“Repetitive heading – and then there would always be collisions or other incidents,” Sarah says. “There were various headaches over the years. There was an incident where he got hit in the face by a football with such force that it detached his retina and he was knocked unconscious. One of the other players came to our back door after the game with his clothes. My mum thought he must have died. He was in the hospital for two weeks.”
Jarvis would become a quantity surveyor in later life – and continued playing sports such as squash and golf – but small changes in his behaviour became apparent when he reached his fifties. Little things, like leaving his card in cash machines or mistakes while he was driving, gradually escalated as he reached his sixties until it became evident that something was seriously wrong.
“He was a great dad – a genuinely funny and nice guy who would do anything for you,” Sarah says. “He should still have been in the prime of life but his personality changed totally.” That regression accelerated over the next decade and, while there was some limited financial help from the Professional Footballers’ Association towards care costs, she says that they did not find the process easy. She also noticed that the PFA form explicitly stated that they did not cover nursing care.
Jarvis was 76 when he died last year and the decision to donate his brain was partly to provide certainty, but also to further awareness and knowledge for the next generation of players.
The industrial disease verdict, says Sarah, “confirmed what we already knew”. Despite the huge significance of his recent inquest, Sarah has not heard from the PFA since last year.
The Jarvis family now want two things: comprehensive care support for the families of former professional footballers with dementia and steps to reduce risk for current and future generations.
“There are former players who are physically strong and fit people who have a debilitating illness that means they can’t look after themselves,” Sarah says. “They will often last longer than the normal person. I just want these players cared for. Surely if it has been proven that you are five times more likely to get an illness by doing your job then you should be looked after if something happens.”
Several of Jarvis’s former team-mates have also been diagnosed with dementia, including Chris Chilton, for whom a Go Fund Me page has recently been set up to raise money towards his 24-hour care. Chilton, who is Hull City’s all-time record scorer with 222 goals, is now 77. The Go Fund Me page explains that Chilton’s son, Gary, has been “looking at the very real possibility of selling his home” to help fund his father’s care.
Sarah, who stresses that her whole family are “huge football fans”, is adamant that the risks could be mitigated easily. “Do they need to be practising heading a lot? No. Do under-15s need to be practising heading at all? Probably not. Why are we not doing concussions substitutions? How many players do they want proof of? And, if they don’t address this, who’s to say there won’t be problems for this younger generation?”
The PFA Charity has reserves of £63.54 million and receives about £25 million each year as a charitable donation from the Premier League. Its union chief executive, Gordon Taylor, annually receives £2 million in salary, bonus and benefits. The PFA said that its support for former players in need exceeded £1 million last year.
“The PFA Charity is committed to supporting former players, and their families, who are dealing with dementia or any other neurodegenerative condition,” said a statement. “This support includes financial assistance towards provisions such as home improvements, respite care, independent benefits advice, counselling provisions for family members and help with care costs.”