Soccer

Geoff Hurst opens up to Chris Sutton about the issue of dementia

‘I’m happy to push for changes… I’m not talking about later, let’s see some action now’: A bullish Sir Geoff Hurst opens up to Chris Sutton about the issue of dementia in football

  • Sir Geoff Hurst backing our campaign for football to tackle its dementia scandal 
  • He wants to see heading restrictions introduced at various levels of the game 
  • Hurst scored a hat-trick in England’s 1966 World Cup final win over Germany

The ball with which Sir Geoff Hurst scored a hat-trick in the 1966 World Cup now sits in the National Football Museum in Manchester.  

Though even if it was on his mantlepiece, he wouldn’t dream of playing head tennis with it, for old times’ sake. Nor would he dare to do that with any modern-day ball, or recommend anyone else do it either. 

This England hero is backing Sportsmail’s campaign for football to finally tackle its dementia scandal. Sadly, Hurst has lost several of his colleagues to the disease, with Nobby Stiles the latest of the ’66 brotherhood to depart us. As he explains to Sportsmail’s Chris Sutton here, football needs to take action.

Geoff Hurst is backing Sportsmail’s campaign for football to finally tackle its dementia scandal

HURST: Before we start, Chris, I just wanted to say how sorry I am about your father.

SUTTON: That’s very kind of you.

HURST: The more people can highlight this problem, the better. For a while, the lone voice was Dawn Astle, on behalf of her father, Jeff. Now she has other people highlighting the issues. What this is doing will push the authorities, and highlight it until we push them into doing the most they can possibly do for ex-players. 

You’ve spoken in the past days about heading the ball, Chris, and I’ve spoken about it in my career. We had a ball hanging in the gym at West Ham and we spent bloody hours heading a ball and practising near-post crosses. But you could pick games where you and I played where we hardly headed a ball. Hardly at all. The practice, for me, is the area which needs looking at. That can take hours and hours and hours.

SUTTON: When I was younger, the repetition seemed important. Part of the Daily Mail’s seven-point charter is to limit heading to 20 per session and after that, having a 48-hour break. Do you agree with that? We’re not talking about banning it from games – just lessening the load in training.

Chris Sutton recently opened up on his former footballer dad’s battle with dementia

HURST: Absolutely. Absolutely. Absolutely. I don’t think it would have any negative impact on the quality of front players heading the ball. I agree with that entirely. Categorically it’s one of the first things they must implement as soon as possible. You head a ball far more times in practice than you do in a game. Absolutely right.

SUTTON: There was a macho thing among footballers where if you went down, you’d get up. But the temporary concussion substitutes, so nobody is disadvantaged, seems another common sense call which must be brought in?

HURST: Absolutely no argument with that at all. Any doubt about anybody getting a knock on the head, you could almost say: ‘Come off completely.’ No argument. Come off. Players wouldn’t want to say they were hurt. In our time, the game was far more violent. 

Somebody sent me a clip on Thursday of Leeds versus Chelsea. There were about 10 tackles in five minutes which would have been red cards now. That was the era we played in. If you got a knock or bang, central defenders would get up and say: ‘Get off. I’m alright. Leave me alone.’ Whereas we should enforce anybody getting a knock to come off and make that sub. No question at all. That would not harm the game or the enjoyment we have. VAR has harmed the game more than anything else at the moment – sorry to bring that in!

England’s Hurst (c) heads the winning goal past Argentina goalkeeper Antonio Roma in 1966

SUTTON: You’ve probably been asked this question before, and I’ve been asked it. If you knew back then about the dangers, would that have changed your training methods?

HURST: Well I ask would you advise somebody now, like a relative, to look at what they’re doing? You’d say yes. I have three daughters but if I had a son and he was playing football, I’d advise him very strongly not to practise (heading). 

It’s difficult to go back all those years. Would it have changed my attitude to where I am all these years later? That’s quite a difficult question to answer but I would currently, today, if I had a relative playing football, say: ‘Stop practising heading and if you get a knock in a game, come off and let a sub on.’

Hurst is involved in his own campaign against dementia regarding smart meter data. It explores how, with user permission, they can be used to understand the daily habits of vulnerable people by identifying any patterns or sudden changes.

HURST: If nothing is being used at home, no energy at all, it can alert the family, the relatives, the carers. It’s about doing everything we can possibly to do to help this awful disease and push governing bodies into acting. We need to do it. We’re getting more voices now on top of Dawn’s. Chris, myself, and the campaign that the Mail are doing is fantastic.

SUTTON: Should dementia be recognised as an industrial disease?

Hurst pictured with the World Cup trophy after England’s 1966 final win over Germany

HURST: Yes. If you look at the amount of people in the industry who get it, then there is a strong question to be labelled as an industrial disease. I’m up for anything that can be looked at more closely. 

As you know, players are three-and-a-half times more likely to suffer dementia than the man in the street. I’ve always felt that, even with our team, going back many years. 

I always felt, without any scientific knowledge or research at all, that there seemed a very high proportion of our team-mates getting it compared to the man in the street. I saw the picture of that Burnley team. That great team. I played against that side, knew the players and to look at that was heartbreaking. Six of them have passed away (after being diagnosed with dementia).

SUTTON: Surely the authorities have to act now?

HURST: I’ve seen your paper that the PFA have got a taskforce to look into it. That’s one step. I’ve been involved with dementia for years because of my team-mates so I’m happy to talk and be up front, alongside yourself, to push for changes. We’re not talking about much later. We’re talking now. Let’s stop talking and let’s see some action from the governing bodies. 

Sir Geoff Hurst is encouraging people to contact their energy supplier to request a smart meter installation. Smart meter data could, with consumer consent, transform the way we care for the most vulnerable in our society.


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