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Nobby Stiles: ‘No doubt’ heading caused ex-footballer’s death, says son John

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

Nobby Stiles’ son says he has “no doubt” heading balls contributed to his father’s death after a post-mortem found the former footballer’s brain was affected by a dementia believed to be caused by repeated blows.

John Stiles said he “felt vindicated” as the results backed his initial view.

“There is one common theme with the footballers, and I think it’s because of where they get the damage,” he said.

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

His son John, himself a former midfielder with Leeds United and Doncaster Rovers, previously said it was “blatantly obvious” repeated heading of a football was responsible for causing the syndrome among ex-professionals.

When asked whether he remained with no doubt, Stiles added: “Absolutely none, no doubt whatsoever.

“They’ve demanded that scientists come up with proof – when it’s a brain thing it is difficult,” he said.

“I think in my dad’s career at United he probably headed a ball between 70,000 and 100,000 times. Every time the ball is hitting the head, the brain is hitting the front of the skull.”

Nobby Stiles’ brain was diagnosed as having chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) – a form of degenerative disease dementia – by Dr Willie Stewart, consultant neuropathologist at Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Glasgow.

Dr Stewart told BBC Sport: “The one thing that unites all these different cases is this exposure to brain injury – we don’t see it in people with dementia who haven’t had very severe brain injury.”

Upon examining Stiles’ brain, the neuropathologist said what he saw was consistent with others who had suffered from CTE, although Stewart said it was difficult to conclusively state heading balls was the cause of Stiles’ dementia later in life.

He added: “I think what we do is we take all the circumstantial evidence. We only see it in people with a history of brain injury and only in the highest exposure to brain injury, and I haven’t seen it anywhere else.

“So I think that’s enough for us to say until we come up with a better solution, head injuries and head impacts is what we are worried about.”

John Stiles has previously said that football needs to “address the scandal” of dementia in the game.

The Professional Footballers’ Association has said it is beginning a “process of consultation” with members who have experience of neurodegenerative conditions and are funding “three separate studies” into the issue.

The Football Association said: “We continue to work closely with the Alzheimer’s Society and, alongside other sport governing bodies, we are pleased to be a part of their Sport United Against Dementia campaign to help raise awareness and gain support for their valuable work.”

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