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Son of Manchester United legend Nobby Stiles calls for increased player protection

‘Football killed Dad… it needs to be held responsible’: Son of Manchester United legend Nobby Stiles calls for reform in the modern game and insists there should be ‘long-term health costs’ available to players

  • Manchester United legend Nobby Stiles suffered from dementia for many years
  • His son, John, has called for greater player protection given his father’s injuries 
  • He claims that players should have access to a fund for ‘long-term health costs’ 

John Stiles has zero doubts. ‘Football killed dad,’ he says. ‘Football needs to be held responsible for that.’ Thanks to his tireless campaigning, the story is a familiar one. John’s father, Nobby, is an English football icon. 

His dancing on the Wembley turf as newly-crowned world champion in 1966 is etched into the country’s sporting conscious. But when Nobby passed away two years ago, having suffered with advanced dementia, he was abandoned by those whom he had served with distinction. Those who, John firmly believes, he gave his life for.

‘When dad died we donated his brain to (expert) Dr Willie Stewart and the findings were clear,’ he says. ‘The CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy – a brain disease caused by repeated blows to the head) was everywhere. 

‘Football had done the damage.’ Stiles, himself a player with the likes of Leeds United and Doncaster Rovers, took up the baton. He was a key player in this newspaper’s campaign. He tried to visit clubs to warn players of the dangers involved. He wrote to all 92. He hit brick walls.

‘We want help for families who are not getting it,’ he explains. ‘We want a fund created that pays for long-term health costs. It hasn’t happened. Despite everything. We’ve had enough. This is the last resort.’ For Stiles, the legal action is about more than money. ‘The players have to be educated,’ he explains. 

‘They are still at risk. I think about dad but I also think about the Lionesses who won the Euros this year. We don’t want them to suffer like dad’s team did. And then there’s players from my generation who are all frightened to death of what lies ahead.’ Four of the 1966 outfield players died with or from dementia. Sir Bobby Charlton is living with the illness. Some were forced to sell medals to pay for help.

Nobby Stiles suffered with dementia for a number of years before his death in 2020

Nobby Stiles suffered with dementia for a number of years before his death in 2020

Stiles holds onto his 1996 World Cup tournament cap alongside a match-worn shirt

Stiles holds onto his 1996 World Cup tournament cap alongside a match-worn shirt

John Stiles - son of United legend Nobby - has called for reform in protection over head injuries

John Stiles – son of United legend Nobby – has called for reform in protection over head injuries

‘How can that be right?’ says Stiles. ‘I had hoped that dad’s death could be the catalyst for the requisite fundamental change in this industry but in truth it is wearying to seek to convince the FA, PL, EFL and PFA to act with honour and decency.’ 

While the action is against the FA and IFAB, there are others in Stiles’s sights. ‘The PFA – the union which is meant to look after its members – has completely failed to represent their interests and has been a byword for scandal for over 40 years. It still is. Families of ex-pros tell me that the support it provides is worse now than ever – worse than when Gordon Taylor was in charge.

‘Recently, the PFA claimed that families of ex-pros ill with dementia did not want care home costs to be covered in any industry settlement. Their claim is completely untrue and totally illogical but provides just one indication of their cowardly, sly and cynical approach.’  

Stiles made 395 appearances for Manchester United across his 11-year stint at the club

Stiles made 395 appearances for Manchester United across his 11-year stint at the club

Stiles finds it difficult to talk about the latter stages of his father’s life, preferring to remember the good times, of which there are many. But the unspeakable remains at the forefront of his mind every day.

‘It’s clear that the tragedy of dad’s death is part of a much wider tragedy for those in the football industry and our wider society,’ he says. ‘These men, national heroes, received virtually no support from the industry when they were at their most vulnerable. It is another national disgrace.’ 

Stiles is in no doubt that he would have his father’s backing. ‘I’m certain he would be right behind us,’ he explains. ‘He wouldn’t want any family to go through what we did…and he always rooted for the underdog.’

Stiles (L) walks out with Ray Wilson (R) and Bobby Charlton (middle) before a 1996 match

Stiles (L) walks out with Ray Wilson (R) and Bobby Charlton (middle) before a 1996 match


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