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13 November 2017

England legend Alan Shearer tackles dementia head on in thought-provoking documentary.

Former England captain Alan Shearer was a ferocious competitor on the football field who never shirked a challenge. Now he has his sights on tackling dementia, and as the BBC documentary ‘Alan Shearer: Dementia, Football and Me’ made clear, investigating links between the disease and the heading of footballs is a very personal journey for the Newcastle United legend.

Recent reports have claimed the high incidence of dementia in former pros could be a result of brain damage caused by repeatedly heading the ball – not so much during matches, but in training drills. Shearer remains the Premier League’s all-time top scorer, with 46 of his 260 goals coming from headers: “But for every header in a game, I must have practised a thousand times in training,” he admits.

The link between heading the ball and dementia was first made in 2002 during the inquest of the late West Brom player Jeff Astle. Shearer said Astle had been diagnosed with an industrial disease, but little has been done since despite several high-profile ex-players also being diagnosed with dementia. They include 1966 England World Cup winners Nobby Stiles, Martin Peters and Ray Wilson, and Celtic's European Cup-winning captain Billy McNeill.

Professional Footballers’ Association chief executive Gordon Taylor admitted to Shearer that he has no idea how many of his 50,000 members have dementia, but the PFA and the Football Association have now pledged to fund research and support former players with dementia. It is a belated start.

"At least now people have started to look for answers," Shearer said. “Nowhere near enough research has been done so far. For too long it has been swept under the carpet, which is why so many people are angry - and rightly so.”

"There are 850,000 people in the United Kingdom suffering from dementia and as this documentary made clear, there are many footballers in those numbers,” says Geraldine Smith, CEO of Coate Water Care. “As somebody who spends every day of my life looking after people living with dementia, and as the wife and mother of football-crazy men, I commend Alan Shearer’s mission to find out just how dangerous heading footballs can be.”

Shearer’s quest involved donning surgical scrubs and submitting himself to an MRI scan and other neurological tests. There was genuine jeopardy here and he was palpably nervous. Thankfully, the results were perfectly normal. Cue signature arm-aloft celebrations.

At the documentary’s conclusion, the Match of the Day pundit argued: “We need to embrace and fund research. Football must also look after former players with dementia and put an end to the feeling that once you’ve stopped playing, you’re thrown on the scrapheap. It’s a tough game. It’s known as the beautiful game. Let’s make sure it’s not a killer game.” 

To find out about residential care for people living with dementia or to arrange a visit to any of Coate Water Care’s outstanding care homes, please contact our ‘Welcome Team’ on 01793 821200.

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