Astle 'had boxers' brain condition'

Hillingdon Times: Former England and West Brom striker Jeff Astle Former England and West Brom striker Jeff Astle

Former England and West Brom striker Jeff Astle died from a brain condition normally linked to boxers, a top neurosurgeon has claimed.

Dr Willie Stewart carried out a re-examination of Astle's brain at Glasgow Southern General after being granted permission by the footballer's family.

The 59-year-old, who is best remembered for scoring the winning goal at the 1968 FA Cup final, died in 2002 after being originally diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease.

But now Dr Stewart says his tests confirm Astle had chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a condition initially found in boxers and often confused with Alzheimer's and other dementias.

CTE, previously called dementia pugilistica (DP), 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

It has been most commonly found in professional athletes participating in American football, ice hockey, professional wrestling and other contact sports who have experienced repetitive brain trauma.

Mr Astle's family have been campaigning for the FA and PFA to further investigate the links between head injuries and dementia following an inquest in 2002. So far no study has been carried out.

Returning a verdict of death by industrial disease, South Staffordshire coroner Andrew Haigh said Astle died from a degenerative brain disease caused by the constant heading of a heavy, and often wet, leather football.

Consultant pathologist Dr Keith Robson told the inquest he had found "considerable evidence of trauma to the brain similar to that of a boxer".

Dr Stewart told Sky Sports News: "He (Astle) did not have Alzheimer's disease. He had chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). The difficulty with this is that this is a diagnosis that clinically and also for technology reasons isn't that well recognised at the moment.

"It might not be something that people are thinking about in a footballer. It may have been different if Jeff was a boxer that people would say I wonder if this could be dementia pugilistica but as a footballer it's not a diagnosis necessarily people would have been thinking of then."

He said he believed Astle's case was not unique.

"Jeff's case is not unique. In football there will be more and what will be happening is that this diagnosis in football may be seen as unusual. This is the first case that we know of. So what's happening I think is that the same pathology, the same diagnosis, the same condition will still be getting called Alzheimer's disease or vascular dementia or one of the other common dementias because CTE won't be necessarily a consideration when a patient is being reviewed."

Mrs 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."

Mr Astle's daughter Dawn told the MailOnline: "It's time people started to listen, because we believe many footballers have been misdiagnosed with Alzheimer's and other diseases when in fact they had CTE caused by head injuries.

"The FA have tried to sweep this under the carpet, but they don't have a brush big enough. I'd like to think they have the resources, skills and the will to deliver a better and safer game."

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