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Chris Nicholl: Walsall and Villa legend 'can't remember where he lives' due to heading footballs

By David Cosgrove | Walsall FC | Published:

Former Walsall manager and Villa captain Chris Nicholl has said he no longer remembers where he lives – due to brain damage caused by years of heading footballs.

Chris Nicholl, left, in his Villa days, and right, as Walsall manager

The 71-year-old, who still lives in the West Midlands, has said his condition is continuing to get worse.

The Northern Ireland international won two League Cups with Villa in the 1970s, famously netting a long-range stunner in the 1977 final against Everton.

After he retired from playing, Nicholl led Walsall to promotion from Division Three in 1995 during a three-year stint as manager.

He spoke to former England striker Alan Shearer as part of a documentary investigating links between dementia and heading footballs.

Nicholl said: “I am brain-damaged from heading footballs.

“My memory is in trouble. Everyone forgets regular things, where your keys are.

“But when you forget where you live, that’s different.

“I’ve had that for the last four or five years, it is definitely getting worse. It bothers me.”

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Nicholl is among a string of former pros – including Albion legend Jeff Astle – to have been struck down after their playing days have ended.

Astle died in 2002 aged just 59 from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative brain disease caused by heading footballs.

His family have been campaigning for years to get the Football Association and FIFA to conduct research into heading.

Shearer, who made his top-flight debut as a teenager under Nicholl at Southampton, said: “It was tough to see the way Chris is now, because he gave me my debut.

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“He had me heading 100 or 150 balls a day to improve, but he did it for the right reasons.”

The BBC documentary – Alan Shearer, Dementia, Football and Me – shows current Villa captain John Terry admitting he encourages his daughter Summer Rose, 11, to head the ball, even though experts fear girls are at the greatest risk of concussion.

Shearer, 47, had scans and tests to examine how heading the ball affected him, amid fears he has sustained long-term damage.

The results will be revealed on the show.

The Match of the Day pundit said: “Nowhere near enough research has been done. The authorities have been very reluctant to find out any answers.

“They have swept it under the carpet, which is not good enough.

“Football must look after old players with dementia and put an end to this sense that, once you are done playing, you can be put on the scrapheap.

“It’s a tough game, it’s a brilliant game, but we have to make sure it’s not a killer game.”

Experts suspected heading footballs may cause brain damage and dementia for decades but a firm link was not made until the inquest into Astle’s death.

A coroner found he died from a form of dementia called CTE, known as boxer’s brain, caused by heading footballs.

In the 15 years since, neither the Football Association nor international body FIFA have funded any meaningful research into the dangers of heading footballs.

FA medical director Charlotte Cowie accepted it had avoided the issue in the past but said: “I feel we like are running towards this problem at the moment.”

She said the FA were looking to study former professional footballers to get results as quickly as possible, and it could ban children from heading the ball if early evidence showed it damaged the brain.

*Alan Shearer, Dementia, ­Football and Me is on BBC1 on Sunday at 10.30pm.

David Cosgrove

By David Cosgrove
Chief Reporter - @davidcosgrove_

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