Former Manchester United centre-back Gary Pallister has expressed fears he will follow in the footsteps of numerous ex-footballers and suffer with dementia.
In an interview with the Sunday Telegraph, the four-time Premier League winner reflected on the clear parallels between the “awful migraines” he suffered during his playing career and heading a ball.
The 56-year-old attended a match in Spennymoor last month, organised by the charity Head for Change, which was played under rules designed to restrict the use of heading and joined various players from his era earlier this year in signing a letter that urged football’s governing bodies to do more to combat against neurodegenerative disorders affecting footballers.
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“I’m probably one of those who have stuck my head in the sand and thought, ‘I hope it’s not me’. I suffered awful migraines. I’ve been knocked clean out. I’ve been on the pitch, woken up and not known where I am,” Pallister told the Sunday Telegraph.
“You put it all together and you start thinking, ‘Crikey, I’m a prime candidate for dementia’. It’s not a 100 per cent thing, I’m guessing, but you are thinking, ‘If you are a betting man, the odds are that you are probably at some time in your life going to get it’.”
Pallister spent more than 15 years as a player, representing Middlesbrough during two spells and being a key figure in the early days of Sir Alex Ferguson’s trophy-laden tenure as Man United boss.
The defender revealed he experienced fewer migraines after he retired but reflected on how they would impact him, adding: “The migraines continued all through my career. It’s black and white for me now that football was one of the main reasons I was probably getting them.
“I had to go into a darkened room. I started throwing up. I would lose my speech. Get tingling on my arms. Lose my vision. Get blurred vision. It felt like I had a head full of seashells. Any movement caused pain. It was a real weird feeling. It would wipe me out for two days.”
Brain injury specialist Professor Willie Stewart was the leader of a FIELD Study in 2019 that found professional footballers were three and a half times more likely to die of neurodegenerative disease than age-matched members of the general population.
The football authorities in England introduced a limit of 10 “higher force” headers per week in training for the adult game, from professional through to grassroots, in the summer.