Gordon Taylor has denied being “asleep at the wheel” over the link between heading footballs, concussion and dementia – and told MPs that criticism of the Professional Footballers’ Association’s response over the past two decades was “unfair”.
Taylor – appearing in front of the the digital, culture, media and sport committee – also dismissed comments from the former Blackburn and Celtic striker Chris Sutton that he had “blood on his hands” because he had turned his back on the issue.
“It’s a very emotive subject,” Taylor, the PFA’s chief executive, told Julian Knight MP when asked about comments made by Sutton, whose father, Mike, died on Boxing Day after 10 years with dementia. “Chris Sutton is one of those people who I speak to in a civilised manner. I try to explain. He is offered help with regard to his father, who was a contemporary when I was playing, and he’s also been offered to come in and see what we’re doing, see what we have done, and see what we plan to do in the future.
“Just this last week I attended Frank Worthington’s funeral, another great player. The family actually put into that brochure their grateful thanks to the PFA for all the help they receive. We get so much thanks from so many other people in the game. And as head of the PFA I’m always prepared to put my head above the parapet because what we do needs to be transparent and needs to be out there.”
Taylor also rejected Knight’s claim that many in football believed the PFA had been asleep at the wheel over concussion given it had done so little to help fund research or help players for most of the 19 years since the inquest into the death of Jeff Astle.
“I can do a timetable,” Taylor responded. “We’ve never been asleep on it. We were frustrated by the initial research. The data was not there in our own national health service. And that is a factor for you to consider.” He said any criticism of being slow to act was “unfair”.
In a series of rambling answers and non-answers, Taylor pointed out the PFA had spent £600,000 on research over the past five years as he steadfastly refused to accept he had made any mistakes.
He said the PFA had been more active after the latest research showed there was a much greater risk with repetitive heading and concussion. “That’s why we are addressing this issue even more strongly than we have in the past because the evidence is starting to emerge, even to the extent that people are suggesting that heading should be controlled in training,” he said.
His answers did not impress Dawn Astle, the daughter of Jeff, who voiced her criticisms on social media. Sutton also expressed frustration with the DCMS hearing and Taylor, tweeting: “It’s very hard to listen to this and not be angry. It’s insulting to the families who have lost loved ones and been shunned.”
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