Jeff Astle’s daughter Dawn made a promise to her father as his body lay in the chapel of rest that “If football did this to you, the world will know.”

Considered one of West Brom’s greatest ever goalscorers, he died at the age of 59 after being diagnosed with early onset dementia.

A postmortem revealed he had chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE)  a form of dementia known as “boxer’s brain”, caused by repeated blows to the head.

Since his death, the foundation set up in his name has identified more than 600 former players  who have been diagnosed with dementia including Celtic’s Billy McNeill and Scotland legend Denis Law.

The Herald:

Footballers are facing “phenomenal risks” from the sport says Professor Willie Stewart, whose ground-breaking research found that former players were five times more likely to develop Alzheimer’s Disease and had a three-fold risk of dying from neurodegenerative diseases.

Further studies by his University of Glasgow team showed that risk varied by player position and career length, but not by playing era. The research examined data up until the 1990s, when lighter footballs were in use.

READ MORE: SNP accused of breaking pre-election pledge to eradicate 'dementia tax' 

For goalkeepers, the risk was similar to general population levels but defenders - the players among those most likely to head footballs-  were five times more likely to suffer brain damage.

Prof Stewart said the evidence is clear that the standout risk factor for neurodegenerative disease in football is exposure to head injury and head impacts.

Despite changes in football technology, including lighter balls and head injury management over the decades, there is no evidence neurodegenerative disease risk changed among players from the 1930 to the late 1990s.

Former Manchester United and Scotland striker Denis Law revealed in September that he had been diagnosed with mixed dementia, the latest in a long list of retired players affected by the as yet incurable disease.

The Herald:

He said at the time: “You hope that it won’t happen to you, even make jokes about it whilst ignoring the early signs because you don’t want it to be true.”

He remains convinced that headers were responsible and has called for retired footballers to have annual checks.

Former Scotland and Manchester United defender Gordon McQueen was diagnosed with vascular dementia earlier that year.

READ MORE: Ex-footballers who develop dementia to be given financial aid in England 

Several of England’s 1966 World Cup winners, including Law’s United teammate Nobby Stiles, have died after developing dementia and Sir Bobby Charlton has also been diagnosed with the disease.

Many of Celtic’s celebrated ‘Lisbon Lions’ have also succumbed to the disease.

Former captain Billy McNeill - the first Briton to lift the European Cup - died aged 79 in April 2019, around ten years after being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease.

His son Martyn said his father had likened the heavier footballs of the time to a “medicine ball” when they became wet although Professor Willie Stewart has said it is the speed of the ball rather than the weight that presents the greatest risk. 

Just a week after McNeill died,  his former Celtic team mate Stevie Chalmers passed away aged 83 from dementia.

Then in November last year, the disease claimed the life of Bertie Auld.

The Herald:

A fund has been launched in honour of Billy McNeill to offer financial assistance to former players affected by dementia.

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, backed by The Herald.

A Labour councillor has suggested that former professional footballers who develop dementia should be entitled to welfare support.

Martin McElroy believes diseases such as Alzheimer’s in ex-players should be recognised as an industrial injury.