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Dementia in football: ‘You can’t buy a new brain’, says Nobby Stiles’ widow

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Nobby Stiles in 2008
Nobby Stiles (pictured in 2008) died in October

Nobby Stiles’ widow wants young footballers to think about dementia, saying: “You can’t buy a new brain.”

The former England midfielder is among a number of ex-players diagnosed with the neurological condition.

Asked if she thought children under 16 should not be allowed to head the ball, Kay Stiles said: “Nobody wants to end the last years of their lives in the states these lads have been.”

She added: “No matter how much money they earn, you can’t buy a new brain.”

Children aged 11 and under cannot be taught to head footballs during training in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Similar rules have been in force in the United States since 2015.

Former Manchester United player Stiles is the fifth member of England’s 1966 World Cup-winning squad to have been diagnosed with dementia.

“It just progressed and got worse and worse as the time went on,” Kay Stiles told BBC Radio Four’s Today programme.

“It was a horrible thing actually. It really bugs me when I see advertising of two old people sitting side by side and saying ‘one can’t remember’.

“It’s worse than that, it’s 100 times worse than that. It’s agitation, it’s fear, it’s stress, it’s all sorts of things that they go through. It’s dreadful. It’s a horrible illness, absolutely horrible.”

Stiles’ family has previously said football needs to “address the scandal” of dementia in the sport.

A report published in 2019 found ex-professional footballers are three and a half times more likely than the general population to die of dementia.

Sir Bobby Charlton, 83, was also part of the 1966 England World Cup-winning squad and has been diagnosed with dementia.

Following his diagnosis and the death of Stiles, the Professional Footballers’ Association is to create a taskforce to further examine the issue of brain injury diseases in football.

Kay Stiles added: “I don’t understand why dementia is classed as a condition, and not an illness. I just don’t understand that.

“If somebody can’t look after themselves, they’re in danger all the time because they just don’t know what they’re doing.”

Stiles’ son John has called for more financial support for families of those suffering from dementia.

“We’re calling for a change. This needs to change,” he said.

“Families shouldn’t have to go through this, worrying about the cost of what’s going to happen. There has to be a change. It’s not right, what’s happening now.”

Dr Hilda Hayo, who is the chief executive officer and chief Admiral Nurse at Dementia UK, said: “Dementia does in fact represent one of the many injustices in the social care system.

“There is no clarity for families in a system which fails to see whether their needs should be addressed by either health or social care.

“Many end up falling through the gap between the two and living with financial hardship through having to pay for care themselves, in addition to the emotional and physical stresses which the condition brings.”

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