THE family of Lisbon Lion Stevie Chalmers has welcomed the launch of the Billy McNeill Fund and predicted it will provide invaluable assistance to former footballers who are suffering from dementia as well as their families in future.

Speaking on behalf of the Chalmers family, son Paul, whose father scored the winning goal for Celtic in the 1967 European Cup final against Inter Milan, admitted he was delighted to learn the McNeill family had set up a fund to provide financial aid and therapeutic support to ex-players.

Mr Chalmers, who played professionally himself as a striker, revealed that he, his two brothers, three sisters and mother had all rallied around to support their father after he was diagnosed with dementia.

However, he admitted that they were surprised at the profound impact his illness had on them as well as their children and recalled how they eventually required professional help to ensure their father had the around-the-clock care which he required.

READ MORE: Billy McNeill Fund to be launched for ex-footballers battling dementia

“We are all fully supportive of the Billy McNeill Fund and will be happy to help in any way that we can,” he said. “Anything which can help those suffering from dementia and their families can only be a good thing.

“My dad’s illness affected our whole family. I don’t think it is appreciated how far it goes down the family. Even my dads’s young grandchildren were affected. That was something we didn’t anticipate.

“Our family became closer through it all. We have always been a close family, but we became closer because we all pulled together to help each other get through it.

“When you speak to people who have been affected you also understand that no-one person is the same as the other. They have all got different requirements. With dementia, every day changes. Every couple of hours changes. You never know what is going to come next.”

Alzheimer Scotland estimates the annual care bill families face at more than £50million. The charity is campaigning for healthcare costs to be free for people in the advanced stages of the illness, which is supported by The Herald’s Think Dementia campaign.

READ MORE: Kenny Dalglish and Scots celebrities pledge support for Billy McNeill fundraiser

Think Dementia is calling for the Scottish government and other political parties to commit to providing free care for all people with advanced stage dementia in Scotland.

Mr Chalmers said: “As dad’s illness progressed and he needed 24-hour nursing care, we were very fortunate to secure a place for him in a specialised nursing home. The care, physical and emotional, he received at Dundonald House was truly amazing.

“I am sure that the assistance the Billy McNeill Fund will provide will be invaluable to many former players and their families.”

Legendary Parkhead captain, defender and manager McNeill died at the age of 79 last April, nine years after being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.

Just a week later, his former Celtic team mate Chalmers passed away aged 83 after a brave battle against dementia.

Their deaths and those of many of their contemporaries, including several members of England’s 1966 World Cup winning team, have raised concerns about the long-term implications of heading footballs.

Landmark research carried out by the University of Glasgow and published in October showed that former professional footballers are three and a half times more likely to suffer from dementia and other serious neurological diseases.

READ MORE: Wife of former footballer 'convinced' heading ball caused dementia

The Scottish Football Association are currently considering banning children under the age of 12 from heading footballs, something which has been in place in the United States since 2014, following discussions with medical professionals.

Mr Chalmers has been encouraged by the increased awareness there now is about the potential causes of dementia and the dangers of heading balls in youngsters and is hopeful that the research and preventative measures will bring about positive change in future.

“Billy and my dad were high-profile players who both played for Celtic in the 1967 European Cup win,” he said. “But there are many, many others from their era who have been affected in the same way.

“Currently, we can’t say with 100 per cent certainty that it is heading footballs which causes dementia in later life even though all of the research points towards that.

“We don’t know for certain if not heading a ball would have helped my dad, but when you speak to players of that generation they feel that repeatedly heading balls in training, not so much in matches, could have been responsible.

“I think the PFA in England (who jointly commissioned the University of Glasgow research along with the FA down south) getting involved is a big thing. They are a huge operation and have a lot of power. It is all going in the right direction now.

“I think if coaches, parents and grandparents are aware of the dangers it may help to prevent future generations from suffering from the same problems.”