Football and dementia: Alan Jarvis' death 'caused by heading balls'

Image source, Family photo
Image caption,
Alan Jarvis played for Everton, Hull City and Mansfield Town

A former Wales international footballer died from dementia linked to repeatedly heading the ball, a inquest has heard.

Alan Jarvis played for Everton and Hull City in the 1960s and 1970s, winning three caps for his country.

The 76-year-old, who had dementia, died at a nursing home in Mold, Flintshire, in December.

On Thursday coroner John Gittins concluded former midfielder Mr Jarvis died from Alzheimer's "caused by his occupation".

Mr Jarvis played for Wales against England's 1966 World Cup winning squad, earning his other caps against Scotland and Northern Ireland.

His family had arranged to have his brain donated to researchers at the University of Glasgow after his death after fears that repeatedly heading the ball had caused his speech to deteriorate and his behaviour to change.

The footballer signed to play for Everton when he was 17, and was transferred to Hull City and then Mansfield Town, before retiring at the age of 30 and working as a quantity surveyor until he retired.

The Ruthin inquest heard how Mr Jarvis' wife Dilys said he had been a "very kind man", but in 2006 his behaviour started to change, and in 2012 he went into full-time care.

"He was easy-going but because of his condition would shout and hit me," the statement read.

"I think the head injuries coupled with heading those heavy leather balls constantly contributed greatly to his death.

"He was a very kind person, always helping people. We miss him."

Media caption,
Dementia in football: Alan Shearer undergoes an MRI scan

Dr William Stuart, a consultant neuropathologist who studied Mr Jarvis' brain, said mortality with Alzheimer's disease was five times higher in former professional footballers than the general population.

"The complex pathologies in Mr Jarvis' case is consistent with observations of neuro degenerative disease in former contact sport athletes," he said in a report.

Dr Stewart's research featured in the 2018 BBC documentary Alan Shearer: Dementia, Football and Me.

Mr Gittins reached a conclusion of death from an industrial disease.

He said: "I am not saying playing football always causes dementia but, on the balance of probabilities in Mr Jarvis' case, his previous Footballer's dementia 'caused by heading balls' occupational history has been a factor in his neuro generative functioning and had led to Alzheimer's disease.

"It is a result of his occupation."

'It confirmed what we have always known'

Image caption,
His daughter Sarah called for greater support for older players and more to be done to protect youngsters entering the game

His daughter, Sarah Jarvis, of Northop, Flintshire, said her father loved football but the inquest had confirmed what the family had "always thought and known".

"He probably headed [the ball] quite a lot, but he had a big injury [when he was at Mansfield] where he was knocked out, carried off the pitch and he was in hospital for two weeks," she said.

"The ball was hard enough that when it hit him, it detached his retina."

She added: "Players are getting these awful illnesses and it's such a massive trauma for the families to have to look after their family member.

"As they deteriorate you miss a bit more of them every time, it's very upsetting.

"In the end, he died in such a horrible way, you don't wish it on anybody."

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