THE family of former West Bromwich Albion and England star Jeff Astle have long campaigned for research into the link between football and dementia.

The striker died in 2002, with an inquest ruling that he had died from an “industrial disease” caused by repetitive blows to the head.

A subsequent post-mortem also confirmed that he had suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) – a specific type of dementia associated with repeated head trauma.

Following the findings, the family were contacted by hundreds of relatives of former players with dementia, prompting them to call for England’s Football Association and the Professional Footballers’ Association to take action.

Research carried out by Glasgow University has now found what they always believed to be true – that former professional footballers are more likely to die from neurodegenerative diseases than the general population.

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The study revealed that former players risk a five-fold increase in suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, a four-fold increase in motor neurone disease and a two-fold increase in Parkinson’s.

Speaking after the Field report was published, Mr Astle’s daughter Dawn said that she was “staggered” by the findings, “even though my own research and instinct was always that there was a serious problem”. She added: “There will be no celebrations. We knew dad could not be the only one.

“We just wanted that question answered. We just wanted to see that football cared enough to find out the scale of the problem, to do the right thing and be there for these people when they need them most.

“Whatever they do next, it must be across all parts of the game.

“And these players who have suffered dementia must not be a statistic – they must never be forgotten.”

Several Scottish sports stars past and present have suffered from neurodegenerative conditions over the years.

One of the most notable was the former Manchester United and Dundee United player Frank Kopel, who was diagnosed with dementia in 2008 and died six years later at the age of 65.

His wife Amanda launched a prominent campaign calling for free personal care to people under 65 suffering from degenerative conditions.

As a result, “Frank’s Law” came into effect in April this year, with an estimated 9000 families across Scotland set to benefit from it.

Commenting on the report, Mrs Kopel said it had “brought back so many painful memories of Frankie’s battle with dementia”.

She added: “However, I am very hopeful it is going to help so many people in the future. It has filled me with a lot of hope.”

Celtic legend Billy McNeill, who died in April this year aged 79, also suffered from dementia, as did former Scotland manager Ally MacLeod, who died in 2004.

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Others have also succumbed to motor neurone disease, including Rangers’ former Dutch full-back, Fernando Ricksen, who died last month and Celtic great Jimmy Johnstone who passed away in 2006 after a five-year battle with the disease.

The study assessed the medical records of 7,676 men who played professional football in Scotland and were born between 1900 and 1976 and matched them against more than 23,000 individuals from the general population.

Although footballers had higher risk of death from neurodegenerative disease, the study also found they were less likely to die of other common diseases, such as heart disease and some cancers, including lung cancer.