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Footballer's sport brain injury classified as workplace accident and should lead to payout

Emma Hall
In a landmark decision, former England football captain Dave Watson (now 75) has won the right to have brain injuries he suffered as a professional footballer classified as 'workplace accidents'. The decision could mean footballers with dementia will receive disability benefits likely from the Football Association (FA), their former clubs, or via the Professional Footballers' Association, the union which represents them.

Mr Watson played centre back for clubs including Manchester City, Sunderland, Southampton, Derby and Stoke City as well as winning 65 caps for England during the 1970s and 80s. He was particularly known for his skill in heading the ball.

Mr Watson’s wife Penny gathered evidence of 10 serious head injuries he sustained during his 20-year playing career which she believes were instrumental to his early onset of dementia.

The incidents happened between 1971 and 1983 and included head-to-head clashes with opponents, an elbow to the head and a punch by a goalkeeper in an aerial challenge.

Mr Watson’s consultant believes the former England player is likely to have chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) – a type of dementia associated with head impacts – the same disease determined at inquest as the cause of former West Brom striker Jeff Astle's death in 2002. Last year, Lady Norma Charlton announced that her husband Sir Bobby Charlton also has dementia.

In October 2019, a study commissioned by the Football Association and the Professional Footballers’ Association and conducted by the University of Glasgow found that former footballers are approximately three and a half times more likely to die from neurodegenerative disease than the general population. The study also found that former footballers were less likely to die from common problems, such as heart disease and some cancers, and lived on average three and a quarter years longer.

The link between football and neurodegenerative diseases paves the way for payment of statutory benefits while the players are still alive.

The research is also behind last year's decisions to limit heading among young footballers. From February 2020, children under 12 are banned from heading footballs during training. They are, however, allowed to use their heads during matches. The new guidelines apply to children in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland, but not Wales.

Meanwhile, Mr Watson will now be medically assessed to determine the extent of his disability benefit, which is decided on a sliding scale of severity.

Read about our sport injury claims.

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