A heads-up on football head injuries
There’s a famous old football story that has gained its subject – the former Partick Thistle manager John Lambie – more notoriety than his playing or managerial career ever did. It goes like this:
During a Scottish League match Lambie’s then centre-forward Colin McGlashan suffered a serious clash of heads with a rival. Lambie’s assistant Gerry Collins examined the injured player on the side of the pitch and reported back that McGlashan “didn’t know who he was”.
To which Lambie quipped: “Tell him he’s Pele and send him back on”.
Head injuries are no joke
It’s a funny line. Enjoyed countless times in after-dinner speeches. I’ve heard both Harry Redknapp and Sam Allardyce retell the story (as their own – but you wouldn’t expect any more from either of them).
It was chosen as the title of a best-selling book of football anecdotes. And the tale was even retold at Lambie’s funeral in April last year. As an epitaph, of sorts.
But in the light of recent research about dementia among former footballers, it is perhaps not such great bantz after all.
Ex-footballers 3 General Public 1
A report published this week found that ex-professional players are three and a half times more likely to die of dementia than people of the same age in the general population.
Former West Brom great Jeff Astle developed dementia and died in 2002 aged 59. The inquest into his death found that repeated heading heavy leather footballs had caused trauma to his brain.
The FA and PFA reluctantly began research into the matter, but soon dropped the ball due to ‘technical’ flaws. Standard. We can only assume that there weren’t enough long, liquid lunches and backhanders on offer to hold their interest. Or – to be fair – it might just have been a bit too much like actual work.
Another open goal missed by the FA
So it fell to Alan Shearer to highlight the case in his tawdry, ego-soaked documentary ‘Dementia, Football and Me’. (I use the term ‘highlight’ loosely. Astle does get a mention, but the program starts and ends with reminders of Shearer’s goal scoring record. And could just as easily been titled: Alan Shearer: Me, Me and Me).
What Alan fails to remind the viewer of when he tried to kick Neil Lennon’s head off (v Leicester, in April 1988) – for which he received no FA sanction, so he was clear to captain England in the impending World Cup warm-up matches. Not sure how that sits with his faux concern about head trauma.
Nor does he mention his punditry advice to Wayne Rooney to ‘smack Ronaldo in the mouth’ following Winkgate. Or his suggestion that Croatian centre forward Mandzukic should’ve ‘smashed’ the Russian goalkeeper when he had the chance in extra-time, during last summer’s World Cup Quarter Final. So Akinfeev he wouldn’t have been able to play on during the penalty shootout.
Perhaps he’s suffering memory loss. He did score a lot of goals with his head.
Matt Nesbitt swapped his short unspectacular career in the English lower divisions for a much more successful one as a football tipster. He now has a proper job.