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Suffering ex-footballer talks of illness

PUBLISHED: 12:30 26 September 2001 | UPDATED: 10:34 03 March 2010

AN ex-footballer living in Ipswich believes he is suffering from memory problems as a result of heading an old-style leather ball.

Jack French, 76, speaks out about his plight in a Cover Story documentary, being screened at 10.

AN ex-footballer living in Ipswich believes he is suffering from memory problems as a result of heading an old-style leather ball.

Jack French, 76, speaks out about his plight in a Cover Story documentary, being screened at 10.35pm tonight on Anglia TV.

The programme highlights cases of Alzheimer's Disease and dementia among former players – including former Norwich City star Bryan Thurlow – and looks at calls for compensation for those suffering from these conditions.

Mr French, a widower, played for Southend and Nottingham Forest back in the 1940s and 50s, making 267 league appearances.

But he believes heading the heavy old-style leather football 60 years ago, when he was a 16-year-old youth player for Middlesbrough, sparked the memory problems he is suffering today.

"It was a match near Redcar," he recalled. "I headed the ball and then turned round and said to the other players, which way are we playing and what's the score?"

When Mr French got home, he could not remember anything which had happened that morning. "My mother had to take me to hospital, and they said I had got concussion," he said.

He believes the old-style footballs were to blame, and said: "Not only were they leather, but they used to get wet and that used to make them heavier and heavier."

Tonight's programme spotlights research at Manchester University comparing the lighter plastic-coated balls used today with the old heavy leather balls.

The Football Association also recently embarked on its own 10-year study on the effects of heading footballs – and in the programme an Alzheimer's Society spokesman, Harry Cayton, compares the effects with those of boxing.

However, former Ipswich Town player John Elsworthy, who played nearly 400 games for the club, is sceptical.

"I'm 70 now and I played against a lot of players, and I know a lot of players in the game – and I don't know one who had Alzheimer's," he said.

Today, Mr French avoids going out too often because he often becomes confused about where he is going. "I don't know which way the roads go, so I turn round and go home," he said.

The retired footballer said he has never campaigned for compensation, but he believes it could be worth the football authorities looking into the issue.

"There is plenty of money in the game now," he commented. "We didn't think about money. When I first played, I got two pounds ten shillings a match, and if you didn't play you didn't get paid."

However, he added: "I wouldn't feel like asking for compensation – we would have to be given it. We don't want to beg."

WEBLINK

www.angliatv.com/coverstory

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