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THE widow of Celtic legend Billy McNeil spoke of her pride that the first fund of its kind dedicated to her husband will support retired footballers afflicted by dementia.
The Billy McNeil Fund will provide retired players with financial and clinical assistance and it comes months after the publication of a Glasgow study showing the first definitive correlation between soccer and neurological disease.
Liz McNeil said in her first interview since his death last year that the fund was a fitting way to honor the sporting legacy of the former Lisbon Lion and “help others in the same situation.”
McNeil died at the age of 79 on April 22, 2019, nine years after he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, which his widow claims was attributed during his playing days to “his penchant” for heading football.
Study suggests that professional footballers have a five-fold chance of Alzheimer’s disease
The University of Glasgow study, led by neuropathologist Dr. Willie Stewart, found that there is a fivefold risk of Alzheimer’s among former footballers of Billy’s age.
“When Billy was diagnosed, Liz McNeil said, “We had a psychiatrist telling us he had a little bit of cognitive dysfunction in the frontal lobe that would go with the head ball playing.
“That was his strength.
In his age group, the European soccer stars of his era died with dementia and motor neuron disease, as well as great players from the South.
When Billy was young, he would have stopped playing football if anyone had told him that it would give him dementia… And his love was that.
The fund was a “beautiful way” to raise awareness of a disease that affects about 90,000 Scots, Ms. McNeil said, adding, “Billy would have loved it and so would his parents.”
Dougie McCluskey, who created the charity Fight Against Dementia after losing his own father to the disease and running the fund, approached the McNeil family.
“Martyn McNeil, Billy’s son, said, “When Dougie McCluskey approached us about using the name of my father for a fund, I spoke to the family and we thought it was appropriate after what my father went through with all the research linking dementia to soccer.
“There’s a generation of soccer players with dementia, there’s a higher rate and it’s now statistically proven and they need help.”
“If we can raise money to help others in the same situation, that would be a great thing.”
The Scottish government urged an end to ‘unfair’ charges for dementia treatment
The Billy McNeil Fund will be launched in Glasgow on 29 May at a charity event sponsored by former and present-day Scottish soccer greats, music and TV celebrities.
Kenny Dalglish, Neil Lennon, Ally McCoist and Ian Durrant, the Celtic and Liverpool icons, have pledged their support for the gathering, which will include a celebrity golf tournament and a ball at Bishopton’s Mar Hall.
The Professional Footballers Association (PFA) has proposed that the Premier League should create an industry-wide fund to help retired players with dementia and their families, in light of the research results from Glasgow.
Some funding is also being offered by the PFA through a charity fund, although no such funds are available in Scotland.
After it was alleged that former West Brom striker Jeff Astle died due to repetitive head trauma, the trial in Glasgow began.
Within weeks, the Scottish FA could ban young players from heading soccer balls
The study compared the deaths of 7,676 ex-footballers with 23,000 from the general population and found that ex-professional footballers had a fourfold higher risk of motor neuron disease compared to the control population and a double higher risk of Parkinson’s disease.
Although soccer players were more likely to die from neurodegenerative diseases, they were less likely to die from other common diseases, such as heart disease and some cancers, including lung cancer.
The Scottish Football Association is calling for a ban on children under 12 heading soccer balls, while Headway said further studies should concentrate on new, lightweight footballs for brain injury charity.
“Martyn McNeil said, “While the analysis is a report,