Former Manchester United defender Gary Pallister discusses dementia in footballers

There is a lot to be learned about dementia in football and the harm that comes with heading heavy footballs for a number of years throughout one’s life. For some, well those good enough, they made a career from heading the ball.

I’m talking old school defenders – who, according to the Telegraph, are five times more likely to be diagnosed with dementia. And those who played professionally for 15+ years in any position are also at five times more risk.

Former Manchester United and England defender Gary Pallister discusses potentially being one of those unfortunate enough to suffer from dementia after the career he had as a central defender.

“I’m probably one of those who have stuck my head in the sand and thought: ‘I hope it’s not me’,” as quoted by the Telegraph.

He also revealed something quite worrying about how he would suffer migraines throughout his career – after being knocked unconscious.

“I suffered awful migraines. I’ve been knocked clean out. I’ve been on the pitch, woken up, and not known where I am. You put it all together and you start thinking: ‘Crickey, I’m a prime candidate for dementia’. It’s not a 100 per cent thing, I’m guessing, but you are thinking, ‘If you are a betting man, the odds are that you are probably at some time in your life going to get it.’”

It is an awful thought, but Pallister has took the time to raise awareness of the issue, with pressures on the football authorities to act.

60 former players (Head of Change charity), including Pally, called for a ‘protect, prevent, preserve’ strategy that addresses the issue at all levels of the game.

He added: “I look back and think, ‘My own experience tells me that heading had an effect’,” he says. “I suffered a lot with migraines when I started playing as a 16-year-old twice a weekend.

“I used to think, ‘Is it because I am playing more football, heading more footballs?’ The migraines continued all through my career. It’s black and white for me now that football was one of the main reasons I was probably getting them.

“I had to go into a darkened room. I started throwing up. I would lose my speech. Get tingling on my arms. Lose my vision. Get blurred vision. It felt like I had a head full of seashells. Any movement caused pain. It was a real weird feeling. It would wipe me out for two days.”

The defender won four Premier League titles and three FA Cups throughout his career – and was voted Player of the Year by his fellow professionals in 1992.

“I would probably have bad migraines four or five times a year,” he says. “I read up a lot of stuff. Migraines were blamed on diet, lack of sleep, water and hydration. There was always maybe another excuse. You were thinking, ‘Is it the heading?’ You brush it to the back of your mind and hope it wasn’t heading.

“But once I stopped playing football the migraines eased to a point where for a number of years I didn’t suffer them. Over the last couple of years, I have started getting them back a little bit but nowhere near the severity. I just get the vision thing and they are done and dusted within a couple of hours.”

Pallister was also asked about his most serious concussion as a player: “Nev Southall missed the ball and punched me in the back of my head,” he says. “At the end of that half my vision started to go. I was saying to the manager at the time: ‘Look I can’t see people.’ He’s going: ‘You’ll be alright second half.’ I was going: ‘No, you don’t understand. I can’t see the ball to head it. I can’t see players.’

“That was the kind of mentality you were dealing with at the time. I spent the night under observation at Middlesbrough General, released the next day, straight back into training a couple of days later. I know that was a consequence of a direct blow to the head. It became more talked about in our sport as my career came to an end but there was never really enough investigation into it.”

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