PFA never ‘asleep at wheel’ on dementia issue, says outgoing boss Gordon Taylor

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Jamie Gardner, PA Chief Sports Reporter
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The Professional Footballers’ Association has not been “asleep” on the issue of dementia in the game, according to its outgoing chief executive Gordon Taylor.

The union boss addressed a parliamentary inquiry on Tuesday examining concussion in sport, and was asked about criticism directed at the PFA from campaigners such as Dawn Astle and Chris Sutton for its record on research into the possible link between concussive and sub-concussive injuries and the onset of neurodegenerative disorders.

The chair of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport committee Julian Knight asked Taylor whether the union had been “asleep at the wheel” and Taylor said: “We’ve never been asleep on it.”

Hamilton Academical v Rangers – Scottish Premiership – Superseal Stadium
Chris Sutton has accused Gordon Taylor of having “blood on his hands” (Jeff Holmes/PA)

Sutton has accused Taylor of having “blood on his hands” over the issue. Sutton’s father Mike, like him a former professional player, died in December last year after suffering from dementia.

Asked whether Sutton was right, Taylor said: “It is a very emotive subject. Chris Sutton is one of those people who I speak to in a civilised manner. I tried to explain, he was offered help in regards to his father who was a contemporary of mine when I was playing.

“He was offered the chance to come in, see what we are doing and what we plan to do in the future.

“I am always prepared to put my head above the parapet because what we do needs to be out there. I am more than prepared to do that with anybody.”

When Knight said Taylor felt Sutton was carried away with emotion, Taylor responded: “I didn’t say he was carried away by emotion. If it involves an illness within your family I don’t know how it can get more emotive than that.

“I can do a timetable on all that’s been happening, we have never been asleep on it.

“We were frustrated by the initial research, the data was not there in our NHS which is a factor for (the committee) to consider. When we found out the data was available in Scotland to go back in time we have come up with probably the best evidence in the world (via the FIELD Study).”

The head of the FIELD study, Professor Willie Stewart, told an earlier committee hearing that football’s approach to concussion was a “shambles” – something Taylor disagreed with.

“I would not agree,” Taylor said.

“It’s a ridiculous thing to say. This is a serious subject that we are giving serious attention to.”

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Asked if he had any regrets over the PFA’s work in this area over the last 20 years, Taylor said: “I wish we had unlocked the key. But we are doing our best.”

Sutton tweeted his unhappiness that one of the committee members, Clive Efford, asked Taylor about the recent Super League breakaway attempt.

“DCMS now asking Gordon Taylor about the European Super League on a concussion and brain injury discussion after not asking questions they should have What an absolute farce…” he wrote.

Astle also felt Taylor was given an easy ride by the committee, with the questioning at one point turning to the possibility of a takeover at Arsenal.

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“Oh, here we go, back to owners and the super league,” she wrote.

“This is a complete joke. But our Gordon’s back to being his fluent best. #comfortable.”

Committee chair Knight said former England striker Alan Shearer had refused to appear to give evidence.

Following a section where the dementia documentary Shearer was involved with was discussed, Knight said: “I’ve never heard the term ‘Alan Shearer’ and ‘personality’ used in the same sentence.

“He did, of course, refuse to appear when asked before this committee so I think that said a lot in that respect.”

Taylor said it was “disrespectful” that his organisation had not been invited to take part in the concussion round-table events set up by the DCMS Government department.

“To ignore the player associations… you would have thought it was the first call to make rather than the very last,” he said.

DCMS has been approached for comment.