On Friday the PFA announced the creation of a dedicated department focusing exclusively on former player care for neurodegenerative diseases.
The new provisions, which form part of a wider PFA strategy on the issue, will also see Dawn Astle, daughter of former West Bromwich Albion and England international Jeff Astle who passed away with CTE in 2002, take up the position of the PFA’s Project Lead on NDD in Football. This will be a wide-ranging role focusing on areas such as developing player education, monitoring ongoing research and football stakeholder engagement.
The PFA will also recruit a specialist Head of Former Player Care to lead the new department. The new postholder will oversee a team of two new Family Support Advisors in conjunction with Rachel Walden.
PFA Chief Executive Maheta Molango said:
“The first formal meeting I had as the PFA’s new Chief Executive was with Dawn and Rachel. These were tough conversations, and I understand that families have felt let down.
“I also recognise that both Dawn and Rachel took a leap of faith last year. Their sole focus has always been on providing care for families and raising awareness to protect current and future players. I’ve been deeply struck by their dedication and tenacity to advocate on behalf of football’s families. I have also been clear that I fully expect them to keep challenging both the PFA and the wider football industry to do better in this area.”
Molango added: “The creation of a new, dedicated department is hugely important, but we are acutely aware that this is just a first step.
“We are determined to take responsibility internally, but also to ensure that we advocate on behalf of members for a coordinated, football-wide approach on this issue.”
The new appointments will work alongside existing team members Vicky White and Kay Bowyer, and will be supported by DISC, an organisation providing support to carers of people living with dementia. Former members can access the PFA’s wellbeing services, which is also available to the families and carers of players living with dementia.
The PFA is also keen to seek further guidance from prominent figures and campaigners, such as Penny Watson, who will now be acting formally as an independent consultant. The players’ union will continue to proactively engage with other members and their families to ensure services develop in line with their needs.
The union’s support will also be supplemented by The PFA Charity, which includes access to an independent benefits advisor and potential grants towards care in the home, respite and home adaptations.
Alongside her family, Dawn Astle has campaigned tirelessly since her father passed away in 2002, she said:
“This is a significant step forward. As the players’ union, and the voice of professional footballers, it is vital that the PFA is stronger in challenging the industry to ensure the wellbeing and interests of former players living with dementia are better represented.
“I will always continue to support former players and their families living with dementia now, but a key focus of this new role will be to strengthen protections for current players and future generations.
“I will be working with football’s stakeholders to urgently improve players’ knowledge about the information they need to make informed decisions about their brain health.”
Dawn will combine her role with the work of The Jeff Astle Foundation, a charity established in her father’s name, through which she has supported around 200 families of former players living with dementia.
Rachel Walden was one of those people supported by Dawn, when her father Rod Taylor, a wing-half for Portsmouth, passed away at the age of 74. Following a post-mortem examination, Rod was diagnosed by Dr Willie Stewart as also having suffered from CTE.
Rachel stated: “This new, dedicated department has been the culmination of 14-months of work. However, we have been clear that there is still much more to be done, both internally and externally. So while it is a positive step, it needs to be the first of many. We will continue to fight to secure the former players the care and support they deserve.”
PFA Chief Executive Maheta Molango concluded: “A joined-up game-wide approach is absolutely essential to improve the health and safety of current and future players.
“Now is the time for the whole of football, including clubs, leagues and governing bodies, to recognise their collective responsibility to protect former players who have contributed so much to the game. This means providing comprehensive support to former players and their families, who are currently living with dementia and other neurodegenerative diseases.
“This is a vital and complex area. It has to be the top priority for all involved in football.”