For Richard Bevan, there is no escaping the sheer scale of the crisis facing football.
‘There’s not a day that goes by when we don’t have some communication with members with the condition of dementia,’ the chief executive of the League Managers Association tells Sportsmail.
‘Many of our members for many years have suffered from this condition. There is a very big concern.’
Bob Paisley (left) and Jack Charlton (right) were two former professional managers that lost battles with dementia and there are growing concerns among current bosses across football
Richard Bevan, chief executive of the League Managers Association, accepts many members have suffered with dementia over the years and more support needs to be provided to them
Bevan’s candid comments are alarming but should not come as a surprise. After all, there is a long list of much-loved managers who have died after battling dementia, including Jack Charlton, Bob Paisley, Dave Sexton, Dave Mackay, Ron Saunders and Billy McNeill.
Of the LMA’s 572 members, 357 are over the age of 50 and 97 per cent of those played at a professional or semi-professional level. Thanks to Dr Willie Stewart’s 2019 landmark study, we know now that former footballers are three and a half times more likely to die of neurodegenerative disease.
Last month, Bevan wrote to his members with an update on the support available from the LMA for anyone suffering from dementia. He says he received the most responses to any letter he had sent in his 13 years leading the managers’ union.
FOOTBALL MANAGERS LOST TO DEMENTIA
JACK CHARLTON (1935-2020)
World Cup-winning hero turned beloved Republic of Ireland boss. He also managed Middlesbrough, Sheffield Wednesday and Newcastle.
RON SAUNDERS (1932-2019)
Saunders won the First Division with Aston Villa and built the foundation of their 1982 European Cup win. He scored 246 league goals as a player and managed seven clubs.
BILLY McNEILL (1940-2019)
The captain of Celtic’s 1967 ‘Lisbon Lions’, McNeill won 23 trophies in 822 games with the club before two spells in the Parkhead dugout. He also took the reins at Manchester City, Aston Villa, Clyde and Aberdeen.
DAVE MACKAY (1934-2015)
A double-winner with Tottenham as a player, Mackay had a 26-year managerial career with 10 teams in five countries, winning the First Division with Derby in 1975.
DAVE SEXTON (1930-2012)
Sexton led Chelsea to FA Cup and Cup Winners’ Cup wins in the early 1970s before taking over at QPR, Manchester United, Coventry and England Under 21s.
BOB PAISLEY (1919-96)
The first manager to win three European Cups, Paisley spent 44 years at Liverpool as a player, assistant boss and finally head coach, winning six league titles.
‘We got a lot of communication from families of managers and retired managers,’ says Bevan. ‘Most of the time the managers weren’t even aware the family members were making contact.
‘It’s heartbreaking to see our sporting heroes diagnosed with dementia. We really need to raise awareness and raise funds for those conducting the research.’
Part of the LMA’s fundraising drive comes on Friday, when Sir Alex Ferguson, Sir Kenny Dalglish, Gareth Southgate and now also Jurgen Klopp will field questions from the public as part of a one-off virtual event.
Money made will go towards the Alzheimer Society’s Sport United Against Dementia campaign — of which Bevan is a board member — and the LMA’s charity, In The Game. As well as the valuable funds the ‘Team Talk with Legends’ event will raise, four managerial titans putting on a united front will send a powerful message in football’s fight against the life-limiting condition.
‘They can have a real impact,’ says Bevan, who has also been recruiting for ambassadors for other LMA dementia projects, with Sam Allardyce and Alan Shearer already agreeing to come on board. ‘Their voice is heard, not only in this country but all over the world. When our senior members speak, people listen.
‘Clubs and the communities around the clubs look to the manager. They’re great leaders. That’s why they’ve come through this pandemic so well.
‘Our members have got the appetite to try to really make a difference. We are really pleased with the amount of managers who want to support and do whatever is needed.’
An immediate intervention managers could make to tackle the crisis is by limiting heading in training — one of Sportsmail’s demands in our seven-point charter. Bevan hopes a club-wide consensus can soon be agreed by football’s authorities.
‘I’m due to be part of concussion meetings with Premier League doctors later this month,’ says Bevan. ‘What’s really important is that they have the time and financial resources to make sure there is enough research so they can assess heading in the game and then make the right recommendations.
‘We will support where we can to make sure the right outcome is achieved over the coming weeks or months. The individual manager will have their own thoughts and they’ll contribute.
‘Our members have got over 100,000 matches of experience. With their knowledge and looking after young players they can assist to make sure that, through the research, the right decisions are made for the game.’
Sir Kenny Dalglish (left) and Sir Alex Ferguson (right) will take part in a one-off event on Friday evening as they join the fight against dementia by supporting a virtual fundraiser
England manager Gareth Southgate will also be participating from home on January 15
The LMA is already helping recruit participants for the SCORES project, a study which is monitoring and tracking changing brain health in dozens of former players via online tests every three months.
But as well as their focus on research to protect the next generation, the LMA are also doing more than most to look after their members today. They offer managers annual age-specific health assessments, which include tests for those concerned about their future risk of dementia. Subsequent referral to specialist consultants can then be facilitated.
Managers and their families also have 24-hour confidential access to the LMA’s in-house psychiatrists, psychologists and therapists. The service offers support to those diagnosed with dementia and their loved ones, who may need help with coping strategies.
That is in addition to the LMA’s In The Game charity, which provides support to current or former members and their families, who have fallen on hard times or need specialist care.
‘The pressure on families is the one area that we’ve really seen the need for support,’ says Bevan. ‘It’s about making sure the family members know how to access the health assessments. Early diagnosis means better health care options going forward.
‘We are being proactive and reactive to the needs of our members and their families.’
A number of managers, including Phil Brown and Darren Moore, signed a letter sent to Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden before Christmas, backing Sportsmail’s dementia campaign and calling for a review into the links between heading a ball and neurodegenerative diseases.
Bevan hopes the Government gets behind the fight for more research and also wants to see dementia recognised as an industrial disease — another point in Sportsmail’s charter.
‘The Daily Mail campaign is fantastic,’ adds Bevan. ‘Football and Government can help the charities, the research centres, the doctors, to lead the way.
‘It’s important all stakeholders — Government, sporting bodies, the community — work and stay together. We have not got the answers, but we are part of the equation to raise awareness and funds. We need to ensure people affected by dementia are not forgotten.’
To book a seat at ‘Team Talk with Legends — Live’, which starts at 7pm on Friday, visit www.LockdownTheatre.net. For more information about Sport United Against Dementia, visit www.alzheimers.org.uk/SUAD.
- Sport United Against Dementia | Alzheimer’s Society
- Lockdown Theatre