of former high-profile players in recent years, including Celtic legend Billy McNeill, Rangers icon Eric Caldow and Liverpool star Peter Cormack.

Former FA Cup finalist George Reilly was diagnosed with dementia in his 50s. George, who was born in Bellshill, Lanarkshire, and starred for Watford in the 1984 FA Cup final against Everton, said: “It’s so sad to see more and more famous names added to the list of players suffering from dementia.

“I think to call it dementia underplays it a bit. For me, it’s an industrial injury and one that should be treated that way.

“To get a diagnosis like that in your 50s is devastating. If I wasn’t settled and married, I’m sure I would have fallen to pieces. Just now my biggest issue is with my short-term memory but the future will be far harder.

“The only slight positive is that the huge names falling victim to the condition mean authorities will be under pressure to sort it out. Sadly, I don’t think Bobby and Nobby will be the last big names to be linked with dementia.”

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Thompson, ex-England flanker Michael Lipman and Wales No8 Alix Popham have all been named as test cases in bringing action against World Rugby, the RFU and Welsh Rugby Unio n for negligence over brain injuries they suffered in their career.There are eight confirmed test cases – the other five have not yet been named - and all are aged under 45 and played in England or Wales.Sportsmail understands British law firm Rylands Legal are speaking to at least 100 other players about the seismic lawsuit, which is reminiscent of the class action taken by 4,500 former American football players against the NFL in 2012.

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