Alan Jarvis, the former Wales and Everton midfielder, has become only the second player after Jeff Astle to be formally recognised as dying from “industrial disease” due to his job as a professional footballer.
At an inquest on Thursday in Ruthin, coroner John Gittins delivered his verdict on the balance of probabilities after considering the report of neuropathologist Dr Willie Stewart, who examined Jarvis’s brain following his death at a nursing home in Mold last December. “I think sadly there maybe others in the future,” said Gittens.
Jarvis, who was 76, had been suffering from dementia and his daughter believed that his condition was caused by heading footballs and blows to the head during his career as a professional footballer with Everton, Hull City and Mansfield during the 1960s and 1970s.
The Industrial Injuries Advisory Panel is already considering whether professional football should be recognised as an industrial disease following research last year, led by Dr Stewart, which found that former professionals were 3.5 times more likely to die of neurological disease.
Dawn Astle, Jeff’s daughter, said that the report from Jarvis’s inquest would now be submitted to the panel as part of the evidence which has proved a link between professional football and dementia.
‘My dad was constantly heading the ball in training and in games,” said Sarah Jarvis, Alan’s daughter. “He was also knocked unconscious on the pitch once. My dad was such a nice guy and he did not deserve to die such a horrible death. I would say that the FA need to look after the older players as the families suffer massive trauma in these cases.
“I know they say the football was heavy back then, but now it’s lighter and faster, so who’s to say there’s not still going to be the same amount of people coming through with dementia.”
New research, which was published last week by the University of Leeds, supports that concern. Scientists found that it was the speed rather than the weight of the football which had the greatest effect on the severity of the impact and there has been no wider evidence of a diminishing risk to players in the modern era.
The Football Association has advised a heading ban during training for children of a primary school age but there has been no changes for adult football and planned trials for concussion substitutes have been delayed indefinitely.
Dawn Astle said that she was “pleased that Alan Jarvis’s family know the truth” and that she would now be pushing for further assistance to support the many former players who are currently living with dementia. She also wants professional football to enforce some limits to the amount of heading that is permitted during training.
The issue has been brought into particularly sharp public focus over the past year following the deaths of two more members of the 1966 World Cup winning team – Jack Charlton and Martin Peters – who both died after being diagnosed with dementia.
Having neurodegenerative disease formally recognised as an industrial illness would allow former players to make a claim for Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit, as is the case with more than 70 other diseases which are included in the scheme. It would also significantly increase the pressure on governing bodies to mitigate risk and provide greater financial assistance to the affected players and families.