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West Brom legend Jeff Astle at heart of Beautiful Brain

By Matt Wilson | Sport | Published:

The heartbreaking story of Albion legend Jeff Astle features in a new four-part investigative documentary podcast.

‘The Beautiful Brain’ has been created by award-winning documentary maker Hana Walker-Brown and features extensive in-depth interviews with the Astle family.

Over the course of five hours, the Londoner finds herself delving deeper and deeper into the story of the legendary Baggies striker, having been gripped by his daughter Dawn and widow Laraine.

Hana told the Express & Star: “I had a two-hour phone conversation with Dawn and thought this is a story I need to tell. She’s so amazing and her mum Laraine is so amazing.

“I’ve been doing this for 10 years, at the heart of my work is always the human stories.

“Once you’ve met Dawn and Laraine you can’t forget about them. I’ll probably never forget our first phone call.

“And some of the early interviews I did with them had a profound impact on me. That stuff doesn’t leave me.”

Astle died aged 59 from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), which is the subject of the podcast documentary.

“I was researching CTE because a BMX rider I love died suddenly several years ago,” explained Hana. “The post mortem revealed he had this disease.

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“It captured the imagination because it’s so curious but so cruel. It took me down this rabbit hole in terms of research, UK, California, Boston, Canada, people who are living with this disease.

“It took on a life of its own. I met a concussion doctor who discovered it in NFL and then I came across the Jeff Astle Foundation.”

And it was the Astle family who had a profound impact on Hana.

“Laraine has such a way with words, she’s articulate and funny,” said Hana. “They’re both great women full of character that have managed to retain a sense of humour through all the s*** that happened. They’re just two people that I’ve never forgot about. That’s why I pursued this.

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“Laraine wouldn’t stop feeding me! Bringing out cakes and quiche. I feel quite protective of them as well.”

The Astle family aren’t the only Albion connections to feature in the documentary.

“We also went to the Albion memories dementia group at West Brom for the final episode,” revealed Hana. “The way the club supports those people is fantastic.

“Supporters club chairman John Homer read us a nice poem. Comedian Frank Skinner is in it, as is (legendary Albion striker) Tony Brown.

“The story is all there. What happened to Jeff and the PFA (Professional Footballers’ Association).

“You get some insight into what he was like as a dad and a man, and some of the mischievous things he used to get up to.

“It’s very in depth. There’s a lot of science and facts, there’s a lot of history. But at it’s heart it’s a story about human beings and consequences and fighting for what you love. At it’s heart it’s about a family.”

Matt Wilson

By Matt Wilson
Football MMPJ - @mattwilson_star

Sports reporter at the Express & Star, who primarily covers West Bromwich Albion.

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