A new BBC documentary shows ex England star Alan Shearer joining the debate about the link between football and dementia
Alan Shearer is on a quest to discover why so many footballers seem to be developing dementia.
As the Premier League’s top goal scorer (despite retiring ten years ago) it’s not surprising that Shearer is concerned about the link between heading the ball and brain damage. After all, 46 of his 260 top scoring goals were headers…
We told you about Shearer’s search for the truth back in the summer when news about his BBC1 documentary Dementia – Football’s Silent Sham was first announced. The documentary itself was finally screened on Sunday night (you can watch it on the BBC iPlayer) and makes fascinating viewing.
Shearer is shown looking suitably nervous as he undergoes a series of dementia tests at Stirling University. Using cutting edge medical screening (including an MRI scan and other neurological tests) doctors investigate how his 18-year football career might have affected his brain. Thankfully, the tests show that his brain looks okay, for now.
Shearer’s resolve to investigate the link came after watching the 2015 Hollywood film Concussion which examined the link between NFL players and dementia.
“After seeing the movie Concussion, I was intrigued,’ Shearer, 46, explains. ‘I was aware of former football players, legends who I grew up watching, suffering from dementia. Could this affect football and footballers too? The more I read about it, the more I felt this was a subject that could no longer be ignored.’
The science isn’t straightforward. Some medical opinion casts doubt on the direct link between dementia and brain damage caused by heading the ball. However, the most detailed British research ever undertaken into dementia among retired footballers concluded earlier this year* that the condition may be connected to repeated head ‘impacts’ caused by headers and collisions. But researchers did stress that the study was small and could not be used as proof that dementia is common amongst footballers.
He also investigates the latest scientific research from Britain and around the world, including studies into Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), a condition formerly believed to exist primarily among boxers.
The documentary shows Shearer meeting footballers and their families who are affected by dementia, including Sixties striker Matt Tees, who’s living with advanced dementia. Shearer talks to Matt’s wife Mary who admits she feels ‘sick’ when she sees her three football mad grandsons head the ball…
At least four members of the 1966 World Cup winning team have had a diagnosis of dementia. The Football Association (FA) announced a British based research programme last year, but many people have been disappointed by the response of footballs’ governing bodies, leaving footballing communities feeling let down and ignored.
‘We need to embrace and fund research,’ Shearer says, whilst reflecting on what he’s found. ‘Football must also look after former players with dementia and put an end to the feeling that once you’ve stopped playing, you are thrown on the scrapheap. It’s a tough game. It’s known as the beautiful game. Let’s make sure it’s not the killer game.’
Nicely put. Let’s hope this documentary – and Alan Shearer’s involvement – might help raise awareness and really make a difference.
Dementia – Football’s silent shame is available for 29 days on BBC iPlayer: https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b09g0gzk/alan-shearer-dementia-football-and-me
Source: Research funded by the Drake Foundation