The wife of former England captain Dave Watson has welcomed the creation of a new fund designed to support ex-professionals living with neurodegenerative disease.
The Brain Health Fund, which has an initial £1million available immediately to support former players and their loved ones, has been set up by the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA) and the Premier League.
It has faced criticism from some quarters, including the family of former Manchester United and England midfielder Nobby Stiles, who had been living with dementia for many years prior to his death in 2020.
PFA and @premierleague announce creation of new Football Brain Health Fund
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— Professional Footballers’ Association (@PFA) September 6, 2023
However, Penny Watson, whose husband Dave won 65 caps for England between 1974 and 1982 and who is now living with dementia, believes the PFA and the Premier League deserve enormous credit.
Watson, herself a critic of the PFA under its former chief executive Gordon Taylor, told the PA news agency things had “drastically changed” at the union under his successor Maheta Molango.
She added: “I am so thankful to the PFA and the Premier League for finally formalising the fund and the determination and hard work of several people specifically – Adam White, Rachel Walden and Dawn Astle at the PFA and Nick Perchard at the Premier League, they have been working very, very hard to try and negotiate this.
“They should be proud that the money now, as we speak, is actually helping families. I do get involved with families, I know the situation a lot of them are in.”
Consultants believe Dave Watson is suffering from the progressive brain disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).
CTE is associated with repeated head impacts but currently can only be accurately diagnosed post-mortem.
His wife Penny is in touch with many other families of ex-players going through similar circumstances, and believes the fund will make a major difference to them.
“The fund will assist in ensuring the quality of life of both the former player and their carer and making sure that it is the best that can be achieved in those last years and months,” she said.
“The application process will be as seamless and easy as possible, with no hoops to jump through or hidden pitfalls. There will be nothing like that.
“The money is there, so I hope families will contact the Brain Health Department at the PFA and they will explain how to apply. I just want families not to be focusing on and hearing all the bad things, they need the help now.
“(The fund) has been really well thought out, I think that’s one of the reasons it has taken a long time to get to this point.”
The ultimate goal for PFA chief executive Molango is that the fund be replaced in the longer term by a charity backed by all the four key stakeholders in English football.
Dawn Astle’s involvement has been pivotal to the creation of the fund.
Her father Jeff Astle, a former West Brom and England forward, died in 2002 aged 59 with early-onset dementia. A coroner recorded the cause of death as industrial disease, owing to the repeated heading of a ball.
The Football Association is involved in funding a number of research projects aimed at understanding why there is a heightened risk of neurodegenerative disease among footballers, something identified by the 2019 FIELD Study.