John Wragg finds out about ef­forts be­ing made to sup­port the he­roes of yes­ter­year

Late Tackle Football Magazine - - CONTENTS -

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 help@xpro­com­mu­

Bid: Jim Walker

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