John Wragg finds out about efforts being made to support the heroes of yesteryear
Time to give them support
TOP-FLIGHT footballers get paid fortunes these days, but life has not been so kind to many professionals of yesteryear. Now a number of old-timers, including World Cup winning hero Gordon Banks, are hoping a football charity gets more money to help ageing former players.
Xpro Community is waiting to hear from the Government whether they will provide funds to make life better for players with osteoarthritis.
The charity is also looking into dementia and could work alongside players’ union, the PFA, in helping those suffering from that horrible disease.
Xpro, formed in 2003 through the enthusiasm of Northern Ireland’s colourful centre-forward, the late Derek Dougan, is also part of the trade union Community, formerly the Iron and Steel Trades Confederation.
Community is a union that incor- porates among others the Knitwear, Footwear and Apparel Trade Union, National League of the Blind and Disabled, National Union of Domestic Appliance and General Operatives, British Union of Social Work Employees, members of the Prison Service Union and West Bromwich Building Society staff union, a total of 28,000 members.
“Xpro is a branch of the Community Union,” says Jim Walker who is medical officer for Xpro, with ex-Stoke and Republic of Ireland midfielder Terry Conroy the welfare officer.
Walker, now 71 and a former player with Derby, Brighton, Peterborough and Chester, holds a Masters degree in physiology and adds: “What we need now is more members for Xpro. We need the word out so we can help ex-players.”
Clive Emery, chief executive of Xpro Community, says: “The partnership provides an extensive benefits package for ex-professional footballers covering legal, financial, medical, welfare and social matters.
“We are running two campaigns to push osteoarthritis and image rights up the political, media and football ladders and support a Union wide mental health charter.”
Walker retired after being Aston Villa’s physio for 17 years and a stint as Paul Merson’s assistant at Walsall. He then went into private practice and has spent 12 years researching osteoarthritis and dementia.
“It was Derek Dougan and co-founder Bob Runham, at the very start of Xpro, who asked if I would help out on the medical side,” says Walker.
Banks, 80, one of the world’s great goalkeepers, is a member of Xpro and spreading the word about the charity by talking to ex-players.
“Gordon’s been to my house and we’ve chatted,” says Walker.
A player’s bonus for winning the
World Cup was £1,000, worth about £13,000 today.
“You would have got a lot more for your money back then, but it’s not enough to see heroes through life.
“I would say the players of the last 15 years, they won’t be so badly off when they retire, but people my age, and older, are really struggling for money,” says Walker.
Xpro has twice approached the Government’s Industrial Injuries Advisory Council to get benefit money for the old boys and been turned down.
“You go to them and they refer your case to a working research group,” says Walker.
“The first time we went it was no, it’s not proven, despite all the evidence and research we had, that footballers get osteoarthritis through football.
“I persevered because I knew they did. Anybody, if they have knee surgery will get osteoarthritis. Even nowadays with the surgery as good as it is, it will still happen.
“But in my day, and before my day, you took the cartilage out and it was bone on bone. It wears out the bone and that becomes painful.
“You can also get osteoarthritis in your ankle, hip, back. Wherever there are joints, you can get it.
“If anyone ruptures a cruciate ligament now it’s odds on that eventually they are going to get osteoarthritis.”
But the IIAC said Xpro had to prove that footballers were twice as likely to get osteoarthritis before they would consider any benefit payments.
Walker did deep research and found that, in fact, you were a thousand times more likely to get injured playing football than working down a coal mine.
“When you sit and think about it, on a Saturday, when everybody plays, there will be a number of injuries. Not serious ones but enough to keep people out for a while. Then of course there will be the serious ones.
“There were a number of older players I knew who were struggling to walk, so I had to persevere with it.
“We tried again a few years later and went to IIAC once more. I took a player with me, in front of a panel of seven, some of whom were surgeons.
“The lad - I won’t name him - had a bad injury and got osteoarthritis. So they were asking him questions and then he went out, leaving me sat with the seven of them,
“One of the doctors said to me ‘Why on earth are you doing this when footballers earn so much money?’ I said footballers like me and older than me didn’t earn that money and were now struggling desperately.
“I don’t know if they took it on board but the bottom line was again ‘No’.”
Walker was then put in contact with Dr Gwen Fernandes at Nottingham University, who was doing research into osteoarthritis in the general public and footballers.
“I played a very, very small part in that study… she is so bright,” says Walker.
The study was finished in November 2017.
“She proved that you are between two and three times more likely to get osteoarthritis as a footballer than the average person. Remember, IIAC had said ‘prove it is twice as much’.
“So I’ve been back to them with Gwen’s study. They were looking at it and looking at it and then it was sent to the next stage - it’s never gone that far before.
“We should get their decision soon. I’m hoping. I just feel the old footballers have been let down.
“But I don’t know, what with Brexit and all that’s going on, will the Government do something?”
Today’s star players get enough money to open their own bank but Walker points out: “The benefit, if we get it, won’t be huge. It’ll work out at something like £50 a week for a player.
“It’s not a vast amount but I use the example of someone who lives, say, in Plymouth, can’t walk properly, and wants to go into town with his wife. It’s a taxi instead of a bus.”
Dementia is one of the curses of the modern age and the PFA are involved in studies on how heading a football affects the brain.
Alan Shearer’s TV documentary highlighted the dangers football could present as research into the cause of dementia continues.
“My take on it is forget if it was caused by heading a football, the player has got dementia,” says Walker.
“He needs help. Can we not help him with all the money in football?
“Again, you are talking £50 a week from us, or here’s £1,000 for your family to go on holiday, or to go into a home for a couple of weeks.
“The money might not help the player, but it will help his family, maybe just in the cost of going to see him regularly.
“Eventually, if it all did take off, in years to come, there might be a home for the players.
“If a player has dementia he’d be able to talk about the past with others because it’s not the past you forget, it’s the present day stuff.
“It would be nice if you’d got 20 ex-footballers talking football because otherwise they’d be sat doing nothing, wouldn’t they? We want to make sure the older guys are alright.
“At the moment it’s a bit of money to help a player’s lifestyle, make it a bit better. I think they deserve that, don’t they?
“That’s all I am trying to do, to help.”
Backing: England keeper Gordon Banks, seen here with Bobby Moore Idea: Derek Dougan
Head master: Alan Shearer looked at the impact of heading a ball *To contact Xpro Community and become a member or get help phone 0800 3896332 or email email@example.com
Bid: Jim Walker