LONGER READ: Did heading the ball give Inverness footballing legend dementia?
A TEACHER whose football legend father was diagnosed with dementia has said he was not surprised after research published this week showed a higher incidence of dementia among former players compared to the general population.
Symon Christie’s father David died last month aged 82 having made 190 appearances for Caledonian in a football career stretching from April 1956 to a famous 1963/64 title win with the Inverness club.
An uncompromising left-half of great repute Mr Christie died of pneumonia but had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia in 2013 and, according to his son, had always believed the condition was as a result of repeatedly heading the ball during his career.
Symon Christie, who now works in Bangkok, said: “I think there were discussions with my dad about how it probably hadn’t helped much and he would talk about how hard those old balls were, especially when waterlogged. There were no regrets though and all those discussions were fairly good-humoured.”
The Glasgow Brain Injury Research Group published findings on Monday showing that former professional footballers are three-and-a-half times more likely to die from neurological diseases than the general population.
Mr Christie said he was not surprised.
“It has been in the news for a long time about the supposed links for footballers and obviously also with certain similarities to boxing from the significant impact on the brain.
“I have no doubts at all that his footballing career would have significantly contributed to his onset of dementia.
“What we’ll never know though is whether he would still have ultimately been diagnosed with dementia and also whether other factors such as diet or using iron pots and pans may have contributed also.”
Calls have been made to ban ball heading in under-18s games, but Mr Christie said his father would not necessarily have backed such a move.
“It is a really tough question to answer and I do wonder how my dad would answer it,” he said.
“I’d imagine, with him being very old-school, he’d say ‘just get on with it and play the game as it’s supposed to be played’.
“I certainly never enjoyed heading a ball as a youngster and I’d probably have to say that erring on the side of caution for current youngsters would be advisable.
“I’m sure traditionalists would disagree and say that it is taking away an important skill from the game, but times change and as we have more information about potential dangers then it would be sensible to protect children.
“As the SFA has stated, the Glasgow University study is only really the start of the process and more research will follow.”
He echoed calls from other families of former professional players for more support for those affected by dementia.
“There is so much money in football these days, particularly in England, and more could be done to help families with care costs,” he said.
“Obviously, though, the issue of sufficient evidence is important, as without it certain people are unlikely or unwilling to accept responsibility.
“I would also definitely support the idea of concussion substitutes. That would be a very sensible move to make and should be done as soon as possible.”