Sir Geoff Hurst understands why former players are reluctant to participate in studies to further examine the link between playing the game and an increased risk of dementia.
Hurst has seen first hand the impact the disease can have, with four of his 1966 World Cup final team-mates having died with it and Sir Bobby Charlton living with the condition.
England manager Gareth Southgate has volunteered to be part of the HEADING project being led by academics at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, and has encouraged fellow former players aged 50 and over to join him.
The study leader told PA last month that they were still looking for a further 100 volunteers, and while Hurst welcomes the research and the ongoing parliamentary inquiry into the link between playing sport and long-term brain injury, he can empathise with those who are nervous about what they might discover.
Speaking as an ambassador for the Football Association and McDonald’s Grassroots Football Awards, he told the PA news agency: “I totally understand it. I’m at an age now where these things cross your mind.
“You discuss these things with friends and family. If you’ve got symptoms, you seek help but if there’s nothing wrong with you at all physically then there is a strong issue about people not wanting to find out they have something and I fully and utterly understand that.
“That’s part of an everyday discussion with my group (of friends) – they don’t want to find out these things that are detrimental.
“It may be the right thing to do (to volunteer) but I completely understand people not wanting to know, particularly for dementia which is simply awful, and you know it doesn’t get better.
“You can’t have treatment and recover from it, once that’s diagnosed, from personal experience of the people I know, it’s just downhill from there and it’s absolutely shocking for the family and friends of that particular person.”
Hurst is an advocate of taking action now to limit the risk to current and future professionals.
He has backed McDonald’s stance not to offer any heading in its football programmes, and is pleased to see the professional game considering the introduction of guidelines and possible limits.
He believes the introduction of a two-day rest period between any sessions involving heading may be one way to tackle it.
“A day or two off where you don’t practise heading at all – that would make sense and certainly wouldn’t destroy the art of heading,” he said.
“In terms of practice, we spent an awful lot of time practising – probably more than necessary – because we weren’t aware what could happen in the future. You can cut that package down quite considerably.”
:: England legend Sir Geoff Hurst is launching nominations for the 2021 FA & McDonald’s Grassroots Football Awards. To nominate your grassroots hero, go to www.mcdonalds.co.uk/awards.