Billy McNeill’s dementia diagnosis prompts charity to launch investigation
Alzheimer Scotland is to host a summit examining the possible link between playing football and dementia
Alzheimer Scotland has said it plans to hold a summit to outline a strategy of research and investigation into the possible link between football and dementia.
The charity made the announcement after it was revealed former Celtic and Scotland player Billy McNeill was living with the disease.
The family of McNeill, who captained Celtic in 1967 as they became the first British side to win the European Cup, confirmed at the weekend that he was diagnosed with the illness seven years ago and is now unable to speak more than just a few words.
He is just one of many former players from that era who have been diagnosed with the disease leading to suggestions that consistently heading what was then a much heavier football may have caused the condition – something the summit will look at.
Henry Simmons, Alzheimer Scotland’s chief executive, said it would be held in Scotland in late spring and would be attended by key dementia researchers and representatives from the Scottish football community.
It will be co-chaired by former first minister Henry Mcleish, who himself played professional football in the 1960s, and Professor John Starr, director of the Alzheimer Scotland Research Centre at Edinburgh University.
Simmons added: “We have been acutely aware of the increasing number of ex-football players receiving a diagnosis of dementia.
“We believe that there is now a clear need for the Scottish football and dementia research communities to work together in order to establish a joint understanding and consensus on the strength of the current evidence base, the implications of this evidence and the potential scale of the problem for retired, current and future footballers.
“This summit will aim to shed much needed light on the urgent issues and will help us to identify key research and funding priorities so that we can collectively move forward in Scotland with as strong an evidence base as possible and with a broad a consensus.”
Speaking in a national newspaper, McNeill’s wife Liz said: “His concentration is not as good as it was and he now can't communicate very well. It's affected his speech over the last year or two.
"Sometimes, if something annoys him, he can still say a few words like 'don't do that'. But in general he finds it very difficult. It's not because he doesn't know how to speak. There's just a part of his brain that won't let him. I miss the conversation."
She added: "I think it's the right time for us to talk about this now. Heading the ball and the possibilities of concussive effects on the brain needs more discussion.
"We don't know if Billy's dementia is linked to his football. More research needs to be done."